Sunday, 22 July 2012

First impressions

Think back a year or so, and remember a 1-1 draw at Cirencester which was our first outing of last season.

It was a warm day and we played two different teams in each half with a few trialists, at a friendly Southern League club with a nice modern ground.

Well, we did exactly the same at Evesham's new Spiers and Hartwell Jubilee Stadium (yes, really...) and the other similarity with that game at Cirencester is that the result does not matter one bit.

It was a fitness exercise, an extended training session, and a chance for the trialists that we have had in training for the past 10 days or so to impress and earn a trip to the Wales training camp this week.

Trouble is, they didn't do that, of which more later.

Our first half team included new signings Sam Deering and Billy Jones, along with one of the trialists, the ex-Marine Rob Farkins, and also Danny Andrew, playing in midfield.

In both halves, we used the same formation, a 4-2-3-1 system, and in the opening 45 it was Scott Brown in goal, Sido Jombati and Jones at full-back and Farkins and Steve Elliott at centre-half. In mdfield, Marlon Pack and Danny Andrew sat back with Deering further forward and Jeff Goulding up front supported by Bags Graham and Jermaine McGlashan.

I thought we did well in the first half, spending about 80 per cent of the time in the Evesham half, and could easily have come out a couple of goals to the good.

Bags and Jermaine were lively on the wings, linking well with Billy Jones and Sido, who got forward well.

I liked the look of Jones, who got forward and tried to get some crosses in, also playing one lovely cross-field ball to Jermaine, who took it down well but then shot wide.

Deering also made a promising start and was the pick of the first half team for me, always busy, always wanting the ball and linking well with Jeff for a chance which the goalkeeper saved.

We were not really troubled at the back, bar the odd free-kick and couple of Evesham corners, so it was difficult to assess the trialist Farkins as he was alongside Steve Elliott, who won everything in the air and was his usual commanding self.

It was interesting to see Danny in midfield - I thought he did okay in there, but his presence in that role does show to me that we need another central midfielder in the squad.

That's why it was then going to be of more interest to see how the second-half team got on, as it included six trialists, including Mark Hughes, formerly at Barnet, and Ibrahim Farah, still under contract at Cardiff.

Alongside them, we had two new faces in former Swindon keeper Phil Smith (who has been training with us, Yatesy said post-match) and ex-Bristol City striker Tristan Plummer, who has just come back to his native Bristol from a spell playing in Portugal with Portimonense.

In front of Smith, Keith Lowe was at right back, with Niall Wellington on the left and Harry Hooman and Colin Hamilton at centre-half. The midfield three was Hughes, Farah and Russ Penn, with Darryl Duffy through the middle supported by Kaid Mohamed and Plummer.

We started the half quite well and the Evesham keeper made good saves from Duffy and a double save from him and Plummer, while Darryl also had a shot blocked on the line.

But we went a goal down when Roland Agbor, who was a real handful on the left and gave Keith Lowe a torrid time all half, crossed and Hamilton headed past Smith for an own goal.

You felt sorry for the lad, but I am sure that moment only confirmed his impending exit. Cracking header though.

Hughes started well I thought but then faded, and didn't look very dynamic. He seemed a bit one-paced to me, while Farah or Wellington struggled to make any impression.

I know it is harsh judging players on 45 minutes, but you want them to improve your squad, so they have to make an impression in games like this.

None of the trial players on show, bar Smith in goal and Plummer, looked like they would improve us, so Yatesy has made the right choice by letting them go.

Smith pulled off a superb save from Luke Corbett's penalty after Keith Lowe fouled our old youth teamer Marcus Palmer, before we grabbed our equaliser.

Plummer had been lively on the right-hand side, and it was a good finish, a bit of trickery followed by a shot across the keeper and inside the far post. He is worth another look.

After the game, Yatesy had the task of saying thanks but no thanks to the trialists bar Plummer, and also said that he might have someone in on Monday for the trip to Wales, and more intriguingly confirmed that he isn't only looking at out of contract players.

On Phil Smith, Mark said that he cannot afford him and said that Alan Bennett, who did not play a part, was not injured, but just given a rest so he could look at other players - confirmed also by the man himself.

So off they go to Wales, and Port Talbot on Tuesday, followed by the first home friendly against Birmingham on Saturday.

I won't be at either due to work and the Olympics, so my next look at us will be against Cardiff on July 31, by which time we might have some new players, but will definitely have a new kit...

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Time for some business

Tomorrow, pre-season will start in earnest.
The players came back on Thursday, did their fitness tests on Friday, and will assemble at Seasons with five days to go until the first friendly, at Evesham's new stadium next Saturday.
After the four summer departures, and the arrivals of Sam Deering and Billy Jones, we have 16 players on the books, and with Mark Yates saying he wants 21 or 22, there is still work to be done in the wheeling and dealing department.

I was delighted with the signing of Deering, a player I thought was one of the best to come up against us last season, and he is only 21.
He stood out in all three games we played against Barnet, and despite his lack of height, he is a tricky player with skill and will give us options if we play the 4-2-3-1 system, as Deering could play on the right side or just off the forward and would link the play well.
This would move Russ Penn back, I presume, to play more of a holding role alongside Marlon Pack, and I feel that might suit him better, and having Deering further forward will be more of a goal threat.
Jones is a solid, lower-league full-back, with good grounding at Orient, Kidderminster, Crewe and Exeter, having played some 300-odd games.
At 29, he will give us a first-choice defence packed with experience, and it seems that Jones is a set-piece man, as he has scored 26 goals in his time, good for a full-back.

After Jones' arrival, Yatesy said he wants four arrivals before the training camp in Wales, so this week could be an exciting one.
The gaffer said that if he could secure one of the signings, the others would hopefully then fall into place.
This would appear to mean (if my reading between the lines is correct...) that this signing is the 'marquee' one, presumably a striker who will take up the majority of his remaining (slightly increased) playing budget.
Position-wise, we need two strikers, another goalkeeper, a wide player (I would say right sided) and maybe another central midfield player, which would take us up to 21 players.
The triallists we have are intruiging.
Mark Hughes is by far the most experienced one, having played alongside Sam Deering for Barnet and scored the goal which kept the Bees up last season.
I would say that Hughes would be more of a natural replacement for Luke Summerfield than Deering, who is more attack-minded, and Hughes would be more like Summers or Penn.
Having lost Josh Low, Junior Smikle and, last season, Dave Bird from our midfield back-up ranks, someone like Hughes could fill a gap in the squad.
We also have Ibrahim Farah on trial as a potential midfield recruit. He is a 20-year-old from Cardiff, who has not played for the Bluebirds, but made three appearances on loan at Tamworth.
Colin Hamilton is another candidate, the 20-year-old having come from Hearts, but his only games have been six starts and two substitute games at Stenhousemuir.
The other two triallists are defenders, Niall Wellington, a left-sided player from West Brom and Rob Farkins, a centre-half with an interesting story.
These are two areas we probably don't need cover in, unless a club comes in for Danny Andrew, which would leave Jones as our only left-back.
Wellington is a teenager from the Baggies' academy and may be worth keeping an eye on, while Farkins played for Torquay's youth team and served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine.
See Jon Palmer's Echo piece with him here:
With him, fitness is not going to be a problem, and it will be down to whether the recommendation from Yatesy's old team-mate John Gayle is a good one, and the guy can play.
But with Keith Lowe and Harry Hooman already at the club as cover for central defence, it also brings into question whether we need another player in that area.
Evesham next week will give us our chance to see how these five limber up - and if Yatesy's recruitment plans are on course, there could be a few more new faces to have a look at.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Summer silly season

With a week to go until the start of pre-season training, 17 days until the first friendly at Evesham and about six weeks until Dagenham and Redbridge come calling, the silly season is in full swing.
After the dust settled on the Wembley defeat, we said farewell to Josh Low, Junior Smikle and Theo Lewis, as well as our loanees Jimmy Spencer and Luke Garbutt.
The next focus was on the out of contract players, with Scott Brown and Keith Lowe signing for two years, with Harry Hooman, Bags Graham and Jeff Goulding staying for another 12 months and Alan Bennett invoking his 12-month appearance clause.
It was good work by Yatesy to get them all signed up, but he was unable to persuade Luke Summerfield to give it another go next season, as he opted for a move to Shrewsbury in League One.
As usual, some fans have taken his decision badly, accusing him of disloyalty after we 'rescued his career' last summer, apparently.
Not sure I would go that far, but we did give him a contract and he repaid us with some excellent displays and goals last season, but with his deal running out he is quite within his rights to have a look around.
Football is a short career - you are a long time retired, as I remember John Finnigan saying to me once - and Luke owes it to himself to spend as much of that time as he can playing at as high a level as he can.
He came to us having played in the Championship and League One for most of his previous career and it is good to see on Twitter that most CTFC fans have wished him and fiancee Heidi all the best.
But now we move on, and we start to wonder about Yatesy's summer recruitment, which is yet to start.
We are into July, and some are starting to get a bit twitchy as we have yet to add to our squad, which currently looks like this:
Goalkeeper: Scott Brown
Defenders: Sido Jombati, Keith Lowe, Alan Bennett, Harry Hooman, Steve Elliott, Danny Andrew (available on a free).
Midfielders: Russ Penn, Marlon Pack, Jermaine McGlashan, Bags Graham, Kaid Mohamed.
Forwards: Jeff Goulding, Darryl Duffy.
So we currently have 14 players (including Danny Andrew) and with Yatesy saying he wants 22 or 23 for the big kick-off, there is much work to be done and players to be signed in the coming weeks.
As I said, some are becoming a bit twitchy, but bear in mind that everything, including the start of training and the season itself, is two weeks later this year because of London 2012 - and players' deals did not end until last weekend, so players signed before then incur an extra cost.
Some clubs (Rotherham and Fleetwood especially) have done their shopping early, and seeing clubs like Southend, Burton and Aldershot also entering the market will leave people wondering if we are being left behind.
But we know that all the perceived best players have not gone.
Last summer, it was very late when Alan Bennett, Darryl Duffy and Luke Summerfield were signed, so there is still lots of time for rabbits to be plucked from hats by master magicians Yates and Howarth.
So where are they going to be looking to add to the squad?
A goalkeeper obviously - hopefully the next Jack Butland. Then, a left-back as Danny Andrew seems to be surplus to requirements.
Defensively, that would be it for me, leaving us with six - four of whom can play at centre back, Sido and Keith Lowe for right back and the new man plus Sido covering the left side.
In midfield, we need a replacement for Summers and I think also one more central player as we have lost Theo and Dave Bird, plus Junior from that area.
Out wide, I would like to see a right-sided wide man as competition for Jermaine, but we need to trust Bags on the left to backup Mo.
Up front we need two strikers, one of whom is ideally a Ben Burgess-style player.
So that makes seven players, which would take us (minus Danny) to 20, then Mark may look at a couple of long-term loans to supplement the numbers further.
As usual, the rumour mill has been strong, with names bandied about from the plausible (Anthony Straker), to the possible (Christian Ribeiro), the far-fetched (Alex Bruce) to the downright ridiculous (Kheli Dube, a Zimbabwean striker playing for Chicago Fire).
The good old PFA transfer list ( has plenty of decent players still looking for clubs, and here are a few names which may, or may not, float your boat as potential Rubies (or whatever colour the new kit is).

Scott McGleish
Dean Morgan
Kenny Lunt
Mark Hughes
Sam Deering
Christian Ribeiro
Jos Labadie
Martin Devaney
Ryan Green
Lee Cook
David Clarkson
Stuart Nelson
Keiran Djilali
Jon Macken
Arron Davies
Anthony McNamee
Karl Hawley

There, that's a few names that jumped out at me from the PFA list - I don't expect any of them to sign for us,  as some of them will be out our reach wages-wise, geographically and will not want to drop to League Two, but it does show the calibre of player which is out there.
Bear in mind also, that last summer arguably two of the most successful signings, Sido and Mo, were from left-field and one became player of the year and the other was our joint-top League Two goalscorer.
Just remember, it is still early July. The fun has yet to begin.