By Damien Wilkinson
We are all probably familiar with the standard disclaimer found on investment-related products, stating that past performance does not guarantee future performance. As we approach the start of the 2012/13 season, given the last few years of decline, it is to be hoped that this holds true with regard to City’s prospects.
Having now had the luxury of a pre-season not available to him last year, Phil Parkinson has assembled a squad that finally can be said to be his own, and has put his charges through a pre-season regime that has served him well in the past.
It is sometimes easy to forget that Parkinson has still only been with the club since the end of August 2011, particularly given the topsy-turvy nature of last season. Much has been documented about the squad Parkinson inherited – whether it was up to the required standard or not, but it’s probably fair to say that, from an external perspective, we didn’t comprehend the full extent of the ongoing disruption accompanying the departures of Peter Jackson, Archie Christie and the gradual dismantling of the Development Squad that occurred.
Indeed, Parkinson has only recently managed to trim the squad of the remnants of those deemed surplus to requirements, and to be carrying a significant level of unwanted players during last season can’t have helped team spirit around the club.
Whilst this culminated in a lowly league placing again last season, it is to be hoped that a significant amount of learning points occurred during what is starting to look more and more like a transitional season. Probably not immediately apparent, is the learning afforded by the numerous loan signings, which perhaps as failed experiments, have helped inform the requirements for the signings we have seen so far, and the associated style of play that will be adopted.
As pre-season has progressed, Parkinson has gradually, in what seems a very careful and considered manner, assembled a squad that he believes will challenge for promotion next season. Although certain publicised targets such as Andy Gray have not materialised, Parkinson has kept his cards fairly close to his chest regarding other targets, and whilst it is fair to assume that we may have missed out on certain other players, the recruitments we have made, together with the more than decent core of players retained from last season, form the nucleus of, what on paper, looks a very capable squad.
Whilst some criticisms have been levelled as to the number of players recruited to date, and the current squad size, it would appear that Parkinson is not panicking and holding on for the right players. Presumably this will mean that the recruitment may well continue once the season has commenced, which may well be no bad thing.
Recruitments to date of younger, strong pacy, albeit relatively less experienced players, such as Darby and Meredith have been complemented by experienced, “been there done it before”, players such as Jones, Thompson and Connell. Indeed there’s a hallmark through the side, of players who have achieved promotion at this level. Furthermore, Parkinson has placed some emphasis on recruiting players that either he, or assistant Steve Parkin, have worked with in the past. This all aligns with Parkinson’s blueprint of what is required and recruitments (and indeed departures) have been made in a regimented manner against this. Creating a strong team spirit amongst the side also seems to be very much a key consideration, and the recent week in Ireland will have assisted in team ‘bonding’.
Whilst Parkinson has stressed his desire to function with a relatively small squad of 22, suggesting two players competing for each place in the side, the signings do contain an amount of versatility, with many players able to operate in different positions (Thompson, Meredith and McArdle being notable examples). Clearly this offer cover for injuries and suspensions, but perhaps, just as importantly, will allow Parkinson further options in employing different playing styles to combat the opposition.
As regards playing style, it was frequently noted last season that performances were often too defensive minded. It is clear that both improving the goals for tally and away record are key requirements for a successful season, and targeting the problem right hand side area, remains a further improvement area, with Thompson (or one of the trialists) a likely candidate to fit in here. In addition the increased mobility from both new full backs, Darby and Meredith, will hopefully increase options going forward and permit a more expansive style of football.
Whilst this remains encouraging, Parkinson’s side will retain a strong defensive mentality throughout, personified in key players such as Andrew Davies, Parkinson’s flagship signing, which rekindled optimism for next season.
Much hope will also be placed on the front pairing of Hanson and Wells in delivering goals, and it will be interesting to see the progress of Wells in avoiding the dreaded “second season” syndrome and dealing with speculation about his longer term future. The arrival of Alan Connell will also offer a further attacking threat, together with Ross Hannah, who undoubtedly faces a “make or break” season. Hopefully, Hannah’s form in the pre-season friendlies can be carried into the league. Goals from other areas of the side, in particular midfield, were a failing last season, and it is to be hoped that the presence of Gary Jones can help in this regard.
The fitness levels of the squad should not be overlooked and much work has been carried out during pre-season to ensure the players are “firing on all cylinders” at the start of the season. The work of fitness coach Nick Allanby has been employed to an even greater degree than previously, and appears to have been an integral part of Parkinson’s preparations for the season ahead.
As ever, the start to the season can, rightly or wrongly, define the rest of the season. A poor start and panic sets in with fans calling for change, a good start raising expectations to unreasonably high levels, with an inevitable failure to live up to these. Given this, a fairly solid start to the season might be a more palatable compromise – allowing the team to gradually improve as the season unfolds. Whatever happens, Parkinson will need some level of “reasoned” support from both the fans and Board, in terms of avoiding “knee-jerk” reactions and allowing a degree of stability to underpin the season. Time will tell how much this is afforded!
February 2013 will mark the 10 year anniversary of Phil Parkinson’s first managerial appointment at Colchester United. Whilst his only promotion to date was with the same club in 2005/06, a similar outcome this season would no doubt round off this decade in some style!
To sum up, and returning to the investment analogy, it is hoped that City (and Parkinson’s) stock will outperform the market in 2012/13, such that the current “buy” rating, implied in our positive expectations, is finally justified, and City can go up (rather than down)!