Here we go again! It’s said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result, and I can’t help mulling that idea over as we start yet another attempt to get out of the National League. However, on this occasion, perhaps our greatest hope lies in repetition.
We may have a new manager, but the season begins with a great deal more stability than usual. The pattern, since we dropped out of the Football League, has been to rip things up and start again every Summer. Sometimes there’s been good reason for that: Dean Keates had to tear apart the limited squad he inherited; sometimes we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water. We start this season in the unusual situation of having most of our playing squad and coaching staff intact from last season.
So will we do the same thing and be surprised when the outcome is failure once more? Time will tell, but continuity appears to be the best chance we have of breaking the pattern. While our spectacular end of season capitulation might be fresh in the memory, it’s worth remembering that we were top of the table as late as February, and occupied a position which would have left us one home game away from the play-off final with just six games left.
We must have got something right to be close to promotion so late in the season, so starting again would have been unwise. Instead, the necessary process during the Summer was to identify what went wrong and address it, while retaining the elements which worked.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which area is which!
Our defence was superb last season, and it has been retained with the exception of Chris Dunn, a solid but unremarkable keeper. Choosing to replace him is one of those decisions which depend on the quality of his successor; he was perfectly adequate, but if Rob Lainton is better than him, we’ll have made a smart upgrade.
Our problems began as we move further up the pitch. Our midfield protected the back four well, but failed to create much for our strikers. Losing our stand-out midfielder was a disappointment, but the circumstances around Sam Wedgbury’s departure reflect badly on the player, not the club.
Ricketts looks to have recruited shrewdly in the middle of the pitch, with the experienced Lukes, Summerfield and Young, promising to offer more presence in the opposing half. Summerfield, in particular, looks to be an exciting addition to the squad.
If Nicky Deverdics has really been rejuvenated by a move to his preferred position, and Akil Wright can replicate his superb, disciplined performance in a holding role against Forest Green, then we suddenly have an abundance of midfield options.
Whether we’ve addressed our goal scoring problems will probably determine the success of our season though. Mike Fondop has scored goals in pre-season, but that doesn’t guarantee success when the real stuff starts. I seem to recall at least two Summers when Wes Baynes looked like Kylian Mbappé, but things didn’t quite turn out that way when the league started.
Around Fondop we have a number of strikers who lack a recent record of goalscoring in senior football, plus the admirable Chris Holroyd. We probably need one of those strikers to spark in a manner they haven’t managed previously. Even when we look for continuity, the start of the season still has to rely, at least in part, on a step into the unknown.
If Ricketts wants to make a fresh start, he could do worse than turn around our form against Dover. We’ve played them eight times and have never beaten them, managing just three goals in the process. Only two of those goals came in open play, so we’ve managed to break down Athletic’s defence just twice in 720 minutes!
Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.