2021-22 season preview, the 10 questions that will define our season...
Thekids are alright, but will they get a chance?
One of the saving graces of recent times has been the standard of academy players coming through and making the first team. Two of the most recent products were stand outs last season in Keane Lewis Pottter and Jacob Greaves. They were pivotal in our success and if their trajectory continues we might struggle to keep them longer term. However the step up is large and whilst I think most of us are confident of KLP and Greaves at the second level, it's a much harder level to blood talent in. There's young talent once again in the likes of Jake Leake, Harry Wood, Ollie Green and Andy Smith however they might need to get loaned out to find game time this year. Green in particular has gained rave reviews in pre-season and if maybe only one of the above list can make an impact this season it would be a positive return.
Have the lessons of the 2020 disaster been learned?
2020 was a perfect storm in terms of disaster. We gambled on having enough points in the bag to cash in on Grosicki and Bowen and threw snake eyes. We lost some of our most important and experienced players after the restart, hoped that the likes of Scott and Madison would fill the void, couldn't and didn't change our approach and went down in flames. Grant McCann was clearly stung by this and you couldn't fault his and the club’s reaction to one of our darkest hours. The Championship is unforgiving though as we know, so you'd hope that we've learned lessons in terms of talent, tactics and in game management.
Will the fans return in big enough numbers to make us more viable and keep our talent?
The current offer on memberships is both reasonable and good value for everyone particularly kids. We seem to have done fairly well on new starters and the club is saying we are heading towards two thousand new memberships. Now the question is, how many did we have left? Some say four and a half thousand to five, some reports have said as little as two and a half. Let's be optimistic, let's say we currently have six thousand and get another thousand in the next couple of weeks. That's seven thousand, plus a couple of thousand on a match day, then add the away fans and we're looking at 10k for a smaller opposition and maybe 12k for a bigger team. That's probably a best case scenario, and even that's fairly underwhelming. Bottom line is under the current owners, is they'll sell to make sure we don't lose money. We probably need to get more like 14k plus if we are going to break even and keep our prized assets.
Will the EFL embargo hinder the season and does anyone on earth know what it all means?
This might be the most important question for us this year. And it's a question that's as clear as mud. Under the strict interpretation of the rules we couldn't sign players to a yearlong loan deal, but we have, and we can't sign free agents to more than a one year deal, but we have. Then there's the appeal where we are (quite rightly) arguing that Callum Jones and Jordan Flores shouldn't count against our twenty three man cap. The EFL are really unclear, the club aren't known for being clear at the best of times and they don't know the truth to tell us themselves. It's a mess and one that needs clarifying ASAP if we are going to be able to prepare properly.
What do we do about the captain situation?
Richie Smallwood did a decent job at the start of last season, he then lost his way a bit before being out injured long term, during which time the Rolls Royce of centre midfielders Alfie Jones and then the hugely impressive Regan Slater filled in and to be brutal, we were better. The long unbeaten streak that saw us run away with the league title didn't feature the club captain. He's had a streaky pre-season and whilst silly fan boy’s criticism is over the top, it's a quandary. Lewie Coyle proved to be a fantastic leader in his absence, and our captain may not be in the best eleven, that's a problem for Grant McCann and he'll need to find the answers if we are to get the best team on the pitch.
Will the club be sold? Ever?
I think we all know the answer is unlikely to be yes at the current asking price. But will that drop? Is there a compromise to be met? Unlikely I'd suggest, but the current state of hiatus is unhealthy and doesn't really help the on field situation, it’s also definitely true that we’d get fans back overnight if we did get sold. The current owners seem to have made some more balanced decisions in the last year but it's way beyond the point of resolution and most of us have given up on the saga ever ending. It would be amazing if we could move forward, let's hope against hope that this is the year.
Who is going to get the goals?
The front three all hit double figures last year as we ran riot in league one. However most of KLP's, Magennis' and Wilks success have come at level three. In Wilks and Potter there's reason to believe they are ascending stars and can both find success in the championship this year. Big Josh? I love the guy, and he does seem to be getting better with age, but if he got ten goals next year I think it would be a success. We need another option for the number nine position and although Ryan Longman looks a really good prospect I think he's likely to play in a wider role. Tom Eaves bless him doesn't look a fit in the 4-3-3 and I think you'd need to be wildly optimistic to think he will succeed at level two. Randall Williams might be a wildcard but I think a viable number nine option may need bringing in.
Will Jarrod Bowen get sold and will that help?
If rumours are to be believed young Master Bowen is on the radar of Liverpool and they are trying to bring him in. You'd imagine West Ham would want at least 40 million, maybe more. 20% of that should be loans paid off, and maybe even a little bit of budget (ok, maybe I'm dreaming here). Either way this could affect the season.
Which keeper will secure the starting role?
George Long was not a huge loss. From the start of 2020 onwards he was a bag of nerves and was a ricket on a stick. I would have loved to have kept Reece Burke but our loss was Millwall's loss with jittery George. Enter the fray Nathan Baxter with a ton of appearances for Accrington and Yeovil. He looks the part straight away and can push Matt Ingram. Bo Myhill really came into his own last time we went up to the second level and we know that if we are going to survive, we'll need to nick a few results. If Baxter is as good as advertised, this could be a difference maker.
Can we get George's ankle blessed and sprinkled with holy water?
This isn't a one man team. We've got really good players in every phase. I haven't even mentioned Greg Docherty in this blog and I think he's going to be a big time player for us this season. If there's a player you don't want to be without though it's George Honeyman. Even if he was having just an ok game (which wasn't very often) his set piece delivery was the edge that saw us win games. We gambled on not having surgery and it backfired, we are now starting the season without him, the shorter that is, the better. The boy is pivotal in making us tick. Pray for George and his ankle.
I'll see you at Preston on Saturday. Thanks for reading. UTT.