By Joe Santry
An unnerving period of very little visible action on the transfer front from the club has these past few weeks been erased from the minds of all City fans as an influx of signatures have been captured by the club; most notably, the re-signing of Tony McMahon and the six-figure signings of Jake Reeves and Shay McCartan.
This good news flowing out of the club follows the recent captures of Adam Chicksen, Paul Taylor and Dominic Poleon; keeping Rouven Sattelmaier and Matthew Kilgallon – both signing contract extensions – and Alex Gilliead returning for another loan spell. The notion exuding from the club is that there are still some key signings to be made, yet even the most pessimistic of fans must feel a injection of excitement about the young team being assembled by the recruitment staff.
So far this summer, fees have been paid for four players – Reeves, McCartan, Poleon, and Taylor. These four add to the quartet players the owners paid fees for last season – Charlie Wyke, Alex Jones, Romain Vincelot and Jacob Hanson. (Five if you’re counting Colin Doyle.) Although paying money for players far from ensures promotion, it’s a signal of intent from the board to back Stuart in this transfer window and give him the best resources they can provide.
Now that the recruitment team have managed to push some signings over the line, speculating the potential line-up of the team becomes more realistic.
Throughout last season Stuart regularly changed the formation of his side, but in the big games, most notably in the play offs, he chose to line up in a 4-4-2 formation. This is a formation he has confidence in and one most of his players have experience playing in.
Up front, one would imagine that Wyke’s place is fairly secure. However, the others striker position has a number of potential suitors. The role, often played by Billy Clarke last season, could either be filled by someone who will sit in between the striker and the midfield or could be played by a pacey striker going beyond Wyke.
From the few clips seen of the new signings, McCartan would seem to suit the former and Poleon, the latter. Alex Jones is another player who can ably play that position as well as play in the right midfield spot occupied here by Gilliead. Unless the club sign a left-winger before the season starts, Law will be the most likely to play there having done so frequently last season.
At the minute, there aren’t many options in defence, but as the club are promising an ‘experienced right-sided centre back’, he can be expected to take Kilgallon’s spot on arrival.
If, for whatever reason, signing another centre back doesn’t materialise, Vincelot could play there in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Knight-Percival and Vincelot, let’s not forget, had an incredible start to last season playing at the centre of defence together. This formation would then allow McCartan to come into the team to play the attacking midfield role. However it would need Gilliead and Law to fulfil more defensive duties due to the lack of two central midfielders.
The 4-2-3-1 formation is often the formation of choice in the Premier League and other top European leagues. However due to the single striker nature of the setup, it is seen much less frequency in the lower leagues. The key to making the 4-2-3-1 work is to ensure that your frontman is supported well by wingers. Therefore, when played it often flows into a 4-3-3 with the wingers bombing on and the attacking midfielder sitting deeper.
On occasion, Stuart decided to deploy this tactic last season, with Clarke playing the attacking midfield role and Marshall and Hiwula/Jones playing on the wings.
The lack of goals from midfield last year was frustrating for all City fans and something has to be done to rectify that this year. So far, Stuart has brought in Reeves, another defensive midfielder who scored a solitary goal for Wimbledon in the last campaign. If set up in the 4-4-2 formation, there will be an expectance for Vincelot and Reeves to get forward and try contribute to the attacking play. Whereas, in the 4-2-3-1, because the wingers are pushed much further forward, there will be less of an onus on their attacking play.
The front four positions will be up for grabs; although Wyke will most likely be deployed up front, Poleon, McCartan, Jones, Taylor and Gilliead will have to fight amongst themselves to start in the other positions. All five of those players mentioned are blessed with good pace which means they could all play each of the positions, offering Stuart and the staff great variety going into the season.
It’s very unlikely Stuart will start the first game of the season, at home to Blackpool, in such a gung-ho formation but it highlights the flexibility of this squad. McCall showed last season how he wasn’t afraid to line-up with three centre backs.
It again shows the strength in depth City boast for the positions behind the striker. It also offers a starting sport to Tim Dieng, who, before he tailed off at the back-end of the season, showed promise that he could play a big part in a promotion chasing team.
At this point, any predicted starting 11’s are pure speculation. There are still players to be signed, but after a nervy summer period, the squad is beginning to look threatening. The attacking options available to McCall are vast and varied and midfield is beginning to look more complete. In defence, a right-sided centre back is needed and possibly some more full back cover.
Thus far, none of the youngsters have even been taken into account. At the beginning of last season, Danny Devine was in the starting 11 which highlights the depth we already have this year. Devine is a fantastic example to the players in the development squad and on the fringes of the first team and due to the Checkatrade trophy players like Ellis Hudson, Omari Patrick, Tyrell Robinson, Callum Gunner, Dan Pybus, Lachlan Barr and Joel Grodowski are going to be guaranteed game time and have an opportunity to fight their way into the first team.