Sideways Sammy 2017/18 Season Preview

Pre-season has been long and dark, but football is nearly back. My incredibly-detailed verdict on how it will all definitely unfold is now available for your reading pleasure.

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Featuring 79 Pages Of:

Club-by-Club League Two Previews, Player-By-Player Reviews, Tactical Discussion, Key Player Profiles, Manager Profile and Predictions.

2015/16 Season Preview

It’s that time of the year again, the new league season is upon us and the time has come for my season preview. Hopefully the answers to the questions of; How good are we? How good is everyone else? What does that all mean for us? Can I see a picture of James Maddison in high contrast Sky Blue and White monotone? Will all be contained within these 77 pages.

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Featuring 77 Pages of:

  • Club-by-Club League One season previews
  • A report on every first-team player under contract, youth-team players and those dearly departed
  • Eight different articles covering every aspect of our pre-season anxiety
  • A trove of stats both meaningful and useless
  • And finally, the predictions that will expose just how little I really know about Coventry City and League One

 

Season Preview: Coventry City

With Friday’s seemingly crunch CVA meeting still to come it might be slightly premature to assess fully our prospects for the coming season. The meeting seems to have two outcomes, return to Ricoh and administration ends after transfer window (not so much of a problem as we’re after frees and loan signings) or liquidation of Limited and what looks like an immediate 15 point deduction (not sure what impact it will have on the transfer front). As much as I believe that there is quality within this squad, perhaps enough to achieve promotion, I feel that we would struggle to overcome the psychological impact of a 15 point deduction. Furthermore I don’t see how either outcome improves our long-term future, agreeing to the new rent deal may just be delaying the inevitable, rejecting it and moving to Northampton would reduce our support base greatly. Also given the amount of hatred out there for SISU I think that either way there’ll be a large drop in support and general positivity around the club, even if SISU build a new stadium and financially support a promotion worthy team.

With that out of the way, I shall begin my season preview. My basis for my season preview is that we don’t get a points deduction, meaning that we’ll be playing at the Ricoh and leaving administration in September.

The Players

In my pre-season round-up I looked at several players who either performed well in pre-season or are looking to be important players for the coming season. With the benefit of just under a week to think more about it, I will now list the 5 key players currently at the club and why they are so important.

Leon Clarke

Last season was another typical season for Leon Clarke, essentially under contract at 3 different clubs, yet last season was without a doubt his best in front of goal. This season he faces the prospect of being at a club where he’s under contract, wanted and in form, this is his chance to show what he can do under a stable environment as the number one striker at the club. Leon Clarke doubled his best ever season in front of goal last time out, which either suggests he’s at his peak or that it was something of a fluke. For our sake we have to hope that Leon’s capable of repeating last season’s trick as the lack of reliable back-up options (i.e. Callum Wilson) means that much of the goal-scoring burden will be placed on his shoulders. Clarke’s importance to the team will not just be his goal-scoring, he’ll need to lead the line as well as mentor his under-study/strike partner Callum Wilson. The difference between survival and a successful season rests a large amount on whether Leon Clarke has both the ability and mental strength required to live up to the expectations being placed on him, I believe that the confidence of the team may rest on Leon Clarke’s ability to score consistently.

Carl Baker

A surprise choice as captain last year paid dividends in the form of goals, even if his actual performance levels varied extremely. On his day he was one of the best goal-scoring midfielders in the league, unfortunately on that same day he could also be incapable of even trapping the ball. Given last season’s plummet in performances as a team following the points deduction, Baker’s role in captain could be important in setting the mentality of the team should we start struggling for wins or even goals. His comments in the media have been encouraging surrounding both his personal goals for the season and in trying to show his sympathy for the continued troubles of the Coventry City fans. I still doubt Baker’s mental strength though, after seeing his performances early last season where he was regularly very poor and also his nonchalance during our relegation season from the Championship, I wonder whether Baker is truly able to overcome the crushing pressures of what looks to be a long and hard season.

John Fleck

When Pressley was appointed his first move seemed to be to build the team around John Fleck. Moved into a deep-lying position, Fleck was tasked with providing the tempo for the team to play at. After a disappointing season in and out of the first-team Fleck’s range of passing was clearly what attracted Pressley to his fellow Scot. The two main question marks are whether Fleck has the fitness levels to play two games a week, as he’ll so often be asked to do,  and also whether Fleck has the ability to make his passing count. The end of last season definitely showed us how well Fleck was on the ball but it’s whether he has the decision making ability to both mantain possession and also provide penetration. Another player who’s performance levels have to remain high to keep our heads above water.

Joe Murphy

For many people Murphy should be the man in possession of the captain’s armband currently possessed by Carl Baker. After a difficult first season, enduring relegation from the Championship, Joe Murphy should why Andy Thorn thought he could replace Keiren Westwood in goal. Although clearly not Westwood’s equal in terms of shot-stopping, at League One level we saw how important having a keeper regularly capable of getting the basics of goalkeeping right can be. It’s hard to point to specific games where Murphy made the difference between wins and draws/defeats his consistency finally won over many Coventry fans. Furthermore Murphy’s prediliction for shouting at his defenders is perhaps the reason why we see him as perfect captain material. This season he’ll be asked to repeat his consistent performances as well as provide the distribution in order to maintain Pressley’s passing style.

Jordan Willis

There were many players I was thinking of who could have been included in this important 5 but mainly by virtue of being currently the only first-team centre-back in the squad Willis exceeded the other candidates. In just 4 first-team appearances Willis has seemed to have the raw potential to become a top professional footballer, but we have too often seen this potential fail to be converted into professional appearances from other academy products. Willis though has been thrown into the deep-end for the start of the season with no new signings at least until September and a likely points deduction, it will be important that we get off to a strong start, or at least pick up a few wins. It definitely seems like Willis could be able to step up, despite the little we’ve seen of him, he looks relatively strong and fast and has a good reading of the game. You do wonder though whether a difficult start to the season may effect Jordan Willis’s future career as a footballer, it could definitely set him back. Another player whose mental strength will be strongly tested.

Signings (?)

If and when we get out of administration and have the embargo lifted it seems almost certain that the first move to be made will be for our trialist Mathieu Manset. He’ll provide another different option up front and will decrease the pressure on Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson. As far as elsewhere is concerned, we’re not too sure, the embargo reduces our ability to pick out who he want to sign so a lot will depend upon who’s available come September. This may be depressing for some fans, but given that we signed Franck Moussa and Leon Clarke both outside of the transfer window it’s clear that there’s still value available even after August 31st.

It almost goes without saying that we’re going to be needing a new centre-back or three, there’s talks that Aaron Martin will re-join, either permanantly or more likely on a long-term loan. Also Scottish defender Craig Reid apparantly impressed Pressley whilst on trial and could be offered a full-time deal. However if those moves never come to fruition there’s also the extensive stock of free agents available. The more realistic options available seem to be ex-Charlton and Exeter man Matt Taylor, who impressed in the former’s promotion season, ex-Leeds and Carlisle Lubomir Michalik and the injury prone Matthew Bates and Patrick Kisnorbo. None of whom will be relatively cheap but I personally anticpate that SISU will look to invest in the team as much as possible to try and keep the remaining fans onside.

The other area where we currently lack is probably out wide, Pressley has talked about adding pace to the squad but thus far failed to sign ex-Burton winger Jacques Maghoma (now at Sheffield Wednesday) and trialists Fabio Martins and Zavon Hines both failed to impress. Gerardo Bruna is perhaps the most intriguing and realistic name on the PFA list at the moment, suggesting that we’ll probably be looking to sign players on loan in order to fill this current deficit.

The Manager

It’s frankly ridiculous to think that after a start that almost mirrors Mark Robins’s, Pressley is under pressure from a section of our support. For me those last few games of the season were a right-off, essentially glorified pre-season friendlies, on Saturday the real beginning of Pressley’s reign is underway. In his early few games, before the points deduction, his results were quite encouraging, leading me to wonder whether Pressley might have got us into the play-offs had we not suffered the points deduction. Come Saturday though all the speculating about Pressley’s merits and demerits will end as we’ll find out better whether he’s able to produce winning football under his passing style.

On the plus side for Pressley the doom and gloom may improve fan’s patience to facilitate his passing style before results are produced. On the down side is that the team are under pressure to get off to a good start in order to avoid a relegation battle, especially if they’re deducted 15 points. Furthermore is Andy Thorn’s recent attempt to get us playing passing football which saw us relegated from the Championship, telling from much of Pressley’s criticism is this very scar.

Given that many of our better players from last season have been retained, as of the time of writing, it is not absurd to expect more than simply a fight against relegation. In addition to the 5 players I’ve outlined above players like Blair Adams, Cyrus Christie, Adam Barton, Conor Thomas and Franck Moussa all have the ability to be top players at this level. In the back of my mind I still have the feeling that we could reach the play-offs this season. We’ve seen before that it only takes a few things to click into place in order to build a winning mentality, the team last season were not far away and with a good start we still have much of the basis of that side and could perhaps go one further. For our hopes this season a lot is dependent on Friday’s meeting, staying at the Ricoh, getting off to a decent start then we’re already doing better than last time out where we came close.

The Other 23 – Part 4

Shrewsbury Town

Survival in League One last season was a significant achievement for Graham Turner’s Shrewsbury Town side. On one of the smallest budgets and with a squad the lesser of one or two of the four that eventually fell through the trap door, Shrewsbury’s survival proved manager Graham Turner’s continued excellence as a lower league manager. The task this season is no easier though. With budget restrictions similar, if not worse, and without the momentum of a promotion from the previous season Shrewsbury are one of the relegation favourites. Key players such as left-back Matt Richards, striker Marvin Morgan and winger Mark Wright have all been let go seemingly by choice and the squad is looking threadbare at the moment, particularly in attack. The signing of experienced defenders Dave Winfield and Tamika Mkandawire will further solidify Shrewsbury’s defence, who on their day can stifle even the best in the league. Shrewsbury’s star player right now is probably young winger Jon Taylor who they managed to keep despite interest from bigger clubs. A lot will depend on how Turner uses the loan market with a new striker or two seemingly a must, at the moment though they have done little to dispel the sense that they are temporary residents in the third tier.

Stevenage

Despite a strong start last season under former manager Gary Smith the Hertfordshire club lost momentum and eventually retreated to mid-table as the season fizzled out. On the way the re-appointed their Smith’s predecessor Graham Westley after a tumultuous spell in charge of Preston. What this says about the club’s ambitions is hard to say, it still seems strange that Stevenage are even a Football League side, stranger still that they challenged for promotion to the second tier two seasons ago, even stranger is that Gary Smith was sacked for failing to challenge for the play-offs. In that mix is the re-appointment of Westley who failed at a ‘bigger’ club in the same division, on the one hand it could be interpreted as a move to recapture the glory of their two, nearly three, successive promotions, on the other it seems like a retreat into their comfort zone. Westley’s transfer business so followed a similar vein to his bargain hunting at Preston, signing mostly from League Two and the Conference though most notably perhaps Jimmy Smith from fellow League One side Leyton Orient. As of the time of writing the biggest name to leave has been Anthony Grant to Crewe yet Westley has talked both of trying to overhaul his squad and also of his resignation to the departure of winger Lucas Akins and midfielder James Dunne. Whether Westley will recapture the formula that was once so successful at this club is difficult to really say both before the season has started and the end of the transfer window. They could get dragged into a relegation battle should this nostalgia trip fail but I believe that Westley’s football might actually be able to wind enough opponents up in order to avoid that fate, so I predict a lower mid-table finish.

Swindon Town

Yet another side that have had a tumultuous 12 months whereby now their expectations have been transformed. Gone are the big spending days of Paolo di Canio and after a surprise resignation so is the Italian’s replacement in Kevin MacDonald. All is not well in Swindon, especially after an exodus of key players from last season taking in Adam Rooney, Alan McCormack, Raffaele de Vita, Tommy Miller, Aden Flint, Simon Ferry and James Collins added to January’s sale of winger Matt Ritchie. The main replacements have all been Tottenham youth-teamers and the implication has been that MacDonald wasn’t entirely involved in the selection of these signings. At the moment former Peterborough flop Mark Cooper will have another shot at Football League management and is tasked with steadying what seems like a sinking ship. On the plus side, keeper Wes Foderingham signed a new contract and Paul Caddis and Alan Navarro remain at the club, all will be key players. Whilst things could all go horribly wrong at Swindon, it’s easy to forget that they reached the play-offs last season, a penalty shoot-out away from Wembley. Furthermore the players left as well as new signings Ryan Harley, Massimo Luongo and Alex Pritchard all have the pedigree to perform well at this level. It could go either way for Swindon, if they get the right manager they could be an outside bet for the play-offs, get it wrong and they could be relegation battlers. I aniticipate though that the truth will lie somewhere in between with a mid-table finish.

Tranmere Rovers

As late in the season as March, Tranmere were in with a good chance of promotion. By the end of April they lay in 11th with no prospect of even the play-offs, they only had the role of party-poopers for Bournemouth after refusing to allow them a trophy presentation that ultimately never came to pass. Perhaps Tranmere were punching above their weight last time out but it did seem that Ronnie Moore has stumbled upon an interesting formula that was eventually undermined by a series of key injuries. The main departure thus far has been left-back Zoumana Bakayogo who refused a new contract and eventually joined Leicester. The core of last season’s squad remains and gives Moore a chance to build on last season’s disappointment. The signings of veteran strikers Akpo Sodje and Ryan Lowe are a clear attempt to solve the striking crisis that they suffered following Jake Cassidy’s return to Wolves last January. Holding on to key players such as Owain fon Williams, Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro and James Wallace could be key provided they all stay fit for the duration of the season. However as much as it would interesting to see Tranmere in the Championship it just seems like they missed out on their best chance in a while last season and will regress to the mean this time out, my prediction is mid-table.

Walsall

Another of last season’s surprise packages, Walsall’s late season surge towards the play-offs ultimately fell short but they did teach a lot of other teams how to go about their business both on and off the pitch on a limited budget. Manager Dean Smith finally squeezed out the potential that many of the Walsall academy players seemed to possess and forged a strong team unit who improved as the season wore on. However due to being a small club, this summer has seen a systematic dismantling of that successful team, particularly their attacking trident of Jamie Paterson, Will Grigg and Febian Brandy, all of whom have departed. it’s hard to tell the extent to which this was antipated but the noises from the media suggest that perhaps Walsall were blindsided by the level of interest in their star players. Perhaps had they known they would have kept players such as Richard Taundry and George Bowerman despite both underwhelming last time out. The replacements thus far have followed a similar vein to Walsall’s budget shopping last summer, Troy Hewitt of Q.P.R. is Grigg’s replacement and Milan Lalkovic on loan from Chelsea replaces Paterson/Brandy. The difference between relegation and mid-table seems to be whether Smith can re-build and re-ignite his side after a disappointing summer in the transfer market. My prediction is that they’ll just about come out the right side of a relegation battle provided injuries don’t bite at their squad too hard.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

After a double relegation in successive season Wolves suddenly find themselves in the third-tier of English football. After two different managerial experiments in the form of Stale Solbakken and Dean Saunders last season the Black Country side eventually tumbled into League One with a whimper. The temptation then would be for new manager Kenny Jackett to attempt a complete squad overhaul, only 4 first-teamers from last season have actually left with 3 more on the transfer list. The signings so far have been limited to former Bolton defender Sam Ricketts who is probably Premier League quality should he remain fit. Jackett looks likely to build a side around rejuvenating players who seemingly have lost their apetite for professional football. More will be expected from David Edwards, Kevin Foley and Kevin Doyle, players like Leigh Griffiths and Jake Cassidy will be expected to perform after impressing out on loan and the return to fitness of Wayne Hennessey and George Elokobi should be a welcome boost for Wolves. Perhaps a major transfer is just around the corner but right now Wolves are trying not to through their babies out of the bathwater and just keep things steady after two tumultuous seasons. Getting off to a strong start will be crucial but it does seem like Wolves simply have too much quality for this league and are awaiting a capable manager, such as Jackett, to lead them back to where they belong. My prediction is automatic promotion but probably first place due to their squad depth.

The Other 23 – Part 3

Oldham Athletic

After narrowly escaping relegation, Lee Johnson’s next task as Oldham manager seems likely to be the same. Key players in the shape of Jean-Yves M’Voto, Dean Furman and Lee Croft have all left and Oldham are seemingly in need of a rebuilding job. Wingers James Dayton and Sidney Schmeltz have been brought in and are probably the stand out signings so far and should provide some pace and trickery out wide. Former Swindon and Birmingham striker Adam Rooney has been on trial at the club and could be a crucial signing were he to be signed. Otherwise this Oldham squad are lacking in quality and numbers in most areas and will be looking for academy graduates such as James Tarkowski and David Mellor to deliver on their potential in order to prevent another end of season relegation scrap. Of those who have stayed from last season James Wesolowski and Cliff Byrne will be key, especially if the former shakes of his fitness issues. With Lee Johnson still largely unproven as a football manager it’s hard to tell what he can achieve with a squad perhaps capable of upper mid-table but it does seem that the materials provided limit his expectations for anything other than a long season around those relegation spots.

Peterborough United

An unfortunate free-kick decision, a lapse in defensive concentration and a farcical finish in the Huddersfield-Barnsley game provided the fine margin between safety and Peterborough’s current reality of League One football. Although you can point and say that had Peterborough not started last season so poorly then they wouldn’t have had to hope for a final-day win in order to survive but given their performances at various points last season, relegation for the Posh did seem to be particularly unlucky and cruel. You’d imagine though that Peterborough will be able to take those various disappointments in their stride and dust themselves off for another entertaining season of football. For a team that were relegated they seemed to play very well, have outstanding individuals and not a particularly strong sense of dismay and defeat at the club. The main departure has been £6,000,000 man Dwight Gayle who only played half a season at the club so they have money to spend. As of yet though the only main signing has been their former loanee Jack Payne. That £6m has been burning a whole in their pockets though with their chairman confirming that they tried to break their transfer record in order to sign Bradford’s Nahki Wells. At the moment though it seeems that keeping players such as Michael Bostwick, Lee Tomlin and Tommy Rowe could be the best business that the club has been able to do. Unlike Wolves, Peterborough know they don’t belong at any level and also don’t have the same sense of malaise around the club, Posh could infact be the best placed team to go and win this whole league despite lacking perhaps the squad depth that Wolves have.

Port Vale

In unlikely circumstances, former Sky Blues manager Mickey Adams led Port Vale to automatic promotion from League 2. Considering that they started the season in administration they ended up as runners-up in League 2 with relative comfort. The goals of Tom Pope as well as wide-play from Jennison Myrie-Williams and the now departed Ashley Vincent, Adams stumbled upon a simple but effective formula. When January came he made moves to strengthen the defence in the shape of Darren Purse (now released) as well as midfield in ex-Sheffield Wednesday winger Daniel Jones and bolstered his attack with the controversial Lee Hughes. The recent takeover at Vale Park has transformed their expectations from League 2 also-rans to outside League One play-off contenders. The signings of hard-men defenders Carl Dickinson and Chris Robertson add further steel to Port Vale’s defence. The signing of another ex-Sheffield Wednesday player in the form of Chris Lines could prove crucial, not only is he a proven performer at this level but is a set-piece specialist, it’s not hard to imagine how Mickey Adams shall set his side up this season, defend well, break at pace or win set pieces for the big men to head in. Perhaps it lacks subtlety but we saw time and again last season how well simple football, based around getting the basics right, can be in this league. A lot depends on how the previously goal-shy Pope is able to continue his form of last season, now at a higher level, as well as whether their defence might be caught for pace should they push too far up. From the looks of things Port Vale look like mid-table material with a decent chance of becoming one of the league’s genuine surprise packages.

Preston North End

Preston’s dalliance last season with their now former manager Graham Westley looked to have cost them what seemed to be a fantastic chance for promotion. With money seeming to be tight at Deepdale, Westley’s tenure was marked by both budget cut-backs and bombastic behaviour from everyone’s least favourite David Brent impersonator. Perhaps it was a sign of a once proud football club on its very knees, now though the sense of foreboding around the club’s short-medium term future looks to have dissipated. Preston ended last season as one of the league’s form teams and now under serial third-tier promotion getter Simon Grayson all seems a lot more healthier in Lancashire. By far the stand-out signing is ex-Bolton and England striker Kevin Davies who turned down moves higher up the league pyramid as well as abroad in order to play for Grayson’s Lilywhites. It seems like quite the coup for Preston and a reversal of the penny-pinching of the previous few years at the club. The signing of pacey ex-Motherwell winger Chris Humphrey though could also turn out to be a masterstroke from Simon Grayson, providing the penetration and crossing for Kevin Davies to take advantage of. As far as departures go there are none to really speak of that would harm Preston’s promotion hopes. They now have two keepers who could probably play for any other League One side in Thorsten Stuckman and Declan Rudd, the defence looks solid, Nicky Wroe, Will Hayhurst and John Welsh can all be important players in midfield on their day. Their attacking options, Davies excluded, remain very strong in the form of Joe Garner, Iain Hume and Stuart Beavon. It’s tough not to anticipate Preston improving on their previous two seasons in this league and are genuine promotion contenders, though more likely to find it via the play-offs.

Rotherham United

After spending a decent few years away after being locked out from Millmoor, Rotherham returned to their home town last season and immediately clinched promotion. It was perhaps a more drawn out affair than anticipated but after years in the doldrums Rotherham finally have something on the pitch to be proud of. Although Steve Evans is not one of the most popular managers in the Football League he has been able to deliver the results that his behaviour demands. Although Crawley and now Rotherham are not the toughest lower league jobs it still takes a lot of character and nous to turn wealthy teams into winning ones. After a busy summer last time out it appears that Evans has his core of the team in place and ready for League One football, these players include Ben Pringle, Kari Arnason and Daniel Nardiello who all showed last time out they belong in a league above. Evans’s siginings this summer have largely been younger albeit proven players, Joe Skarz and David Worrall both proved their pedigree at this level with Bury and fomer Carlisle man Adam Collin has plenty of experience at this level. The missing piece for much of the summer has seemed to be their main striker, after failing to sign  numerous players including ex-Falkirk striker Lyle Taylor, Evans eventually plumped for his ex-Crawley striker Matt Tubbs who struggled at this level with Bournemouth. Rotherham to me look like solid mid-table material and should they tread into dangerous waters it seems they’ll be more than able to buy their solution.

Sheffield United

The past two seasons have seen Sheffield United fall agonisingly short of promotion back to the second-tier. The sacking of Danny Wilson just before the play-off campaign seemed like a desperate move for a club looking for a quick fix for their simple problem of being in the wrong league. After experimenting with ex-player Chris Morgan and after a worldwide search that spread as far as former Australia manager Graham Arnold they eventually decided to go for former Rangers centre-back David Weir, who has yet to manage at first-team level. Whether Sheffield United have blown their best two chances for promotion remains to be seen but it is clear that this is another summer of budget cut-backs for the Blades. This time out the departures are less eye-catching those of Stephen Quinn, Lee Williamson and Matthew Lowton but will have reduced their considerable wage budget in allowing the likes of Barry Robson and Richard Cresswell off the books. The main signings have been ex-Falkirk man Lyle Taylor who struggled to impress in his last spell in English football but scored 24 in 34 appearances in the Scottish First Division last season. Additionally Liverpool’s England under-20 captain Conor Coady has joined on loan and is looking for his first taste of first-team football and ex-Walsall striker Febian Brandy will offer pace in attack. Weir has talked of implementing a more attractive style of play at Bramall Lane and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to achieve and also satisfy an increasingly frustrated fanbase who are looking for the Blades to restore their fearsome reputation in the Football League. I anticipate that Sheffield United will fall short of the the play-offs this season and will have another tough summer in 12 months time to balance the books.