Thursday, 21 July 2011

Come in number nine...

When the squad numbers were announced the other day, the number nine shirt was one of those left unused, but now we know it belongs to Darryl Duffy.
He will follow in the footsteps of some club legends and probably more not-so legends as Cheltenham Town's number nine ... Dave Lewis and Neil Grayson - but also Paul Connor and Steve Guinan ...
In seven of last nine seasons, our top scorer has left during the subsequent summer - or before in Lloyd Owusu's case.
A two-year contract means if Duffy tops the charts that run will be broken up - unless someone comes in and buys him of course...).
My Twitter account (after I had sorted out a unpleasant attack from some hackers) burst into life at about 11pm last night and a direct message from a reliable source told me that Darryl Duffy was being signed - a total shock.
I had assumed we would not be signing another front-line forward with the James Spencer loan also well in hand.
Not that I am complaining, of course, as Duffy is a player of experience, the sort of striker we have been crying out for in recent seasons.
At 27, he is a decent age and has a good grounding at a decent level in both England and Scotland, having been sold twice for six figures in the past.
At Bristol Rovers, he and Ricky Lambert were prolific together and in his early days at Falkirk he also hit the net regularly.
His comments on the official site were very positive - he is prepared to move his family from Scotland and left Glasgow at 4.30 am to come and sign his contract today - the sort of commitment everyone loves to see in a player.
He says he plays off the shoulder of the last defender - very much like Wes did which might suggest a fruitful partnership with Jeff Goulding, and he is already in Wales on the pre-season bonding and training trip getting to know the others.
The deal for Huddersfield's James Spencer to come on a six-month loan is also well in hand and he too could trot out at Newport on Saturday for his CTFC debut.
All exciting stuff - but I have to ask one question... can we afford all these players??
All of a sudden, from scratching around barely able to muster a squad of 18, we seem to have an embarrassment of riches.
That is credit to Mark Yates for enticing them here and selling the club to them, and to Paul Baker and the board for seemingly allowing him the freedom to do so.
In the summer, we let Martin Riley, Frankie Artus, JJ Melligan, Jake Lee and Dan Lloyd-Weston go - five players of whom only JJ Melligan had real league experience behind him.
In their place have come Alan Bennett, Russ Penn, Darryl Duffy, Kaid Mohamed and Sido Jombati, with James Spencer and the loan goalkeeper to follow... and that's even before we have sorted the futures of Bagasan Graham and Harry Hooman.
Surely the deals for the players we have brought in are costing a healthy amount more than those who left were being paid ... so much then it would seem for a reduced budget ... unless there is money being found from somewhere else, as I can hardly assume the money from GE Aviation's stand sponsorship is funding the gap.
Here's the squad as it stands...
Goalkeepers: Scott Brown.
Defenders: Keith Lowe, Kyle Haynes, Sido Jombati, Andy Gallinagh, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott, Danny Andrew.
Midfielders: Marlon Pack, Russ Penn, David Bird, Michael Pook, Junior Smikle, Theo Lewis, Josh Low.
Forwards: Jeff Goulding, Darryl Duffy, Kaid Mohamed, Ethan Moore.
So that leaves us with a squad of 19 of our 'own' players, and two loanees (James Spencer and the incoming keeper, who I am told is a very highly-rated youngster from a Premier League club) taking us to 21.
That is before we have even thought about Hooman and Graham also being offered terms, so it's not a surprise then that Boubou Diallo will not be offered anything.
However I still find it hard to believe that we will be carrying a squad of 23 players - even more so after today's surprising news that the number of substitutes for league matches has been cut from seven to five.
That seems a strange decision to me - I thought it was brought in to give more young players the possibility of playing league football.
I can assume the League are trying to persuade clubs to trim squads down, but why announce it now rather than back in May before clubs started planning for the new season?
I wonder if we would have signed so many players had we known this news a month or two back.
So that now means that instead of 18, only 16 players will be involved on any given Saturday, which could be bad news for a couple of our players who might have been expecting a bench role, but may now be in the stands.
If we do eventually reach 23, and with Hooman and Graham in Wales they have to be under serious consideration for a contract, if not been offered one already, we will definitely have more than enough of the competition for places which Mark has been desperate to get.
It appears to me that Hooman and Graham have taken Mark and Neil by surprise.
They came in on trial back in July as, we assumed, as training ground cannon fodder - players to fill the spaces in the squad and to allow us to give everyone 45 minutes each in the games at Cirencester and Stourbridge.
Then, we all thought, when we sign the 'proper' players, it will be 'thanks but no thanks' and they would be off - but to their credit they have both taken their chance very well and thrown a bit of a spanner into the works.
Hooman has not looked out of place. Yes, he has made the odd rick, but I thought he did well in the second half against Jon Stead and Nicky Maynard last Tuesday, while Graham has been a revelation with his direct running and pace.
The reaction when he came on against City was incredible for a teenage triallist, and the roar which went up when he got the ball for the first time was noticeable - if we don't sign him I have the nagging feeling we will regret it.
If he comes off, he will put bums on seats and may well earn us some money one day. If he doesn't come off, we have not lost much. A gamble worth taking.
So where does all this leave us?
Here's a potential starting 11 for Gillingham with everyone fit - Brown; Lowe, Bennett, Elliott, Andrew; Mohamed, Pack, Penn, Low; Goulding, Duffy.
A five-man bench, you would assume to be goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, wide man, striker - so how about Loanee, Jombati, Bird, Smikle, Spencer as a suggestion?
That leaves Haynes, Gallinagh, Pook, Lewis and Moore idle - but - if we sign Graham, might he get on the bench ahead of Smikle? If Hooman signs, might he edge out Jombati and Gallinagh?
He may well, especially as he has been selected ahead of Gallers for the last two friendlies to play alongside Alan Bennett (although I concede that may simply be to allow Mark and Neil to have a better look at him).
Pook, we know, is already firmly in the ice box and should he find a new club then the pressure on the budget and finances would be loosened a fair bit I would assume.
In fact, I would venture to suggest that his departure may cover potential deals for Hooman and Graham., but while he stays I would suspect it may not be long before thoughts will have to turn to the possibility of others joining Mr Pook in the departure lounge - albeit on loan in the first instance.
Haynes and Moore are obvious candidates and a bit of football elsewhere will do them good, although Kyle has done well in the pre-season games, in particular at Telford.
But with the reduction in substitutes, more players may come under pressure, notably Lewis, Gallinagh and Smikle. The latter two's place in the 16 is doubtful, especially if Hooman and Graham are signed, as it would appear they will be.
Even before the new arrivals, it was going to be a big season for Lewis - and recent events have only served to make it more difficult for him. I find it hard to see where he will fit into the 16 at present.
Gallinagh is a favourite of many and has not let us down. But he is not going to be a first choice at centre-half when Bennett and Elliott are fit.
The same goes for right back or in midfield, and Gallers may also have less chances to sit on the bench with Jombati seemingly able to fill all his roles in the squad and more, and with Hooman preferred to him in friendlies.
Smikle is a frustrating player who suffers, like Gallers and Lewis, for not having one defined 'best' position, and therefore a set role in the team.
He is not a winger, as he does not have the pace to beat a man. He will not get a place in central midfield ahead of Pack, Penn and Bird and he lacks the physicality to play as a central striker - and in any case we have others who can do that job now. So where does he fit in?
There are still many questions to answer in a summer which started slowly continues to pick up pace, continues to intrigue and get us all a little excited. What twists and turns are yet to come, I wonder?