Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Going or staying?

Around 48 hours after the disappointment of Wembley, the fall-out has begun in earnest with the fate being decided of the 11 out of contract players in the CTFC squad.
There were no surprises, with the Whaddon Road careers of Josh Low, Junior Smikle and Theo Lewis coming to an end, while Danny Andrew, with a year left on his deal, has effectively been freed as well.
He lost his place in October to Luke Garbutt, went to loan to Mansfield, and can leave on a free with Mark Yates on the hunt for a left-back this summer.
The other eight, Luke Summerfield, Alan Bennett, Steve Elliott, Bags Graham, Harry Hooman, Keith Lowe, Scott Brown and Jeff Goulding, have been offered new deals - but will they all stay?
You get the feeling this isn't like past close-seasons, where the out of contract players sign their deals automatically as they don't have a lot of choice.
I sense this time around that Yatesy and Paul Baker might have to work a bit harder to keep some of these lads on board, especially the likes of Bennett, Summerfield and Goulding - and maybe Brown and Elliott too.
I am sure there will be a few clubs who have seen what we have done this season and will fancy nicking a few of them from us.
Benno's post match interview at Wembley said that he wanted assurances that the club was ambitious for another tilt at the top three next season - at 30, he doesn't want to see out his career in the backwaters.
It was good to see passion and emotion from our skipper, and I fervently hope he gets those assurances and that he is impressed with Yatesy's plans and recruitment enough to sign on again.
Summers' future has been up in the air for a while (see what I did there..?... if you didn't, I'm not going to explain it) but it was good to see him come out in today's Echo (http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/Cheltenham-Town-Luke-Summerfield-keen-remain/story-16217242-detail/story.html)  and say that he wants to stay with us.
I am not going to get on my high horse about it, but having given him the chance to resurrect his career and remind managers and clubs that he still can do a job, it would be a shame if he does head off again.
Footballers are not exactly renowned for their loyalty - but it would be nice to see some payback once in a while.
Jeff Goulding was linked on the Sky Sports website yesterday with Brentford, Crawley, Orient and Gillingham - of course this may be nonsense, but three of those are League One clubs and are all in the South East, where he hails from, so it might appeal - especially if he is a fringe squad player again next term.
I am sure some clubs will be looking at Browny. His detractors will not believe it, but I am sure that televised display against Torquay will not have gone unnoticed, and also he is only 27 - a good age for a keeper.
Keith Lowe is another interesting one. Started in the team, then left out, back in and out as injury cover before his crushing disappointment of missing Wembley after playing in the play-off semis.
As all-round defensive cover, he is excellent, but he will be weighing up whether he wants to perform that role again and settle for sporadic appearances as I suspect that is the best he can hope for here, or whether he can get regular games elsewhere.
I would expect Bags and Harry to sign on, and next season will be very big for them as they look to push on and stake a claim for a regular place. Maybe last-chance saloon time.
In Bags' case, I would expect a loan move somewhere along the line, to a level where he might get knocked about a bit.
He needs to work on his self-belief and upper body strength - we have seen flashes of his talent, but a lot of his appearances have had the look of a rabbit caught in the headlights, especially Swindon away.
Harry was excellent in the JPT games against Torquay and Wycombe, less so against Barnet, but stood out at Plymouth on the last day of the regular season.
The management team rate him, as do Elliott and Bennett - next season he needs to be pushing them for their places assuming they stay - or doing the same to any other centre-backs we might need to bring in.
Steve Elliott says he wants to stay, and is settled down in Bristol, so I would say we hold the cards to keep him.
However, at 33, I can only see us offering a one-year deal here and he might be holding out for two with his feeling possibly being that this could be his last deal and he would want to maximise it.
On now to the released trio, and as I said at the top, no surprises here.
Josh Low is the longest-serving of the trio, and leaves Scott Brown now as the sole survivor of the pre-Martin Allen era as Josh was signed by Keith Downing in 2008.
Martin Allen tried to get rid of him by transfer listing him and sending him on loan to Forest Green, but Josh was having none of it.
As so many players do, Josh divided the Whaddon fans down the middle. Some loved his gliding style, others called it lazy and accused him of cruising through games. It is true he didn't always make the maximum impact.
I will always remember that game against Bury in April 2010 when he scored two and made two in a 5-2 win, and this season at his old club Northampton, when he came off the bench, set up the leveller for Darryl Duffy then scored a coolly-taken winner.
Those are the two most memorable games in his time with us - and maybe he won't be long away from Whaddon Road as the whispers that I hear are that Gloucester City are interested in asking him to combine his law career with a Blue Square North contract with them next season. Watch this space...
Junior Smikle was 50-50 for me, the only one I had a doubt about.
But on reflection it is a no-brainer to me that Yatesy has let him go. Three starts all season, and while he has mostly done a good job off the bench, the gaffer will be looking for better competition in that midfield and wide area.
The main thing which let Junior down in his time with us I feel was his lack of goals, He scored a lot for Kidderminster but never rediscovered that with us.
Some of the ones he did score were important, including the winner at Port Vale in January, but those goals didn't come along enough.
I remember that game at Morecambe when we drew 1-1 and he must have missed three or four one on ones.
Where will he go? To be honest, I am not sure another League club will look at him, but I am sure he would do a job for the likes of Kidderminster, Hereford, Tamworth or Mansfield in the BSP.
Theo Lewis, having not started a League game until Plymouth at the end of the season, must have known the writing was on the wall.
I remember the excitement when the 16-year-old Theo came on the score an equaliser in a pre-season game with Southampton, and we all thought a star was born.
His debut came at the end of the Martin Allen relegation season, and under Yatesy he made a few appearances, scoring once in the FA Cup.
But his main problem seemed to be his lack of a designated 'best' position. He played in central midfield, off the main striker and out wide without really putting a marker down in any of those roles.
What I did like about him was how, despite his relatively small frame, he never backed out of anything.
I remember that bad-tempered game at Lincoln under John Schofield in November 2009 when Barry Richardson was sent off from the bench along with Ian Pearce and Chris Sutton.
Theo was clattered by Aaron Brown, whose red card sparked the shenanigans on the bench, and after that he came in for some hefty whacks, but never flinched - giving as good as he got.
He impressed at Gloucester City on loan last season, and I would not be surprised if they wanted him back, and I am sure he could do a job at that or BSP level, but, like Junior, I doubt if he would attract a League club's attention.
But if he does, good luck to him, and he might prove us wrong, like our old youth product Sam Foley has a chance to do, having signed for Yeovil from Newport today.
So that's the outs and maybes - and we know that Sido Jombati, Jermaine McGlashan (until 2014), and Russ Penn, Marlon Pack, Darryl Duffy and Kaid Mohamed (until next summer) are under contract and will be here barring offers this summer.
Marlon is the obvious candidate here, and there have been so may rumours. I have been told at least four times he is off to club X or Y, but let's wait and see.
Player, gaffer and chairman have all said he is staying, (see Marlon's post Wembley view here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/18234371) so if clubs do want him, it's time for them to stump up the cash.
On to the summer bargaining then, and the areas Yatesy will surely be looking at to bolster our numbers.
Of course, that scenario will depend on the out of contract eight signing up, otherwise the gaffer will have more work to do, and the same goes for offers for Marlon and/or others, but I will work on the best-case scenario - they all sign and other clubs keep their distance.
Now, my information is that the league will revert to seven substitutes from five next season - so that will bring back the need for a regular number two goalkeeper on the bench, so that will be one area to address.
Another is left-back with Luke Garbutt gone and Danny Andrew surplus to requirements, but with Keith Lowe and Harry Hooman around, I would not expect any more defensive cover to be needed - although remember we did lose Andy Gallinagh mid-campaign, so Yatesy may err on the side of caution.
In midfield, the departure of Junior and Theo, added to Dave Bird during the season leaves us light there with only the Three Musketeers, Pack, Penn and Summers, so expect something to be added here.
In the wide areas, we have Mo, Jermaine and Bags, now Junior and Josh are gone. Mo and Bags and predominately left footed, and I cannot see us signing a leftie.
It would seem pointless having kept Bags to then stunt his chances of games by bringing someone in ahead of him, and if the seven subs thing is brought back he will get more opportunity.
But with only Jermaine on the right, we might need cover here - potentially a right-sided Bags, another youngster we could bring on.
In attack, we are reduced to Jeff and Darryl as it stands, with Steve MacLean, Jimmy Spencer and Ben Burgess having gone, so we need a couple of replacements.
Whether we will look to get Ben in permanently as Notts County have released him remains unclear. He lives in Blackpool and his County wages are way beyond our means.
Hard bargaining and some lowering of expectations might be needed, but it's worth a try I think. If it doesn't come off, we will be looking for a similar sort of player to him as he gave us a new dimension which we had been missing all year.
I would not expect to see Steve MacLean again, as he started three games and was not involved in the play-offs at all, while Jimmy Spencer is under contract at Huddersfield and his prospects there are unclear.
He did well for us I felt, with 10 goals but his form was up and down.
But 10 goals at 20 years old in League Two is not bad. There is a player in there somewhere, and someone will get the benefit of that eventually. Maybe it will be us, but that is up in the air for now.
Besides a target man, we need a poacher, an out-an-out goalscorer, who can get close to that elusive 20-goal figure. This will be the hardest thing of all to find - and the most expensive.
We had three players in double figures, Duffy and Mo with 11 and Jimmy with 10, but none of them were consistent goalscorers, all going for weeks and sometimes months at a time without a goal.
Duffs, for instance, ends the season having not scored since Morecambe on March 6. I concede that he may not have started many game since then, but you get my point.
The top scorers in the division all got 18 goals - our mate Bayo Akinfenwa for Northampton, Lewis Grabban of Rotherham, Jack Midson of AFC Wimbledon and Izale McLeod of Barnet - the teams who finished 10th, 16th, 20th and 22nd. We need someone to get this tally, and maybe more, to go for that top three.
Over to you Mr Yates and Mr Baker...