Assessing The Squad
This week Jack Ross named a 25-man squad for the Portuguese pre-season tour, so we thought we’d get Toby Hodgson to run through the named players…
Jon McLaughlin has been impressive ever since he signed this time last year, looking solid and is almost never at fault for any of the goals we concede, he is simply a good goalkeeper who is capable of performing week in, week out and you’d expect him to remain first choice. However, he has some competition now, which brings us on to new signing Lee Burge. Arriving from Coventry to replace Robin Ruiter, he made 160 appearances for Coventry, winning the 2017 EFL trophy and the League Two play-off final. You’d expect him to remain as a close second to McLaughlin, but he will be looking to be the number 1, should the opportunity present itself. Anthony Patterson is also on the plane, the 19-year-old was an unused substitute against Walsall in November, Jack Ross says that he wants to see the youngster breaking into the first team in the near future.
Conor McLaughlin is the second of three new signings to be going on the tour, coming to us from Championship Millwall, where he made 37 appearances in his two seasons there, how will he fair with a move back to League One? Jack Baldwin’s is a story of two halves of a season when it came to 18/19, for me, in the first half of the season he was our best centre back, looking like a solid leader in the defence, however, towards the end of the season, the wheels really came off for Jack, this being summed up by a 5-4 defeat to Coventry, a particularly poorly defended game. Tom Flanagan, also travels, he too had a poor end to the season despite starting in the Play-Off final. He has to look to start afresh in the upcoming season and get the fans back on his side. Alim Ozturk ended the season as arguably our best defender, despite having an awful start to the campaign, if he continues his end of season form on into 19/20, he could earn himself a first team spot. Glenn Loovens, remember him? He will also be on the plane to Portugal despite not appearing in the league since the first half of the season. He shouldn’t really be making it into the first team and should really be a second or even third choice option for that centre half spot. Jordan Willis recently signed from Coventry, where he was occasionally captain, so you would hope to see him providing a bit more leadership and organisation across the back line, he featured in the 1-1 stalemate at the Ricoh in 2018 but missed the crazy 5-4 game at the SOL. Bryan Oviedo will not be attending as he has an elongated break due to him playing for Costa Rica in the Gold Cup, however Denver Hume will be there to fill his shoes. Hume looked promising whenever he played last season, looking able to put himself around the pitch, bombing up and down the left flank, securing a pre-assist for McGeady’s second goal in the EFL trophy final.
Grant Leadbitter will be on the plane, he captained the team for the second half of the friendly against South Shields, he initially looked quality last year, displaying a great understanding of the game and a phenomenal passing ability. However, on the down side, he isn’t the fastest to say the least, there were points last season, most noticeably against a fast, athletic team such as Coventry, where he was simply being walked past, so if he is to play, he has to be coupled with a youthful, energetic player such as Luke O’Nien. O’Nien was arguably one of our best players last season, being used as a makeshift right back for the majority, he did remarkably well in this unfamiliar position, still managing to get himself a good few goals from defence. He should be looking to move further up the field this season, getting back into his usual territory. Max Power was phenomenally average last season, not particularly doing much wrong, but never really doing anything outstanding, however, as a solid L1 player the team looks better with him in it and he provides a bit of height and physicality. I would like to see him progress more and whip out his long-range shooting boots more often. Dylan McGeouch, the mans like marmite, some think he benefits the team and should be included more often, some think he’s not physical enough. Ethan Robson recently came back from a loan spell at Dundee Utd, he thinks that this has improved his overall game and is ready to show his manager what he can do and hopes to become a reliable part of the first team. Elliot Embleton is another player recently returning from loan, he spent last year on loan at Grimsby where he made 27 appearances, scoring three goals, he has also be regularly playing for England’s youth sides, he recently signed a new contract and has been told by Kevin Ball: “You’ve talked the talk, walking the walk is the hard part.” Hopefully this season he will prove he can walk the walk. Youngster Ruben Sammut was on loan at Falkirk last year after coming out of the Chelsea youth system, he recently signed following a trial, I’m sure he’s delighted to be on the plane.
King Chris Maguire will be looking to stay on the throne this season, ending the last campaign on a high, not the final, but his semi-final first leg goal against Portsmouth. I’m sure everybody is wanting more of the same from Maguire for the upcoming season. Lynden Gooch really ran out of steam in the second half of the season, in the first half, he was scoring and getting assists left, right and centre, but really lost his way and struggled to make an impact on the first team after that. Duncan Watmore appears to be back fit and will be going to Portugal, he featured in the south shields game and didn’t get himself injured, so that’s a positive, if he can keep fit, and find himself a stable position on the field then he could prove very useful to us in the season ahead. Aiden McGeady was, no debate, our best player last season, he is incredibly useful when hunting for goals and assists but also has developed his ability to track back and support the defensive effort. He recently put pen to paper on a contract that will see him at the stadium of light for the rest of his career, so now that his future is taken care of, it’s time for him to focus on the present and continue his excellent form.
Will Grigg never came close to hitting his stride last season but has recently stressed how comfortable he is under Jack Ross, saying how he is ready to show the SAFC fans what he is capable of in the season ahead. Charlie Wyke is one of the players that I’m really not sure about, he seems to be playing at his best, and his best isn’t good enough. However, I hope I’m proven wrong and hope he really improves on his performances. Benji Kimpioka is a really exciting prospect, looking good when he comes off the bench and providing a bit of raw energy and pace that is key to grabbing a late goal, for the time being, he needs to be used as an impact sub, it seems to be the best way to develop him and ease him into the first team. Youngster Jack Diamond will also make his way to Portugal after few successful appearances in the EFL trophy last season.
Hopefully we will be seeing a few more fresh faces before the start of the season, but the squad looks decent in its current state, now, on to Portugal!