I was having a chat with my Dad last night about the signing of James Jones and I happened to mention that I thought Kevin O’Hara, if we were to sign him, would be cover and competition for Tom Hopper.
It drew a surprised breath from Dad, who remarked he’d ‘forgotten all about Hopper’. In a similar conversation with a friend earlier in the week, Harry Anderson’s name popped up and I was told ‘I thought he’d gone like everyone else Danny signed’. It got me wondering if perhaps the mass clear out we had at the end of the season has got people thinking we don’t have the bare bones of a squad, when we actually do.
I thought I’d do a quick piece on the players we currently have at the squad, position by position, and give my thoughts on where I think the transfer business might go over the coming weeks.
We don’t have one, so the obvious answer here is we need two. Of all the players we released, I do wonder if perhaps Josh Vickers is the one who might come back. I noted some criticism of him during the season, but much of it was unfair. Keepers seem to come in for the most stick, Paul Farman took a lot during his time here, unfairly I might add. When goals go in, the keeper inevitably gets the blame.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we signed a keeper permanently and backed him up with a loan player. I know Kieran O’Hara has been mentioned as one we’d all like to see, but I’ve heard no rumblings at all of that being imminent from reputable sources. My gut feeling is we need someone with plenty of senior experience as the first team keeper, as we may lack that in the back four. I’d love to see a Matt Gilks figure come in to keep goal, with a youngster coming from the top flight as cover. That said, the likes of O’Hara and Dean Henderson were excellent during loan spells in the third tier and both were young stoppers, so it might be Michael fills the number one jersey with a young keeper.
Cian Bolger, Ben Coker, Tayo Edun, Aaron Lewis, Max Melbourne
There are the makings of a back four in there; I can see Lewis at right-back, Max Melbourne or Tayo Edun at left-back and Cian Bolger in the middle of the defence. There’s no doubt we’re heavy on left-backs though and Edun might be preferred in midfield. I prefer him in the centre, but I have a feeling Michael likes him on the left side of the defence.
I would expect a couple of players to come into the defence, and I strongly suspect one will be a younger player on loan. Bolger is great in the air and I think he might have been a good shout for Player of the Year (silly red card aside). His aerial presence hasn’t been felt quite as much in the opposition box, and he lacks a bit of pace. He wasn’t alone though; Eards, Bozzy and Shackell all lacked pace too. I think MA will look to add a loan centre back, perhaps signing another permanently if they’re available. The question comes around leaders; who is the leader at the back? I like Cian as a player, but is he a born leader? I’m not sure he is and I don’t think to burden him with a role he wasn’t comfortable with would help his cause.
As for Ben Coker; I have championed his cause before, but I worry he’ll be overlooked and used only in extreme circumstances.
Harry Anderson, Alex Bradley, Zack Elbouzedi, Jorge Grant, Jack Payne, James Jones
There is definitely some work needed in here and if anything, it has to be central. Tayo may or may not feature there and I firmly suspect James Jones will play, but that leaves a place up for grabs. Alex Bradley should come back in on the fringes, but I wouldn’t be comfortable going into a 46-game season with him as a first choice for the double sixes. Jorge Grant, Zack Elbouzedi and Harry are all wide players, as is Theo Archibald who is a rumoured target. There was less emphasis on wide players under MA towards the end of the season and we even saw Anthony Scully make an appearance there.
I feel we need to bring in another central midfielder, a Liam Bridcutt type player who can hang back, give James Jones a license to get forward and offer some support to the back four. Jones is experienced, of course, and it may be that the loan market is used to add some dynamic element to partner Jones. I don’t feel there is a lot of game time for Jack Payne, which is a shame, but he doesn’t fit the required roles. It is clear Michael doesn’t see him as a ten, as he preferred Jake Hesketh last season, and Jack couldn’t fit the profile of a holding midfielder either.
Of the seven players listed, I can see three playing regularly as starters (Grant, Jones and Edun), but not necessarily in the centre of the park in Edun’s case. Yes, there is work to do, but Jones’ signing does bring another key senior player into the quad, which is of great benefit. Conor Kirby has been mentioned and I could see him in the middle of the park alongside Jones, he certainly fits the profile. I mentioned Bridcutt earlier, but my gut feeling is we won’t see him come back here, I’m sorry to say.
Jordan Adebayo-Smith, Tom Hopper, Anthony Scully
There is every suggestion that we could be adding Kevin O’Hara to this list, which would give us more forwards than we had for much of last season, but again there is a flexibility shout here. I really like Anthony Scully, but I’m not sure he’ll play the ten role. I suspect that is the one role Michael is eager to fill properly. Much of our attacking play will be fed through the ten and I feel last season, had we found the right solution, we would have been a far more fluid force. we’ve struggled for a while, when we won the League Two title I felt the ten role was the one we struggled to fill, with Shay McCartan doing well, but Big John always looking isolated. This season, in my opinion, finding the right number ten is the difference between consolidation and struggle.
It might be a high-profile loan player, it might be one of the bigger permanent signings of the summer, but getting the right body in there will give our attacking options a more defined look.
We have 14 players in our squad right now and I believe we’ll be looking around the 21 or 22 mark for the season. With two keepers, that means a possible five outfield players, at least three of which might be loans. Whilst I know many fans think we’re millions of miles away from being a full squad, I don’t think we’re as far away as that. There are one or two key positions which I am concerned about, the number ten, an experienced midfielder and of course, a centre back, but other than that there are positive aspects to the squad.
The key is to find leaders, a defender happy to take responsibility for a young keeper, or an older keeper with the experience to organise as Matt Gilks did. In midfield, I have perhaps the fewest worries, with a Liam Bridcutt style player the main addition I feel we need. Upfront, although a few doubted Tom Hopper’s impact after his move, I felt he was settling and it’s a known fact coming into a side cold in January is a big ask. If we back him up with a player likely to chip in with goals from the bench, such as O’Hara, we should be good to go up top. It’s that ten role that we need a big name or a talented youngster with bags of ability. Our success, once again, could hinge on that position finally being filled.
Either that or Michael changes the tactics around and I have to rethink the whole article!
Possible Imps lineup using current players as things stand