Tales of Pre-Season

It seems strange to say this in July but we are now less than a week from the start of the new season. All this focus on the off-field shenanigans has meant that the actual team itself has received very little attention. For very genuine reasons it’s been nigh-on impossible to focus on the football itself, in fact the realisation that the season-opener was so soon only came to me these past few days. This post is an attempt to encapsulate what may have gone on under your sky blue radar over these past few months.

Trialists

I’ll start with the more obscure and less likely to sign players and then move on to the more well-known players as well as those who seem likely to join the the squad.

Israel – I know nothing about this player, have never heard of him or anything about his trial at the club. Apparantly he is a Spanish midfielder who used to play for Xerex. His advantage of being Spanish midfielder though hasn’t seemed to earned him a contract (or whatever might resemble a contract given our transfer embargo).

Daniel Orozco – Orozco is another Spaniard but not a midfielder, he’s a 6 foot 3 centre-back. After buying his own plane ticket to arrive in time for the last pre-season friendly he failed to impress and was taken off at half-time.

Fabio Martins – A Portuguese winger and ex-Porto youth player. Despite showing some flashes of quality against Fleetwood, he played against Mansfield and did enough to convince Pressley that he wasn’t worth a contract.

Craig Reid – Not the our former reserve striker who once played for Aldershot, Stevenage and Newport but a former Celtic youth-teamer with extensive experience in the lower Scottish leagues. At 5 foot 9 he may not be the most physically imposing player as a defender but he can play both at centre-back and right-back. Given some of the comments Pressley has made in the media it seems like he’s in with a good chance of getting a contract and bolstering our paper-thin defensive ranks.

Zavon Hines – Hines’s name will be familiar to you given that he once had a short loan spell at the club, scoring a great goal against Sheffield Wednesday the highlight of his spell (Richard Wood levelled that game for Wednesday). However he arrives back at the club on the verge of becoming another cautionary tale for young footballers. He showed promise at West Ham but failed to impress after signing for Burnley and had to drop down to League 2 in order to find first-team football. His spell at Bradford seemed to have gone well enough but at the end of the past season they decided he wasn’t worth a place in their now League 1 side. He played in the Oxford match but was far from spectacular and I imagine that he won’t be playing for us next season.

Mathieu Manset – A tall, powerful mountain of a Frenchman. The former Hereford and Reading striker’s career has been a mixed bag. From League Two to China and now on trial at Coventry via a spell in Switzerland playing under Gennaro Gattuso and still only 23. From Pressley’s comments in the media it sounds like he’s ours to keep unless another club comes in before we exit administration. Probably likely to feature as a back-up to Leon Clarke but he would seem to offer us another dimension in attack but is unlikely to be troubling any of the top scorers charts.

Players Still At The Club

Jordan Clarke – After seemingly being on the verge of leaving the club Jordan Clarke has managed to fight his way back into the first-team. Perhaps Pressley was impressed by his attitude or had the sudden realisation that we couldn’t afford to have so few defenders going into the season, Clarke has been reprieved and now seemingly re-invented. In the friendly matches he has been tried out as a centre-back and by all accounts has held his own. Despite the reports I remain far from comfortable at the thought of having Jordan Clarke in central defence for an extended period of time next season, however it’s good to know that the option exists.

Adam Barton – All the talk is that this season is Adam Barton’s crunch season. He’s had a spell as a bright prospect at Preston, he’s had a bad injury, he’s had time to recover, he’s been tried out in various positions from defence to behind the striker, now it’s time for Adam Barton to prove the quality that once interested Liverpool still exists. Although the friendlies have been experiments Barton has hardly been the stand-out performer but perhaps the intensity of competitive league football will raise Barton’s game and improve his consistency.

Franck Moussa – Towards the end of last season he was criticised for being out-of-form particularly with his end product. From where I was sitting he was, along with David Bell and Cyrus Christie, one of the few players in the team making the opposition think. His ability to run at defenders, particularly on the counter-attack, clearly causes the opposition problems on a fairly consistent basis however his decision making clearly lets him down. The pre-season friendlies showed much of this Franck Moussa but I still believe that even this offers an interesting threat for the opposition that will be useful even if it’s only threatening in 1 in 3-5 games.

Jordan Willis – Despite being so young Jordan Willis is under a lot of pressure for the early part of this season simply because he’s the only non-expendable central defender at the club with any professional experience. However given the reports from the friendlies it appears as if he’s taking it all in his stride. Perhaps our doubts over him are more at his age than his ability, given that his few appearances so far have been fairly impressive.

The Friendlies

The pre-season friendlies came in two parts, Holland and England. In Holland we seemed to be playing largely for fitness and in the two games against Eredivisie (Dutch top-flight) opposition we seemed to hold our own with a narrow defeat to Willem II and a draw against Heracles, however given that those two sides were also probably playing for fitness perhaps makes the results irrelevant even for pre-season friendlies.

In England we played 4 games in 4 days against 4th tier sides. The approach in these games seemed to be to test out the various options we had available both in our first-team and from the 6 trialists. The results were 2-0 against Cheltenham, 0-2 against Fleetwood. 3-2 against Mansfield and 0-1 against Oxford. Some fans have been panicking at some of the defeats but given that we lost 4-0 to Wrexham in pre-season last year you can never take the results too seriously. Aside from the players talked about above it appears that midfielder Ivor Lawton and centre-back Jack Finch will be closer to the first-team this year.

Summary

The performances in pre-season have shown Pressley’s commitment to a passing style of football. Perhaps the switch to Northampton might end up benefiting Pressley’s aims given that expectations of promotion are quite close to non-existent and fans (those who turn up) are likely to be more patient with a passing style of play. That being said the scar of Thorn’s tenure at the club may conversely decrease patience if the team struggles to find form in the early stages of the season whilst trying to knock the ball around. Also given the likely emptiness of Sixfields for much of next season and general mood of disarray at the club I still feel that no-one associated with the club will benefit from this ground move.

More importantly right now is the club exiting administration as soon as possible. As much as it would be great for these CVA talks to result in the club returning to the Ricoh it appears unlikely, the longer we take to sign new players it increases the risk of form and confidence deserting the team for as long as possible. That being said given that we’ll mainly be after free transfers and loan signings then perhaps the deadline of 31st August is a bit of red herring but the longer it drags on the smaller the pool of players Pressley will have to pick from.

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