Our squad’s too strong for League One! Those aren’t my words, they are the words of Mike Taylor from TV Quick magazine. Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent already. Of course they aren’t but I have actually seen these words used on sections of social media in the last few days by both children and adults old enough to know better.
Now I could rebuff this with statement with just two words “WHAT SQUAD??” but in an attempt to string out a lengthy article or two I thought I’d take a look at what shape we’re in. Trust me it’s not pretty…….
We start with an eternal conundrum and an area which could go from being one of our strongest to one of our weakest. Or is it? I’d always had Carson & Ali being more or less at the same level despite different strengths but having them both and Lee Nicholls for so long seemed folly. Al Habsi has gone already and I’m not sure Scott Carson will be hanging around in League One and a move may be mutually beneficial given his wages.
Which leaves Lee Nicholls. He has undoubtedly been criminally underused during his time here with only Coyle really giving him any playing time before last Saturday and that was out of necessity due to injuries to the first two. Up until a few weeks ago, he was generally thought to be walking away on a free – and who could blame him – but Gary Caldwell appears to be offering him a lifeline – and hopefully a contract with presumably some sideways guarantee that he will jump from being Number 3 to Number 1. This action will however throw up two more questions: is he good enough to be our number one? And furthermore, what impact will it have on him if he doesn’t have serious competition?
As far as back up goes, a cryogenically preserved Mike Pollitt from ten years ago might be just the ticket if that were possible but the problem with the goalkeeping berth is that we haven’t seen enough of Nicholls to determine whether he can do a full season. Age is usually a concern where keepers are concerned but not necessarily a prohibitive factor, especially for those who recall Roy Carroll flying to the rescue when he wasn’t singing along to Billy Joel with the away end at Wycombe. Plus the fact he is home grown should mean the fans will give him that extra bit of patience as he develops. Patience? Yeah right!
We may be able to tempt an older, more experienced keeper to augment the squad with Andy Lonergan touted already but it will undoubtedly eat into the wage bill. Given the desperate need to strengthen elsewhere, the club may have to forego this in their own real life game of Fantasy Football and only a finite amount of money available. We have by all accounts two Welsh youth Under 21 keepers on our books if all else fails – good prospects but yeah….see what I mean about looking weak?
To build our defensive frame I guess we need to know whether we will be needing 3, 4 or even 5 of them playing each week. Will it be flat back four or wing backs with three centre halves? Just because Gary Caldwell is Roberto’s love child doesn’t necessarily mean he will opt for the latter as Martinez often switched from one to the other. Nevertheless, personnel wise you’d guess that we’d need four full backs and anything up to 6 centre halves.
What is certain is that we will need four full backs, two for each side, one as back up. The only unknown is whether they will be “galloping forward Brazilians with no concern for defending” types or Pulis style “stay close to the centre half and boot the winger into touch if he comes in our half” types.
If it’s the former then we are exactly where we are 12 months’ ago: looking at a pair of exciting young prospects in Tavernier & Taylor Sinclair who can bomb forward at pace and run the flank. The big problem there is that one probably doesn’t want to come back and I’m not sure whether the other actually still exists. Oh and neither of them can defend.
If we assume that they are both an option then we will need an older sturdier head to compliment them. I would certainly keep James Perch at right back if he’s willing to stay, though I suspect Boycey if he is to get an extension may have to move inside. If both are gone then we will need a replacement. If I was to name one who we could bring in, I’d maybe see if we can get that Tyias Browning kid from Everton on loan over a longer period.
It’s no clearer at left back. Whereas Andrew Taylor should on paper be a shoe in, after seeing him in the early games of the season struggle to drag his wheezing carcass up the field ten minutes in whilst sporting a big red face looking like he’d been on the ale the night before, I really think he’s one player that if he wants to leave then we should bung him a few quid to disappear.
To think Rosler stood in front of us in a fans forum and told us all that we had to let Stephen Crainey go as we couldn’t afford him only to bring in this parmo eating plum? Crainey might have been a toothy grinned, fist pumping clumsy goon but at least he seemed like he wanted to play for us.
And apart from his marvellous surname, I simply don’t think Bong offers much either: positionally weak, poor at marking and can’t beat a man. Sorry Gaetan. We also still have the Honduran Juan Carlos Garcia on our books but given his illness I very much doubt he will be kicking a right winger in anger any time soon.
So we have Taylor-Sinclair who has barely played for us and Taylor who barely plays for us so we definitely need another left back, maybe two and depending who leaves on the other side we may need one or maybe two right backs.
Stephen Crainey has just been released by Fleetwood. NO, STOP IT! STOP IT NOW!!
I’d guess the first two would be Jason Pearce and Leon Barnett seeing as they are both under contract. Pearce has looked reasonable in a struggling side thus far with experience at this level and the right attitude whereas Barnett, after a promising first season quickly faded last year. Yet he may well excel in a lower league with his, ahem, agricultural style of defending. Some of the howlers he committed last year plus getting done for pace were not pleasant and coupled with the fact we are moving back to a passing game, the shirt ripping loon may well find himself cast in the Titus Bramble role. However, there’s clearly a player who is good enough at League One level in there somewhere and as he’s under contract and we’ve enough players to find already then we should persevere with him (again assuming he wants to be here)
You could repeat much of the last paragraph for Rob Kiernan too, with the possible exception that all Birmingham have to do is put any kind of offer in and he’ll be gone. Not that it’s that straightforward given their penchant for having a financial crisis every week that there’s a Wednesday in it. If he returns, well he’s far from perfect but in a back three, like his role model and now manager Gary Caldwell, he would hopefully use the added luxury of a third centre half alongside him to cut out the silly errors.
So that’s two possibly three. I cannot see Harry Maguire returning except possibly on loan again and I can take or leave the Boycey situation. Even after the emotion of last week’s fantastic event, I suspect it just comes down to the fact that the club may be prepared to offer him another year but on drastically reduced terms.
Anyone faced with a large pay cut, footballer or otherwise would probably take that a bit personally. Yet that it is also what the club has to do to somehow keep its financial head above water and in his head, Emmerson will know that. It may even be that the club cannot afford to offer him any kind of contract which would be a shame but ultimately it will be a value based assessment driven by what the management team think they can get out of him for another year. It would be great if we kept him but sadly we can’t have that decision made on sentimental grounds so let’s wait and see.
So how many centre halves do we need? At least two, possibly four to add to possibly up to four full backs, two for each side. Plus a ‘keeper.
See it’s a doddle this football management lark?
And people out there think we are going to romp League One? What with? Perhaps a team of hastily constructed super robots capable of running 100 metres in six seconds and hitting a ball at 340mph? We’ll be 18 points clear at the end of October once the robots start to click on the field.
Until it starts raining that is…….
Meanwhile back in the real world we need somewhere between 4 and 8 players and I’ve not even made it as far as the midfield yet……..
The squad so far
GK AN Other
GK Owen whatsisname
RB Perch / AN Other
RB Tavernier / AN Other
LB Taylor / AN Other
LB The invisible man (Taylor-Sinclair)
CB Kiernan / AN Other
CB Boyce / AN Other
CB AN Other
CB AN Other
Next time: midfielders and forwardsYou can find the latest episode of the Pie at Night Podcast on ITunes, on Stitcher or by searching for us in your favourite podcast App. You could also pop along to our AudioBoom site where you can find all our episodes. Or you could just use the player below. Give it a go, we might go on a bit, but you might enjoy it.