The start of a new season is always portrayed as a time of great optimism. It’s actually a time of great uncertainty.
Anyone who looks for too many clues from pre-season games is mistaken. The coaching staff know what they want to see from their team, but the rest of us don’t. We’re not privy to the training sessions, we don’t know what instructions were given. Likewise, we don’t know what the opposition are looking to achieve.
While we can get an impression of what new players are like, and how they combine with others, there is only one realistic way of assessing the success of pre-season: are we ready for the start of the campaign?
That’s why the start of a season is an uncertain time. Until we’ve watched the first few league matches, we won’t be able to judge whether the preceding weeks were a success.
There’s an extra reason to be eager to see how we start this campaign. We have been keen to switch formations during the pre-season matches, going from a three-man defence to a back four. Is this a fact-finding exercise, working out what shape suits us best, or an attempt to add a string to our bow? Do we want two formations to switch between during the season?
Personally I’d rather have one approach, recruit for it, and stick to it. Think of successful teams: do they swap shape constantly, or stick to one well-grooved system? Generally the latter, I’d say.
Over the last two seasons, we’ve developed a superb defence, based on a sturdy back four and a hard-working midfield in front of it. I’d suggest the way forwards would be to build on those foundations, adding a couple of judicious signings capable of injecting creativity and goals into a side which, let’s not forget, finished only five points off the top of the league last season.
JJ Hooper and Devonte Redmond are the two signings which most obviously carry that burden, and their ability to deliver will be crucial if we are to find that extra attacking something which we’ve lacked in the last two seasons.
Hooper looks like he has something about him, as long as we can supply him with opportunities, while injury has meant Redmond is playing catch-up, although his polished technique is clear evidence of his schooling at Manchester United. Hopefully he’ll feel ready by the time Barrow arrive in town.
I’ll be interested to see how the other new attacking options fare. Leighton McIntosh has certainly made an impact in the friendlies. He’s strong, can hold the ball up, and loves to spin his man and run into the space behind. He’s had spells where he massively influences the game, and others where he hasn’t been able to get involved. He has potential, but it’s hard to judge until we’ve seen him in meaningful action against a side from our level.
Likewise, Mark Harris is an interesting acquisition. When talking about him, it’s difficult to reach a consensus about what his best position is, and what his best attributes are. At the moment I’m hoping that’s a good thing!
I like his movement: like Redmond you can see the signs of a higher level schooling. He finds space between the lines smartly, and at Telford, where both he and McIntosh played narrow in support of Hooper, his awareness of what was happening around him made the combination look threatening.
Whether these players are the added ingredient we need to build on last season will, surely, decide how our campaign goes more than any other factor, especially if we stick to the back four which hauled us into contention over the last two seasons.