Matt Ellis takes a look at the squad Graham Alexander has assembled ahead of this Saturday’s League One opener against league newcomers Bristol Rovers and reckons it could be a defining season for Kevin van Veen and Jamie Ness.
With the option of either Daniels or Anyon between the sticks we have a relatively steady base to build from. Daniels will start as Alexander’s Number One but I still have my doubts. Towards the end of last season and with the security of an outstanding Murray Wallace and David Mirfin (Minister of Defence) in front of him Daniels was steady and assured without being outstanding.
However, earlier under Robins’ reign he struggled significantly with the diabolical pairing of Canavan and King, so, as with many of our players this season Daniels is expected to step up to the plate and finally represent himself in a good, consistent light – putting to bed his disgraceful assault on Mark Duffy at the start of last term. Anyon is a decent enough deputy if needs be.
Bottom Line: Good enough if the defence in front performs, very worrying if not especially with Daniels’ twitchy nature.
Arguably the best asset of the team at present is the partnership of Wallace and Mirfin, with a little bit of protection from midfield and a sound nous of possession retention the Iron’s current (if fit) defence looks like one of the best in the league, centre-backs certainly if not full-backs as well. Commanding and assured since Wallace’s acquisition and the restoration of the incumbency of the Minister of Defence at Glanford Park we’ve looked solid at the back.
With good full-backs employed in attacking and defensive roles with Alexander’s preferred 4-4-2 formation we are balanced and purposeful. Townsend was a revelation last season ousting Scott Laird who was billed as one of the best left-backs in the league before Robins got his hands on him, there may well still be something to come from Laird.
Clarke improved, immeasurably under Alexander and is looking like an adept figure at right-back. I still have question marks over Wiseman’s ability, but he won’t be a starter so it’s not so much of an issue. Perhaps one of the areas we are a little light on is in central defence with Charlie Goode as the only real replacement for the current pairing. King for me is a certain disaster if placed in front of Daniels and is something we should avoid at all costs. I expect a loanee centre-back to arrive before the end of the transfer window.
Bottom Line: Rock-solid and experienced, the pairing of Wallace and Mirfin will take some toppling in this division. Question marks over Wiseman and our central cover.
A bit of a conundrum, the Iron’s midfield consists of plenty of experience but very little mobility. Dawson and Bishop are not the quickest across the turf and last season we struggled significantly with our all-too-apparent lack of width, thanks to Robins’ horrendous squad formation at the beginning the last campaign. Hamstringing us significantly for most of last season and making it difficult for Alexander to employ his favoured 4-4-2.
It has perhaps been remedied now with the additions of Holmes and Morris. Holmes is tricky and comes with pace whereas Morris seems to have the attacking craft and guile to be able to pull some strings from the wide left position. Something we had in McSheffrey until his legs went to the retirement home. Ness has a lot to prove this term as well, supposedly a player with a football brain and an eye for a pass, we’ve yet to really see him get going and he seems to be stuck in the bracket of ‘nearly decent but mostly anonymous’, so far. Potentially a defining season for him.
Expect the occasional fireworks from Hakeeb and the more regular bouts of disappearing for 70 minutes that we know so well. Williams has plenty to prove after his long injury lay off last year and I fully expect him to have a go at it this time round, another one with talent, who, for more than one reason hasn’t really set the midfield alight.
We’ve yet to really see what Mantom can do but he is reportedly the box-to-box engine we desperately need in midfield, it wouldn’t surprise me if when fit, he could be the piece of the jigsaw that finally stitches the midfield together. I’m hoping we won’t see any more of Jack King than we need to – and that his cameo as a ball-spraying midfielder against Hull was just a bad joke by Alexander.
Bottom Line: Potentially excellent and potentially dire, the lack of pace and width seems to have been solved with the summer signings – but there are still question marks on too many of our midfielders for my liking.
This is where we will either do well or fail this season, the offensive armament of this team is mixed between the proven goal scoring talent of Paddy Madden and the unproven yet ‘nearly there’ figure of Tom Hopper, with the frustrating Dutchman thrown into the mix.
We know Madden can do it, he can even do it from the wing – that’s not in doubt. Keep him fit and he will score 20 plus a season, guaranteed and nailed on more so than any other striker in League One. He’s the Iron’s biggest asset – his goals will either send us up or send us into mid-table mediocrity. He’s never been more important. Hopper looks stronger and more agile after his injury last season and can potentially provide the perfect foil for Madden to run riot, whether he will or not is still very much in question.
It’s a big year for KVV, I think he’ll either do it or he won’t this year, there is no middle ground on that. It has been frustrating to watch a guy with clearly as much talent as him, be abused and misused by the useless Robins and then farmed out to FC Cambuur to recover from homesickness. He’s bulked up, looks bigger, sharper and stronger than he has before, we all want him to do well and finally realise some measure of his potential. I think it’s an important mark of how we’ve developed as a team in how well Kev plays. I’m of the mind that if he does it this year, it’ll be our season. If he doesn’t I don’t think we’ll ever see him again. That’s how important this year is for the lad.
Bottom Line: With the guaranteed goals of Madden and the do-or-die nature of Kevin van Veen’s season – the attack is where we’ll win or fail. After so many frustrating performances last year and unconverted chances in abundance, this is where we have to get it right.