I started my article yesterday off on a bit of a downer. I confessed that I have apprehension about the coming season, and two hours later we hold a Premier League side to 0-0 for 89 minutes.
What does really matter this pre-season? I’ve seen tweets about the lack of signings, lack of trialists, defeats and injuries, as well as plenty of people saying they trust the process and none of it has any bearing on the opening game of the season. I gave it some thought and decided to take each of the issues in turn and comments whether I felt they had a bearing on what happens after August 7th.
Let’s see if you agree with the things that really matter this pre-season.
Michael’s Health – 10/10
The obvious thing I have to mention is Michael. Everything depends on him making a full recovery and as I hear, he is recuperating well at home with the people who matter most in his life. In terms of pre-season, the only thing that really matters is his full recovery. Let’s be honest, that overrides everything related to the club’s preparation, does it not? That’s why it’s at the top of the list.
Friendly Results – 0/10
I have covered a couple of the friendlies, but found myself hard pushed to do the same yesterday purely through a lack of time. Results haven’t been great, but then they don’t need to be, do they? We sounded woeful against Boston, but people will tell you it is a glorified training exercise, and it is. On the other hand, when Daniel Farke says “this was a difficult day in the office against a side who were ambitious, with better quality than our first game,” and that his side “found it hard to create more chances against a well-structured defence,” you can’t help but smile. I suppose this is the classic case of selective commenting though: you can’t acknowledge we did well against Norwich without acknowledging we didn’t do well against Boston. What I would say is this: a Premier League side playing against us are likely to take it as a training exercise, which it is. A non-league team playing in their new ground in front of their fans for the first time will not.
I’m reading nothing into the results in pre-season, I never do. Our players are getting minutes under their belt and that’s good enough for me. I seem to recall losing to Oldham and Salford last pre-season (I might be wrong), and yet we didn’t end up doing badly during the season.
Trialists – 3/10
I’m not picking on Rob Beezley here, but I noticed his tweet yesterday about a lack of trialists and I thought I’d pick up on that. Some others have commented that we ought to have more players in on trial, looking to earn a contract. Whilst I can understand that people think we need to make signings, which we do, I don’t see a scattergun approach being the best bet. Look at it this way, in the last five years how many trialists have gone on to be utterly vital to the season once they signed? Neal Eardley? With the greatest respect to Joan Luque, Alex Bradley and even Remy, none of the players who have impressed after a trial have gone on to be utterly essential. Remy has done well and he’s a good squad player who offers versatility, but that’s not what we need this season.
I think the lack of trialists shows the club know who they want to sign, where those players are coming from and are unlikely to be swayed significantly on the back of having 15 players in from other clubs. Look at Portsmouth as an example. Jake Hesketh started two friendlies for them recently, but hasn’t been signed. That’s wasted time, minutes one of their other players could have been getting in the tank. Sure, they’re rebuilding so giving people a run out fits their needs to a degree, but that’s not what we need. We have the crux of our squad, one that finished fifth in League One last season. We know who we want and giving someone a few games to show what they can do won’t fill the major gaps.
Why have I gone for a 3/10 in terms of importance? I have a small area of concern and that’s the recent admission by Kers that we called trialists in to make up the numbers for the Boston game. I’m not sure that sends the right message out to prospective players in the future. Are we saying that those who have featured are just here for shits and giggles, nothing more? Also, it is a little concerning that in order to raise a team in pre-season, we have to call on trialists, is it not? It’s not panicking me majorly, but I’m not completely comfortable being in that position.
Lack of Signings 5/10
Signings we have made look good on paper: Chris Maguire has lots of experience, whilst Lewis Fiorini and Dan NLundulu seem to be this year’s Johnson and Rogers. That’s (arguably) replaced three players, if we class Maguire as a Grant swap, but what of Eyoma, Palmer, Morton, Elbouzedi and Harry Anderson, all departed? The squad looks some way short, although numbers suggest otherwise, and the big kick-off is a little over two weeks away. I get we signed Morton, Palmer and Johnson late last season, but the bulk of our squad was ready and raring to go.
I think this is a bit like a game of poker, to be honest. We have irons in the fire, we almost know what’s coming when the cards drop, but we’re holding our nerve. That’s great for those at the club, they know what might be coming, but we don,t. I don’t. That means I sometimes listen to the fearmongers and a nagging doubt starts at the back of my mind. What if we miss out on our keeper target? What if Regan Poole gets injured, who plays right back? Then I wonder if maybe we do need trialists in. Maybe, just maybe, I worry too much.
Other Club’s Business 5/10
I use a picture of MK Dons here, because they’re ones raising a few eyebrows, are they not? Signing Mo Eisa is a big step and it’s apparently a club-record fee. Imagine, running a club in such a way they can spend something like £114 on wages for every £100 they earn, and still afford to break their record transfer fee. It does worry me this season, with no salary cap. Ipswich, Wigan and MK Dons have spent big, Sunderland have been linked with £1m plus players and I can’t help but feel some of them will do well. This feels like the most disproportionate division in English football, where the gap between the have and the have nots is huge.
I feel the salary cap being abolished was a bad thing, the EFL fumbled it in and the PFA were rather irresponsible in getting it overturned in the manner they did. Lincoln City are run the right way and we would never pay more than we could afford on a striker like Eisa, even though he would be a massive signing. The clubs that are gambling, in my opinion, should do well (Wigan might be the exception to that rule) and I fear that our natural place will be lower than it was last season as a consequence.
That isn’t something in our control, but it is important this pe-season. One thing to remember is that of these clubs splashing money, they can’t all get promoted. Some will fail to do so, and one or two who are run sensibly will see the fruits of their labour. Imagine being a club that spends £10k a week on a player at this level, but doesn’t finish top six. Money flushed down the loo.
Will we be the surprise package again? Maybe, maybe not, but if we are not can our fans understand why tenth place wouldn’t actually be such a backwards step? I hope so.
Injuries – 9/10
As yet, we haven’t seen Joe Walsh, Lewis Montsma or Anthony Scully in pre-season, and there are others currently sitting games out. This is a huge worry for me, because the basis of my optimism is that our squad from last season was good enough for the top six, if not top two when fit. If we add to that in the right manner, which we appear to be doing, then we will be around that top ten hunt, but if that squad is not fit, everything changes. Walsh and Montsma being out means we currently have one fit centre back, and with Grant leaving and Scully out, we have lost a lot of goals. I know these players will get fit, but missing pre-season leaves you at a big disadvantage. We saw that with Theo Archibald last season, he was behind the others in terms of fitness and never quite got going.
This, for me, is more worrying than anything else. If we started tomorrow, with a new keeper and nothing more, I believe this Lincoln City side would have enough quality to finish in the top half. That’s without signings, but also without injuries or suspensions. Think about it: Keeper, Poole, Edun, Walsh, Montsma, Bridcutt, McGrandles, Fiorini, Ndlundulu, Hopper and Maguire, subs Long, Bramall, Jackson, Sanders, Jones, Scully, Longdon, Archibald, Roughan, Melbourne. That’s a squad of 21, not far off the number we’ll carry anyway. Now take the players out who haven’t as yet had minutes in pre-season, and think again.
I’ve ranked this 9/10 because it isn’t as important as Michael’s return to fitness, but it is more important in my eyes than a glut of new signings.
It hasn’t been a bad pre-season, and I think the lack of transfer news is reflective of the current market and our success last season. We don’t need wholesale changes, we only ever needed specific players who had already clearly been identified. It makes for a slow summer for you and I, but not necessarily a bad one. Often, pundits do their 1-24 based on new faces coming in and forget what is already at a club. Hull didn’t have a massive summer last year, but they won the league because they were already a decent team. Posh were the same, much of their squad remained from previous years and they only added here and there. Just because we haven’t signed 15 players doesn’t mean we’re going to struggle – never underestimate what you have.
No, the big issue for me is fitness, which it was last season. I’m sure the absence of one or two is down to common sense, but my biggest concern is much the same as last season: Joe Walsh. He is our best central defender and if we’re going to launch another assault on the top six, we need him fit. If that isn’t the case, then we need to sign someone of equal quality, someone who balances Lewis Montsma or complements Adam Jackson, and who can protect Bramall when he plays so he adds to our attack. I believe we’ll make some good signings between now and the season starting, but they’ll only be effective if the foundations we have put in place remain solid and dependable.