Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Clearing the decks

IN recent weeks, the interviews Gary Johnson has given have dropped hints, some subtle and some not so, that he isn't exactly a fan of some of the players he inherited.
So now he has taken the opportunity to wield the axe with some ruthlessness - and the cuts have gone further and deeper than I had expected.
With the eight out of contract players, I suspect it was a pretty easy decision for him.
He needs to get the budget down and leave himself some scope to bring in new players, so the players I suspect are the highest earners in this group had to go.
Matt Richards and Craig Braham-Barrett will not be missed by the vast majority of Cheltenham fans.
They are the pair who will go down in history as being synonymous with the fall from a play-off team to the a Conference side in their two seasons with us.
Richards still has the odd supporter among the fanbase, but I don't think I have ever known a player who is so universally disliked as Braham-Barrett seems to be, so the fans will bid these two a relieved farewell, and hope that is the last they will see of them in red and white.
Their departures will be positively celebrated in some quarters if their 'reception' during last Saturday's game at AFC Wimbledon is anything to go by.
Troy Brown is another who is a mainstay of the past two seasons, and now has the dubious distinction of having two relegations on his CV, and along with CBB has been a regular in a defence which totally lost the ability to keep a clean sheet.
Andy Haworth was also inevitable having made five sub appearances all season then been farmed off to Barrow for the rest of the season - where he was also a bit-part player as they won Conference North.
The stop-gap attackers Danny Haynes and Mathieu Manset are also on their way, Haynes after a tantalising one-game show of talent against Cambridge which promised more but was followed by injury.
Manset meanwhile was frustratingly never fully fit it seemed, and was unable to add any end product to some at-times promising hold-up and build-up play, so both will continue their wanderings.
Matt Gould never got a game, and maybe there was a case to keep him as a cheap number two keeper option, especially with scholar Harry Reynolds not being taken on, but Johnson has opted against.
That leaves Durrell Berry, who goes down in history as our last Football League goalscorer. He is the only one of the eight I would seriously have considered keeping. I think he is a half-decent defender and would do well at our new level.
It is interesting that the door may yet be open for 'one or two' on reduced terms if they can't find another club and want to come back in pre-season. I would say Berry is favourite to be one of those - but I, along with many others I suspect, would hope that CBB, Brown or Richards are definitely not on that list.
With 14 under contract, it was also inevitable that some would be made available, but I must confess I didn't envisage there being as many as six transfer listed.
Trevor Carson's name was always going to appear and he confirmed that playing in the Conference was not top of his wishlist, along with being 250 miles away from his family. A shame, as he would be a major asset behind (hopefully) a decent defence for a change, but perfectly understandable. There will surely be takers.
Matt Taylor was brought in as our skipper and leader and failed pretty miserably on both counts. Certainly nowhere near an Alan Bennett or Russ Penn in the 'captain and leader' stakes.
His fitness is ropey as he broke down time and again, and the offer of a two-year contract last summer was another of Mark Yates' poor recruitment decisions.
There is also the decision to go to a family wedding on Easter Saturday as the club he is the captain of had an important training session - which maybe showed where his priorities were.
I hope there are clubs out there who will take him from us - unless he decides his fitness battle is one he can't win long-term. I have to say I won't miss him too much as he has been a disappointment.
Lee Vaughan has some fans out there, mainly for his heart-on-the-sleeve attitude and sympathy for his treatment by Paul Buckle, and has Conference pedigree with Kidderminster.
But he was dropped in favour of Berry by two managers during the season and, again, I suspect is towards the top end of the pay scale. Mansfield wanted him earlier in the season, so again I would expect clubs to show an interest.
Jack Deaman started the season well, but he really struggled later on in the campaign with mistakes being highlighted as they led to goals, such as the penalty against Stevenage, and he was poor at Wycombe and Northampton as well.
That leaves Omari Sterling-James and Jamal Lawrence, and - along with Vaughan - these are the ones which have caused the most surprise.
In Omari's case, he has not featured much under Johnson - only two sub appearances - which might tell where he stands.
I think there is something there - but what is his position? I don't see him as a winger, taking players on and getting crosses in, nor as a central striker or a central midfielder.
But if we are going to have a squad of 20, they need to be 'ready' and maybe Johnson doesn't feel Omari and Lawrence are ready - feeling that he can't carry 'potential' in a reduced squad.
I thought Lawrence did well when he came on at AFCW. He looked stronger than I thought he was and I hope that the door isn't totally shut on him and Omari - maybe if no-one comes in they might get a shot in pre-season.
In Lawrence's case (remember he is contracted to 2017) perhaps a loan at Cirencester or Gloucester maybe for six months might be what he needs - but again it's a money issue and Johnson needs to cut the cloth.
I just hope that if these two do leave, we aren't talking about them in the same way as Marley Watkins and Sam Foley in a few year's time. Guess that's the risk we have to take at this time. It's a shame though.
Remember of course that all six of the above are still under contract and have only been listed. That doesn't mean they will all go and they could still play a part - but by listing them Johnson clearly doesn't see them as being in his plans long-term.
Then we have the three players awaiting their final fate.
Asa Hall's four-minute appearance at Bury will, I believe, go down as the shortest League playing time of anyone in our 747 games at that level.
Gary will not have had the chance to see him train or play at all in the flesh so to speak, so needs to do that before he can make a decision on him.
Personally I feel a fit Hall would do well in the Conference, but as with everything else it comes down to money, and I think he might find himself made available.
I hope we persevere with Jordan Wynter but play him as a central midfield player and not a right winger - and the fact that Gary did play him before his injury might bode well for him.
That leaves Eliot Richards, and first and foremost we hope that he makes a full recovery from his illness.
I think he would do a good job for us in the Conference - but again, like Omari earlier, what is his best position? Central striker? Winger? Advanced midfielder in a three?
We can't be sentimental about him I am afraid, and keep him just because he has had this terrible illness to deal with. Gary has to be hard-headed and decide what is best for the club and for his budget.
So with eight all but gone, six listed, three in limbo and four loanees gone back to their clubs (Sparrow, Harrad, Burns and Packwood) who is left?
Well, five players have survived the carnage intact - and they now have a massive chance ahead of them next season.
Joe Hanks is at the forefront of these and he looks set to finally play a big part in the side as a first-team regular.
I see Joe playing as a midfield 'sitter'. I feel he lacks the pace and mobility to be a box to box player, but he can tackle, has a good range of passing and can take a set-piece as well as being capable of getting in to shooting positions and scoring goals.
Harry Williams is another who could grasp the opportunity. He has done well at Conference North level, and now it is time to step up.
A big summer awaits him, and he needs to spend it in the gym, and as Johnson has said "summer well, and come back as a man in July."
He has shown signs of potential in his League Two appearances without quite being able to find a goal or two to finish things off, and that is what he needs to do next season.
Bobbie Dale is in the same boat as his mate Harry. He worked hard on Saturday but was fed on scraps - however there were some good little bits of link-up with Harry, Zack Kotwica, Joe Hanks and James Bowen when he was on. His work-rate was good, but like Harry he now needs to kick on and deliver next season.
Ditto again for Bowen, who showed again in his outing on Saturday that he has no fear and in my view has all the attributes to be a success - I like his attitude and hope he gets a crack of the whip next season, either as a left-back of a left winger as I think he is equally capable in both roles.
Kotwica is another for whom this is a massive opportunity now. Johnson has shown faith in him during his spell in charge so far and that faith needs to be repaid.
We need to see Zack really affecting games next season. He needs to be positive, take players on and create chances for the forwards as well as looking to score goals himself.
At times, we have seen that he has the ability to do that, but too often we have seen him look sideways of backwards.
We need to be see the positive side more consistently, he needs to shake off the 'promising youngster' tag and really start making a name for himself.
So having cleared the decks, it's time to see what rabbits Johnson can pull out of the hat this summer.
He has clearly backed his wheeling and dealing skills to be able to put a squad together on the budget he has been given - otherwise he would have walked away.
How many he brings in of course depends on how many of the six listed and he can shift out and if any of the three in limbo follow them, but he has to strengthen all over the field of course.
We need a new back five who can keep clean sheets, a new front two to help get the 90-odd goals Johnson says we need to have a chance of going back up, wingers who can help supply the ammunition for these 90 goals, midfielders who can do likewise and maybe score a few themselves.
Add to that, these players need a team ethic, and we need leadership qualities and a hunger to help get this club back to where we feel it belongs, in the Football League.  Oh yes, and all on a reduced budget. All the best then Gary!
Names will be floating around like wildfire in the next few weeks. In fact, it's already started, with some clubs also clearing the decks for the summer rebuild.
But remember. Money is tighter than ever now, and targets who were viable for us as a League Two club maybe less so now from a financial point of view as well as the level we are now playing at.
Down the road, Forest Green let six players go yesterday, and among them were Sam Russell, Chris Stokes and James Norwood, a trio who I am sure many CTFC fans would not be against Johnson trying to sign.
But bear in mind FGR's budget was bigger than ours was last season - let alone this - and when Johnson had Stokes on trial at Yeovil last season he was not taken on partly because his wages were out of the club's reach.
So Johnson's wheeling and dealing skills are really going to be put to the test, and we have to back his judgement and ability to find the right players and not to repeat the recruitment horrors of the past two summers.
Good luck Gary.