We are entering silly season, the time when players are linked to clubs at random (seemingly) and everyone becomes an expert thanks to Who Scored and Football Manager.
It is a time when a striker’s entire future contribution to your team can be ascertained by how many goals he is shown as scoring on Wikipedia, or when a defender is rated as ‘class’ because he has a big club somewhere on his CV. I love it, not so much the random rubbish sites, but the speculation and the tight deadlines I get to work in between me finding out about a signing and the actual embargo time. I confess, racing to research Max Sanders at 11 pm gives me the feeling of being a ‘real’ journalist, something I always aspired to.
With that all in mind, where do the Imps need to strengthen this summer? Here is my breakdown of the current squad and where we might need cover and additional first-team players.
Our only keeper at present is Sam Long, so there is definitely a need for a new face to come in. My gut feeling is we’ll go for another loan, where someone like Joe Bursik would be perfect. If West Brom do not sell Sam Johnstone, then I guess there is an outside chance of us borrowing Alex Palmer again. West Brom would be unlikely to loan him to a club in the same division, but a recall clause might be inputted if he were understudy there. It’s all conjecture, of course, and I find it unlikely that Palmer returns, even though I’m told both him and his partner like the area as well as him being settled at the club.
The other question has to be around Long’s pathway. Will there be a desire for him to get out and play some senior football this season? It would certainly put many Imps mind’s at ease if he were to have six months in the National League, for example, getting proper match experience rather than at Under 18 level. According to the club, he’s a player with a big future, and his needs must also be considered. I was quite surprised we didn’t retain Ethan Ross for that very reason, but I’m not the boss.
We have eight defenders on the books for next season currently. I see Cohen Bramall, Adam Jackson, Lewis Montsma, Regan Poole and Joe Walsh as the first choices, but given the injury record of Jackson and Walsh, I think we might look at another centre half. The obvious shout is a TJ Eyoma figure, offering cover at right-back as well. We have left back cover in Tayo Edun (unless he starts at left-back, then Bramall covers), but I’d like to see a right-back come in as a bare minimum. Young Hayden Cann will benefit from some EFL Trophy experience perhaps, but I can also see him having a loan spell at Gainsborough to get some senior experience.
That leaves two players, Max Melbourne and Sean Roughan. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both leave the club, with Roughan attracting a lot of attention from clubs further up the football ladder. If he moves, the Imps get a nice fee and who knows, maybe he comes back on loan and is integrated into the squad. As for Max, I fear his Imps time might be up. I remember writing something similar about Michael O’Connor a few years ago, and it causing something of a stir on Twitter, but it’s my gut feeling he won’t play for the club again. His loan spell at Walsall clearly benefitted him, and he’s currently our third-choice left-back. He could operate at centre back, bringing a degree of cover, but it’s more likely for his own career to go out permanently, maybe to League Two, and get 40-odd games under his belt in a season.
I don’t anticipate much action in central midfield because we are blessed with a selection of quality players. Liam Bridcutt will hopefully have a better season in terms of fitness. He’s a great player for us and will certainly be a driving force behind any new top-six push. If he had been fit for 35 games this season, I firmly believe we would have picked up the extra points we needed to finish top two, not top five. Still, football is all about the ifs and buts, and we have to settle with what we have.
I can see interest in Jorge Grant over the summer and, let us be honest, a bid of £1m takes him from us. I hope it doesn’t happen, not because I don’t want us to get a big cash boost, but because a player of his ilk would be hard to replace. He was sensational before getting injured at Plymouth, and with a pre-season, I can see him being back to his best. Along with Conor McGrandles, who you voted as Stacey West Player of the Year, I think we have a solid midfield three, and players are knocking on the door too. Don’t think that Max Sanders will be happy playing the bit-part role he has since moving here from Brighton, not for one minute. He’s going to want a midfield spot, and if we go 4-2-3-1 in games rather than 4-1-4-1 (or however you like to call it), then Sanders and Bridcutt will be a viable option.
That leaves two midfielders. Tayo Edun will play, but I’m not sure where. I like him in midfield, but with the competition there, I suspect he might get the nod at left-back and compete with Bramall. Bramall’s pace would be a serious weapon in the dying stages of matches, whilst Tayo’s close control and aggression has made him a key player for us all season. That leaves James Jones, something of a forgotten man after his season got affected by Covid. I feel for Jones, he had a decent start to the season and was exceptional in spots, but after his spell on the sidelines, he really struggled. I think he’ll stay around the club and perhaps come back fitter and stronger than the last five months. What I’m not sure we have is a ‘ten’ as such. Anthony Scully can play there, but Brennan Johnson did a good job when asked, and I wonder if that is one position Michael might want to add too.