Sunday 19 May 2013

Clearing the decks

After what seemed like in inordinate amount of time, we finally know now who is staying, going and those who remain stuck in the middle.
Out for definite go Darren Carter, Harry Hooman and Bagasan Graham. Kaid Mohamed and Marlon Pack look 99.9 per cent certain to join them.
In limbo land are Russ Penn and Connor Roberts, along with Darryl Duffy, last season's invisible man, who materialised in the Northampton game for what we thought would be a farewell appearance - but maybe not...
Starting with the outs, Hooman and Graham are not a surprise.
Hooman started the season superbly, was player of the month in August as he deputised first for Steve Elliott, then for Alan Bennett.
He looked very solid aerially, setting up a couple of goals in early games by winning headers from corners, but was found out when the ball was played through the defence on the floor - especially against Accrington, the game which proved to be his downfall.
Bennett and Elliott were re-united but Hooman played against Oxford in the JPT defeat, where his Achilles heel re-emerged and that was it for him.
Graham only came on once this season, in the opening game against Dagenham and Redbridge. He was farmed out to Gloucester and AFC Telford during the season and didn't appear to pull up any trees there so like Hooman the writing was on the wall for most of the campaign.
Bags made one start and seven sub appearances and despite the odd flash of pace he never looked like being capable of nailing down a starting place. The 'rabbit in the headlights' display at Swindon last season will, I'm afraid, be most people's abiding memory of him.
Carter was an enigma. He scored six goals, but rarely stamped his authority on a game as many expected him to.
Coming as he did from a career at the highest level with Birmingham, West Brom and Preston, the expectation was that he would be a colossus at this level. It didn't really happen.
Occasionally it did - Northampton away this season, when he almost single-handedly hauled us back from 2-0 down to win 3-2, and Morecambe at home, when he scored both goals and ran the show at times. But not enough.
He suffered from being paired with Marlon Pack in a midfield two which never worked. Many of their games in tandem ended in heavy defeats, or poor team displays - and the focus fell on their partnership, saying the lack of bite and the keenness of both to go forward together and leave the back four exposed behind them was the cause of those defeats.
Carter came to us on the back of an injury which had kept him out for a year and he didn't seem to have the dynamism and mobility around the pitch that I expected him to have.
A long-term injury is never the easiest thing for a player to recover from, and it would seem to me that Darren's game has been affected by it, but I wish him luck and hope he carries on his career at a good level.
With Pack also going, there was some possibility that Carter could have stayed, and maybe taken on Pack's mantle as the 'hub' of the team, but Mark Yates has decided otherwise and obviously decided he can get better value elsewhere.
A big call, so Yatesy now has to go and find that 'marquee' midfielder to replace both Pack and Carter.
He will also have to replace Mohamed, as he has told the manager his future lies elsewhere.
This departure more than any has sparked much debate, re-affirming once again the 'marmite' status of Mo among CTFC fans.
The goals he brings, and the pace which he possesses to scare defences is evened out by fans' frustration at his decision-making in key areas and the perceived lack of work rate at times, especially when helping out Billy Jones or Sido at left-back, or his seeming lack of willingness to go in for those 50-50 challenges.
Whatever his failings, his critics cannot deny that he has scored 18 goals in all competitions over two seasons, playing on the left side of midfield. Those goals will be hard to replace.
Also tough to substitute will be his pace. It can be a massive asset at our level - a player with pace who can just run away from a defence, as Mo showed in spades at times.
I will always remember that goal at Bristol Rovers last season - he just got the ball at his feet and ran about 60 yards before smashing it into the net.
He wasn't as effective this season, and most of his goals came from headers rather than direct runs and finishes - proof maybe that teams had done their homework and 'worked us out' this time around.
The Mo debate has also brought the focus on to his opposite number Jermaine McGlashan, and my comments on the Robins Nest forum have led to some accusations that I have an 'agenda' against Jermaine.
Let me put the record straight here, once and for all.
Jermaine has fantastic pace and the ability to beat a man and pose a real threat to a defence. His fleet-footed runs earn plenty of  free-kicks and penalties for us - but he could be so much more with better end product.
That is all that is missing. We have seen players like Chris Hackett, Kevan Hurst and Jennison Myrie-Williams give Billy and Sido the runaround this season AND deliver quality balls - if Jermaine could replicate that we would create so many more chances and potentially score many more goals.
But no player at this level is perfect. He has the potential to be one of the most dangerous players in League Two, and could earn us a lot of money - put it this way, I am delighted he is in our team rather than playing against us and if he has a big season in 2013-14 we will be back in the mix.
Another massive ingredient in getting us back in the frame again will be the signature of Russ Penn on a two-year contract. Yatesy says he has verbally agreed it, so let's get it signed please!
Russ is the heartbeat of our team. The cog which keeps us ticking over, and as our skipper he is the lead from which other players get their inspiration, and it is vital that we keep him.
Connor Roberts seems to be a notch up on our 'reserve' goalkeepers of recent years. A Welsh Under-21 goalkeeper with a grounding at Everton is a decent back-up to have.
However, I must confess that I haven't seen him play - and he never had a sniff with Scott Brown's form last year although nearly got thrown in due to Brown's foot problem towards the end of the season.
He has been a victim of the lack of reserve team football last season, so he has barely had a game - I really hope the club can find a way of rectifying that this time round.
We need regular reserve games for people like Connor who cannot be loaned out as we need him for the bench, so without games he cannot get that sharpness.
The same goes for Darryl Duffy. It's been no secret that he has been very unhappy not to be used more this season, and most fans share that bemusement at the manager's reluctance to get him on the field.
I hope he stays, but it seems that decision will ultimately be up to him, and will come down to whether he thinks the manager will give him a better crack of the whip come August.
Duffy started three games last season, and scored three goals. Having scored 15 in league and cups last time round, it is strange that we haven't seen more of him.
Darryl has scored goals at this level. He is proven - and I think it would be a mistake to let him go, but if Yatesy thinks he can get better value elsewhere, and backs himself to bring in THREE better forwards, then good luck to him.
I think Darryl alongside Byron Harrison or another 'big' man to take the hits for him would work - Darryl scored goals alongside Ricky Lambert, so I am sure he would alongside Byron or a similar player. I hope he gets the chance to try.
So that's the outs, stayers and maybes. Now, what about the ins?
With the departures, and assuming Pack and Mo are gone, the squad is now a bit clearer and looks like this:

Goalkeepers: Brown, Roberts
Defenders: Lowe, Elliott, Jombati, Jones
Midfielders: Deering, Taylor, Hanks, Williams, McGlashan, Penn
Forwards: Harrison, Duffy

So we have the nucleus of the squad, but are short at centre-half and up front, and have lost a lot of midfield creativity, and those are the areas Yatesy will be focusing on.
Jon Palmer's article here gives Yatesy's reasong for the Duffy situation and also states at the end that he has a player on his radar, a forward who has 'done well in our league this year'.
This has got the rumour-mill going as you would expect, with Rene Howe and Jamie Cureton seeming to be the most popular guesses for players who would fit that description.
Howe would certainly give us a presence, but the downside is his injury and disciplinary record - he got 15 yellow cards last season, the most in the division.
Cureton would be more of a Duffy-type player, but is 38 years old in August, so hardly a long-term prospect. He may have one more decent season in him at this level.
However you look at his record - and last season he played 38 league games and scored 21 goals. He got one red card so missed three games for that, so his fitness would not be in question.
I think he needs two centre-halves, two strikers (three if Duffy goes), two central midfield players and a left winger (an orthodox one please - not a midfielder who can play on the left) as priority - if that doesn't use the budget up then left-back cover would be nice.
With Pack, Mo and Carter gone, as well as the well-documented large payouts for Paul Benson and Shaun Harrad off the wage bill, you would think Yatesy has a decent amount of cash to play with... assuming the budget has been maintained at a similar level.
I am sure he will use the loan system for at least one of those players, but already looking down some of the released lists, there are some decent players around, and I would back Yatesy to find the quality we need.
It's going to be an interesting summer.

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