After what already seems like an age without any club football, the next few weeks sees the release of both the fixture list and the new Puma kit along with the start of Notts’ pre-season schedule. Whilst those all whet the appetite of the Notts faithful, something which generally seems to have failed to do that in the chasm of the close season so far is the building of the squad who’ll have to fulfill said fixtures in said kit.
When the retained list was announced, only six full time professionals were under contract. Taking into consideration one of those is Michael O’Connor who’ll miss a vast majority of the upcoming season recovering and rehabilitating from a major knee injury and one is the gaffer himself who hasn’t played for the best part of a calendar year, then technically it’s four; Adam Collin, Matt Tootle, Carl Dickinson and Jon Forte. Maybe it’s actually three with Carl Dickinson still around…
When the retained list was announced, nine of the current playing squad were offered new deals; Jon Stead, Shola Ameobi, Richard Duffy, Curtis Thompson, Elliot Hewitt, Haydn Hollis, Rob Milsom, Alan Smith and Mike Edwards; caveated with the fact the latter two have been offered player/coach roles in the set up. At the time I started writing this post, only Shola Ameobi was yet to sign on for the new season but at the time of posting the club have announced he has dome the deed, wonderful news! Along with the renewals Nolan has added wide men Terry Hawkridge and Lewis Alessandra to the ranks.
Normally Notts’ have a ‘Steve Evans at Mansfield’-esq reshuffle but so far this summer all seems quiet at Meadow Lane and I think this is why Notts fans seem quite underwhelmed. As well as a lack of the new faces so far, some of the renewals have baffled fans especially after some of the dismal performances certain individuals put in last season; Richard Duffy probably topping the list of most fans – certainly mine. So, with the squad taking shape, what else does it need in order to settle some of the pre-pre-season nerves?
Forwards available – Jon Stead, Jon Forte and Shola Ameobi
The big question is will Shola stay? Like previously mentioned now we know he will be is positive news all round – remember Vadine Oliver started with the number 9 shirt last season. He displayed his obvious class during last season, was a real nuisance for every defence he came up against and chipped in with goals and assists. Now Shola has signed, we will still need a proven goal scorer. Matt Green immediately springs to mind and providing he can stay fit then I’d happily see him signed up. What would worry me is can Stead, Green and Ameobi stay fit enough to be available for a majority of games over a season? I’d hope so but I think it would be a gamble. No doubt they’ll all score goals, but fitness is a big worry. Fleetwood have today withdrawn their contract offer to the extremely talented David Ball, whilst it’s a long shot, Alan Hardy doesn’t seem too scared to put his money on the table and with no transfer fee…
With four frontline strikers, Alessandra and maybe a short term loanee from a Premier League or Championship club (NOT Tavhon Campbell…) then that’s plenty of forward options. Maybe Jon Forte might get a kick at some point too after being woefully under used by Nolan last term.
Midfielders available – Curtis Thompson, Rob Milsom, Alan Smith, Alex Howes, Kevin Nolan, Sam Osborne, Terry Hawkridge and Lewis Alessandra
Upon first viewing, it seems that the middle of the park is sorted. We know that Nolan likes to have a solid, hard working and industrious midfield two and between them Thompson, Milsom, Hewitt and Tootle have all proven they are capable of doing embodying these attributes. Alex Howes is an unknown quantity and Alan Smith and Nolan themselves should only be looking to play in an injury crisis. What the central midfield area lacks, now O’Connor is injured, is a little spark of creativity. Milsom and Thompson can shuffle the ball round well, but may lack in the ‘killer pass’ area consistently. The club has made it clear they are interested in resigning Liam Noble and whilst he has that creative spark he isn’t the man we need in a central midfield two. If the right player becomes available then an extra body here is a no-brainer.
Either Nolan brings in another CM, gets himself fit and ready for action (although I’d prefer to see him in the dugout) or definitely signs two more wide men. Hawkridge and Alessandra are exciting prospects on the wing but they’ll need both support and competition for places as the season slogs on. Sam Osborne falls into the Alex Howes category so it could be another case of a permanent signing and a young loanee. I’d say two more wide men are a necessity and if the right CM comes along then we have to snap him up quickly.
Defenders available – Matt Tootle, Elliot Hewitt, Richard Duffy, Haydn Hollis, Mike Edwards and Carl Dickinson
Simply put, the absolute priority for our next three signings has to be two starting centre halves and a first choice left back. Matt Tootle has the right back spot nailed and Hewitt provides adequate cover, but if we want to do anything productive this season, there is no way Hollis, Duffy and Dickinson (the latter two especially) can be anywhere near our first choice starting eleven on the first day of the season. They’ve all shown time how they cannot produce the goods on a consistent basis and many, many Notts fans have despaired at Hollis and Duffy being retained.
I’m happy Hollis has resigned, he has shown his quality when he keeps it simple, has room to improve and as a left footed centre half he adds a balance to the defence in a tactical sense but he cannot be our consistent first choice. As a stand in, he’ll do a fine job, but over a full season I worry. Duffy for me should never have been allowed to renew his contract and certainly shouldn’t be anywhere near the captains armband and Dickinson was our worst signing last season and is one of the worst full backs I’ve seen play for the club. Two centre halves who defend for their lives, do the simple things and do not get bullied by opposition forwards are a must. Seeing David Mirfin sign for Mansfield was an absolute killer in this department but Wigan have announced that Jake Buxton is leaving the club this summer in order to be closer to his Nottinghamshire based family; anyone got his number? If anyone embodied exactly what we’ve missed for years and need desperately now, then it’s Bucko.
Goalkeepers available – Adam Collin and Joe Searson-Smithard
Along with the defence, the goalkeeping situation is something Nolan needs to take a long, hard look at. Whilst Searson-Smithard will probably be third choice, which will be excellent for his continuing development, Adam Collin should be under serious pressure for the number one position. He does not breed confidence in his defence due to being stuck in his six yard box, his distribution both off the floor and out of his hands is inconsistent and his shot stopping leaves a lot to be desired. He also puts out some poorly judged tweets… Again, if we are to be challenging to be in the Top 10, a change of custodian is needed. We need an experienced head who’ll command his area and defence.
By my reckoning that’s one goalkeeper, two centre halves, one left back, two wide men, one central midfielder (NOT Liam Noble, but the right fit) and one striker to make eight additions to the squad. I can envisage two of these being loan moves and six permanent signings. If we allow Howes, Searson-Smithard, Osborne, Edwards and Smith to be squad players due to the spectrum of age and experience, that leaves us with a squad of 22; two goalkeepers, eight defenders, eight midfielders and four strikers. Add into this a few players who can play in different positions and some astute use of the loan market at key times, that looks a balanced squad with room to develop and grow.
Whilst it has been a quiet summer so far in terms of new faces, the Notts County F.C new-signing scarf will have plenty more outings as pre-season gets going; let’s hope Nolan next great test as manager goes as successfully as his first.