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[Blog] Have ITFC Ever Had a Squad as Weak as This?
Written by itfcjoe on Wednesday, 25th Apr 2012 09:39

With the end of another disappointing season approaching, one which sees us with a lower points tally than last season's disaster, and news that all of our Academy graduates have either turned down their pro contract or been released, it got me wondering if we have ever had a weaker squad of professionals than we do at the moment.

For the purposes of this I have assumed that Grant Leadbitter turns down his contract (which looks likely) and that Richard Wright is not offered a contract (which again looks likely).

This leaves us with the below:

Goalkeeper - (First Choice - non-existent, Squad Depth - weak)
We will only have one goalkeeper on our books and this is Arran Lee-Barrett, who it is clear to any regular watchers of ITFC is not good enough to be a number one in the Championship.

I think he is a very loyal and dependable number two, but if he had to cover a period any greater than two weeks I'd be very concerned. We desperately need to sign a new number one goalkeeper, and with the release of Cody Cropper and Conor O'Donnell from the Academy we now need to sign a number three also.

Full-Backs - (FC - decent, SD - weak)
We have two recognised senior full-backs in Carlos Edwards and Aaron Cresswell, both of these have had relatively good seasons but there is room for improvement.

In reserve we have Jack Ainsley, Joe Whight and Jaome Peters. It is clear Jewell doesn't rate Peters so I will discard him from this and Ainsley and Whight have yet to be trusted with any real game time so there is a severe lack of depth in this area.

We need to sign a senior player who can cover both full back positions - someone like David Wright who has never been adequately replaced. This would allow for pressure to be put on the Edwards and Cresswell and cover to be given as and when required.

Centre-backs - (FC - weak, SD - non existent)
Our only two centre-backs are Tommy Smith and Damien Delaney, and while they have performed adequately over the past three months I would be hugely concerned if they were our starting centre-halves on the opening day of next season.

They to me are both the left-sided centre-back and need a partner. I think Delaney is the more impressive of the two and he should have the nod ahead of Smith for the left-sided berth but not too fussed either way. What this does mean though is that a right-sided centre back is an absolute necessity and also a back-up.

Central midfield - (FC - weak, SD - OK)
We have four central midfield players with professional contracts: Andy Drury, Luke Hyam, Jimmy Bullard and Ryan Stevenson. Drury has been impressive this year but all three of the others have a lot to show that they are capable of a full season in the Championship.

Luke Hyam has his limitations, but in my view could be a key player for us - we seem to have much better results when he is in the team and it can't just be coincidence.

Jimmy Bullard has been an almighty waste of space this season and needs to prove the doubters wrong next year by knuckling down and concentrating on his football.

Ryan Stevenson looks fairly poor so far, but I have faith that with a good pre-season behind him he will be a decent squad player.

Wingers - (FC - strong, SD - weak)
In Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Lee Martin, we have two of the best wingers in the division (when on form!). With a full pre-season behind both of them you'd hope they'd come into the season flying and be one of the very few reasons to give ITFC fans any hope of competing for the play-offs.

In reserve we also have Josh Carson, who hasn't made as big an impact this season as would have been hoped, but hopefully will get more opportunities to impress next year, while Cormac Burke has yet to make the breakthrough. Other than that though there is no one who can step in, which is worrying.

Strikers - (FC - decent, SD - weak)
Our first-choice front pairing of Michael Chopra and Jason Scotland should be better than it is, however they don't seem to be able to play together and rarely find the net when starting together. This is one of the reasons why we tend to play one up front quite often.

I think Chopra would benefit from having a big man to play alongside when starting in a pair, and Scotland is a true lone striker as good at bringing people into the game.

In reserve we have Nathan Ellington, who hasn't done anything this season, and Ronan Murray who has had a seemingly productive loan spell at Swindon this year - neither of these seem in a position to put much pressure on the first choice front two.

If we were to line up a first and second XI in a 4-4-2 formation I would imagine they would look like this:

RB Edwards
LB Cresswell
LCB Delaney
RW Emmanuel-Thomas
LW Martin
CM Drury
CM Hyam
CF Chopra
CF Scotland

GK Lee-Barrett
RB Ainsley
LB Whight
LCB Smith
RW Carson
CM Bullard
CM Stevenson
CF Ellington
CF Murray

So looking at our first XI, we need a new goalkeeper and centre-back, and probably another central midfielder, but more worryingly there are only three players in the second XI who have proven they can cut it in the Championship in the last two years (Smith, Carson and Bullard), one of whom has had serious questions raised about their character in the last year.

My main concern is that outside these players, aside from Cormac Burke, there is a gaping chasm to the Academy, there are not any players I haven't mentioned who are between the Academy and the second XI and this seems extremely short-sighted.

While the likes of Callum Bennett, Cody Cropper, Jide Maduako, Caolan Lavery and Tom Eastman may not be ready for the Championship at the moment, with Financial Fair Play coming in there is a big worry that we haven't invested a relatively small outlay in them for a year or two to see if they can be improved with coaching or sent on loan to the lower leagues to improve them.

To bring players in from other academies or the lower leagues will invariably involve a transfer fee and higher wages and if we are looking at a long-term plan it is vital that we give our youth the best possible chance of getting through - it feels as though they have been discarded too early, or offered derisory terms or contract lengths that have forced them into taking a pragmatic decision for their careers and we have pushed decent players out the door.

The start of this U21 reserve league that was mentioned on TWTD yesterday makes it even more concerning that we lack such depth in the squad as we may not be able to get full benefit from this.

There may be more to it, that the first-year scholars going into their second year are seen as a great year or something we aren't aware off, but I can't help but think that we are releasing players who deserve to be given time to see if they can improve and the relative cost of it will be minuscule in the grand scheme of things for the football club.

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DanLyles added 11:15 - Apr 25
Some good points. I would like to see Guzan or Neil Alexander between the sticks. Then Sean St Ledger and Jason Pearce as centre backs. I have read so many good things about Jack Hunt at Huddersfield. Lightning pace with 10+ assists from right back!!! He could also be used as an impact player on the wing.

If we keep Leadbitter then we would be OK in midfield, with Hyam, Drury, maybe even a resurgent Bullard. We seem to be dominating most teams in this department anyway.

Up front Chopra and Scotland need a target man as foil. We should look at Ricardo Fuller (hope he emulates another ageing striker at Reading: Jason Roberts, who himself could be surplus to requirements now Reading are in the Prem). Big, strong and and would score at Championship level. Maybe a more youthful striker like Gary Madine at Sheffield Wednesday: strong, ariel prowess and scores frequently.

I would say the weakest our squad looked was when he had to partner Matt Richards with Alex Bruce in central midfield on the opening day of the season (against Palace I think)

BotesdaleBlue added 12:24 - Apr 25
An excellent post.

I have made these very points in conversations with other supporters. When you strip out the unexperienced, unproven and those clearly not good enough from the professional contracted staff, we are really left with a small core of players whom we can call on with any expectation to deliver. I put the figure around 15 at the moment, and many of those, will not take us much further in my opinion.

Depending upon the outcome of ongoing contract negotiations, I can see us needing at least 6 additions in the summer, probably more. The scouts, Manager, and Clegg must up their game considerably if we are to see a real improvement on last year's dealings.

I am not without hope. Up the Blues!

CalneBlue added 13:08 - Apr 25
Some good points made here. A benchmark for quality of any championship squad is to work out how many players could realistically step up to Premier League level.

Of the current ITFC squad by my estimation only Cresswell, Chopra (just), and Drury (maybe) would be good enough now to be regular first-teamers in the Premier League. JET and Hyam might have the potential to develop to a high enough standard, but it's dubious whether Edwards, Martin, Scotland, Bullard and Leadbitter could provide anything more than squad cover. Frankly, our other squad players don't look capable of operating at the top level.

So, by this reasoning, we probably need to find at least six players with the ability to play championship football now and the potential to play premier league later. Boy, do we need a proper scouting network!


SouperJim added 13:29 - Apr 25
A decent blog, just want to point out that Lee Martin has been a revelation playing in his free role behind the striker. It's been some time since we've used him at left wing and I doubt Jewell will go back to playing him there, he'll want to either get Murphy back or someone similar. Somebody in the Scowcroft/Walters role.

And Tommy Smith should be ahead of Delaney, he is much better at the ball on the floor stuff, is far less one sided, has youth on his side etc.

itfcjoe added 13:40 - Apr 25
Totally agree Souper Jim re Martin, just tried to keep it simple as PH has always advocated 442, in reality I prefer a 4231 and think this suits our limited squad better.

Whatever opinion on Smith/Delaney it still means we have one left sided cb and a reserve, which is shocking considering we knew McAuley was leaving when PJ took over

rosseden added 16:09 - Apr 25
the reality is that the game is going the way of smaller squads, lower wages, more sustainable business models, i expect a lot of clubs are having the same chat on their clubs forums.... we can only really guage this in 2 to 3 years when things have settled....... for now youre correct i think, but we might be better being ahead of the game with the new rules........

aliCOYBmason added 07:58 - Apr 26
Great bolg but believe that smith is more reliable and better than delaney as he has massively improved over the season and in my eyes delaney is a liability at times.

saffronblue added 16:14 - Apr 26
Good blog, but I think you have overlooked Lawrence in the youth set up. With the FFP rules youth is going to be key to filling the gaps in smaller squads and we look very thin on the ground in those areas. With the emergence of Martin in the free role 4-4-2 is probably not going to be our normal formation and I think Scotland is better in the lone striker role. What we need is a big powerful lad upfront to hold it up and bring the midfield in, Wickham/Rhodes anyone?

itfc1981 added 19:52 - Apr 26
Great Blog,


We are fecked with the present board and management, the FFP putting the nail in the cofffin.

Facefacts added 20:26 - Apr 26
I respect the amount of effort put into this squad assessment, but building our squad up from here in a typical summer spending spree really is pie in the sky. I don't think we'll be bringing in many players this summer. We will make as much, if not more, use of the loan market, next season, than in this season. This partly explains the goalkeeper situation where loan rules are not as strict.

ChrisFelix added 11:20 - Apr 29
Cant agree with Delaney being a better player than Smith. Over the past 2 months Smith has consistently scored high marks & been our best performer Although Delaney has improved he will always be a brute force & ignorance player.
I feel Smith is a thinking defender

Keaneish added 17:16 - Apr 29
I also think Smith is a better defender than Delaney but i agree in large part with the blog. Jewell stated he needs 4 or 5 players and won't be making wholesale changes. I count we need 8 or 9 players so somewhere along the line either one of us is wrong or we need to buy players who can play several positions like Joel Ward at right back and right midfield.

Priority signings over the summer for me are:

1 A quality experienced Goalkeeper who can been the main stay for a long time ala, cooper, forrest, wright...

2 - An exceptional centre back, a leader of men who gets his head and body in the way and leads the back line ala Hunter, Butcher, De Vos, Mowbray...

3 - A young upcoming centre back as cover for the other three

4 - A young proven goal scorer from the lower divisions. A target man in the mould of, well, no-one really springs to mind from previous eras, maybe a kuqi or a Lee but someone who can get us 20 goals a season and is great with his feet...

5 - A central midfielder, a ball winner, someone who gives other midfielders the license to go and play and who can boss the midfield ala Holland, Williams, Wark - i don't think Hyam is this yet although i want to see him play more this coming season.

6 - A recognised right back - Joel Ward

Also i believe we need:

1 - A 3rd choice keeper, i'd even go as far to say a back-up keeper as ALB makes me very nervous!

2 - Cover at left back for when Cressie gets injured. Smith, Whight and Delaney are not the answer.

3 - A left sided midfielder to replace Murphy...

That makes 9 whether it be loans or permanents so how Jewell is trimming this to 5 i'm unsure....


newboy added 12:20 - May 1
They have told Cormac Burke to go so he will not be here next season

i_like_that_bolder added 16:08 - May 9
Agreed, nice analysis, we are terribly weak in loads of areas. Wasn't this bad even when we thought we were all going down the pan under Magilton:

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