Accrington Stanley Season Preview

Key player: Dion Charles

After battling with Colby Bishop for the title of star striker at Accrington in 2020, Charles kicked things up a notch last season and ended the season with 19 goals as the league’s fifth top scorer, an outstanding tally in only his second season as a professional, first-team footballer after he joined from Southport in 2019. 

Alongside Bishop, the duo must form one of the best strike partnerships in the league, with Charles adding three assists, compared to Bishop’s 10 goals and five assists. A dangerous partnership indeed. Given how Accrington can tend to rely on goals on the counter, Charles provides a nice balance of strenght, speed and dribbling, in addition to his excellent finishing last year, to exploit the spaces that Coleman’s approach creates for him.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: John Coleman

Can anyone remember a time when John Coleman wasn’t the manager of Accrington Stanley? The Scouser has spent 20 of the last 22 years in charge at the club, with spells at Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers between 2012 and 2014 the only instances of a break away from the Lancashire club. Of all the managers across the Football League, there is a case to say he is the most synonymous with a single club.

Now 58, it’s easy to see why Coleman is so revered amongst the Stanley hierarchy. His first spell saw the club win three promotions to make it back to the Football League in 2006, and another success followed in 2018 to see Stanley into League One for the very first time, and record their highest ever finish in the English football pyramid last year, ending in the top half of the table. All of this has come with a backdrop of uncertainty – Stanley have gone into the season as relegation favourites for more or less the last decade, and made it through the financial hit from Covid. Coleman’s win ratio of north of 40% in that time is nothing short of remarkable. [editor’s note, this is almost the same entry as last year, but it was so perfect that there’s no need to change it.]

Leader: Seamus Conneely

It’s hard not to include Conneely in this preview after the strong season he had last time out. Though aged 33, Conneely is not only the leader in the team, but he is still producing performances that justify his inclusion despite the fact he’s seemingly heading towards the final years of his career. Though Accrington were hardly watertight at the back – only seven teams conceded more – his efforts to screen the back four were strong. In fact, during a five game period he was absent for in March, 17 goals were shipped, a quarter of the goals let in over Accrington’s entire season!

A lot of Coleman’s success has come from his faith in the right players, leaders on the pitch who stay calm under pressure, guide others through the 90 minutes, and grind out results, despite a limited squad and often a lack of quality in the team. Conneely is just the latest in a long line of players to lead the team in this regard.

Key transfer: Harry Pell

Is this the first time in a long time that Accrington have improved their squad on paper between the end of one season and the start of the next? Sure, Accrington have improved their teams over the years, but it’s seems to me that they usually do this by unearthing gems that few others would look at. Either way, Pell and John O’Sullivan – vital to Morecambe’s promotion last season – appear to be excellent pieces of business, plus the inevitably non-league gem that will have been uncovered that I currently have never heard of.

Pell himself is a hard-working, box-to-box midfielder who should fit in with Accrington’s approach. He adds height from set-pieces, is a composed passer, and makes good late runs into the box that have helped him average five goals per-season over the past five years in League Two. All in all, a neat fit for this team to improve the overall quality of the team and their squad.

Target: Top-half

Predicting relegation for Accrington is par for the course, so it’s only natural that the first time this website doesn’t put them down as attempting to avoid relegation they’ll inevitably be relegated. Either way, I like the look of this Accrington team. Often it can be hard to predict where they’ll finish because they’ve signed players from non-league that we don’t know anything about, or they’ve lost some of their best players. However, this season, they’ve signed players that we do know a bit about.

In fact, if Argyle had a put a team like this together (with a little extra star quality), I’d be thinking we’d have an outside shot at the play-offs. It looks hard working, mentally strong and functional, with enough creative quality and a good manager. I know it’s a tough looking league, but that’s all on paper – some of the supposed big hitters are going to be found out to be living on reputation, budget and fanbase rather than the quality of their squad. I think that Accrington are going to manage back-to-back top half finishes in League One.

 

Next: Bolton Wanderers

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Gillingham Season Preview

Key player: Vadaine Oliver

If you’d asked me my thoughts on Vadaine Oliver at the start of last season, then reflecting on them right now would be a touch embarrassing to say the least. Fair to say that he proved me wrong – I thought he was a League Two player at best, incapable of double figures at League One level. Then he netted 17, 20 in all competitions.

It wasn’t just his goals, it was his dynamism and play without the ball that enabled Gillingham to create chances too. I will not be surprised if Oliver fails to make double figures this season, as players often do fail to match their previous heights after the best seasons of their career, but that doesn’t take away from him as key player. No, if anything it might serve to highlight just how important he is to the way they play. If he fails to click, Gillingham might come to see just how important he is to their team (not that they don’t know already).

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Steve Evans

It would be generous to describe Steve Evans as marmite, because it’s only disliked by 37% of people… Of course he’s just another brash footballing personality in a long line of polarising football managers, but I’ve never been a fan.

Evans’ star is definitely fading after his early successes with Boston, Crawley and Rotherham, including four promotions in four seasons with the latter two from 2010 to 2014. Since then, he failed at Leeds (he wasn’t the only one around that time) and disappointed at heavily backed Mansfield and Peterborough.

He came to Gillingham two seasons back but after his early transfer window activity last season some were backing his side to get in the play-offs last summer – for reasons I was never sure of. He promptly failed to deliver, going into 2021 in the bottom half of the table and eventually finished comfortably short of sixth place.

Not that his efforts should be looked down upon last season, just I couldn’t see why there was as much excitement as I seem to remember there being back in August 2020.

Playmaker: Kyle Dempsey

Kyle Dempsey is a player with plenty of experience in the lower leagues, and after identifying him as potentially “just what Gills” in last year’s preview, he didn’t fail to deliver as he went on to win their player of the season award as their captain. 

He was brilliantly deployed as an engine at the heart of midfield, drawing the best out of him as he ran the show in the middle of the pitch, worked hard to protect the defence, and added 8 goals plus 4 assists at the other end of the pitch.

Still only 25, he already has 274 professional appearances and is quietly emerging as a leading player in League One. Yes, he fell out with Joey Barton, leading to the end of his Fleetwood Town career, but thus far he’s been able to get on with another controversial manager in Steve Evans.

Key transfer: Max Ehmer

Gillingham have lost a few key players over the summer, with goalkeeper Jack Bonham, defender Connor Ogilvie and winger Jordan Graham all leaving on free transfers. Though the loss of Graham will no doubt hit them hard, Gillingham are now going to have to reshape key elements of their defence.

Therefore, the arrival of Ehmer is important, as a leader but also an established central-defender at this level. Ehmer is hardly the best defender at this level, but as a former captain and standout centre back for the Gills at this level, including Evans’ first season in Kent, this is a shrewd piece of business to help add some stability to the back line after a year away in Bristol.

Target: Top half

Gillingham aren’t going to be strong enough to make a run at the play-offs, just as they weren’t last season, but they can still aim to finish in the top half. Evans is far from a League One specialist, save that one season with Rotherham a relatively long time ago.

Their squad is definitely weaker that it was last season, so they’ll no doubt be looking for a few smart signings after the season is under way, but I think they’re going to just be part of the group that hovers around the 60 point mark at the end of the season.

 

Previous: Fleetwood Town Next: Ipswich Town

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Burton Albion Season Preview

Key player: Lucas Akins

Arguably the only man who is even more of a Burton institution than Hasselbaink is winger/striker Akins. He has smashed every record in the book for the Staffordshire side, joining in time for back to back promotions and staying to become their record appearance-maker and goalscorer.

He’s traditionally been at the heart of their recent success. He can play either as a wide forward or up front, displaying great versatility. This allows managers to easily integrate him into any formation they might wish to play. Historically, he’s also been an ‘assist king’ almost always topping their charts.

Last season, however, despite Burton’s great run of form, Akins himself registered by far his least productive campaign. He registered zero assists throughout the season and whilst he did get eleven goals, that’s the least he’s got in a season for the Brewers at this level. In a way, he’s the key player because he’s the biggest variable. Is it just a slight decline in creativity or, at 32, is he on the decline?

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

Like fish and chips with a sunny day on the Barbican, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is now indelibly linked with Burton Albion FC. An unusual mix, you may have said twenty years ago. The Dutchman was one of the best strikers in the world and the Brewers were languishing in non-league. It is however at Albion where he carved out his managerial niche.

He first came to English management in 2014 where he managed to successfully negotiate their promotion out of League Two. The really impressive spell however, was their start to 15/16. The newly promoted side sat atop the league when JFH was poached by Championship QPR.

His stock fell rather fast with bad spells at both QPR and then Northampton. After a long spell out of management, the time came for Burton to put out an SOS call. Hasselbaink came in on New Year’s Day with minimal expectations. They were rock bottom of the league, way adrift of safety.

He made 7 signings in the January window and turned their fortunes around with a stunning run of promotion form that took the brewers comfortably into lower-mid-table. He’s pretty firmly established as a legend at the Pirelli Stadium.

Rock: Deji Oshilaja

Oshilaja is an astute signing for Burton to improve their weak defence of last season, after only four sides conceded more goals in League One. There’s been lots change from the team that looked certain to be relegated on New Year’s Day, but the defence still needs looking at, and Oshilaja can go some way to improving that.

He’s a leader at the back, an ex-captain of Wimbledon, who is faster than he looks and dominant in the air. He’s not the best defender in the league, but in a compact defence he’ll do his job admirably to help keep the door closed. At the bottom end of the table, clean sheets are worth their weight in gold.

Key departure: Ryan Edwards

Edwards was Burton’s Player of the Season last time out and it’s not hard to see why. As an all round central midfielder, he’ll not be easy to replace. A player of curious dual nationality, the player was born in the city state of Singapore before moving to Australia as a baby. He will doubtless see himself as Australian, not only having represented their youth sides, but actually denouncing his Singaporean citizenship on the date of his 21st birthday to avoid having to do military service.

Whatever you can say about Edwards off the pitch, he was certainly a fighter for Birmingham on it. He could pass well but also tackle hard and whilst he didn’t contribute hugely in the way of goals and assists during his two years at the club, his energy in midfield was crucial in allowing them to win the battles they needed to. He’s now gone back to the pacific to play in the South Korean second tier, despite manager Hasselbaink’s statement that he’d made every effort to keep him at the club. A crucial component in their climb up the table, will they be able to keep the momentum going without him?

Target: Avoid relegation

It’s not yet clear which Burton we will see next season: the side that won two of their first 22 games up to the beginning of January, or the one that won 13 of the next 24 in the second half of the season. Just because they turned things around last season, doesn’t mean that trend will continue this coming season.

Their squad still looks a bit unbalanced and lacking in quality to me – too many squad players but not enough first-team players. Of course it could come together, and Hasselbaink has a superb record at Burton – if not elsewhere – with a 59% win record (three wins in every five games!). But I have doubts, and wouldn’t be surprised if they’re in and around the relegation battle going into the second half of the season.

 

Previous: Bolton Wanderers Next: Cambridge United

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Lincoln City Season Preview

Key player: Conor McGrandles

With quite a few quality players from their near miss at promotion leaving over the summer, it’s not immediately obvious who Lincoln’s key player will be next season. Jorge Grant, the lynchpin of the system has gone. Alex Palmer and Brennan Johnson – two top performers – are no longer on loan with the club. You could make a case for a few of the defenders standing out as key players, including either of their first choice full-backs, but I think it says something about a team if their key player if a full-back.

Instead, Conor McGrandles, who caught my eye in a few of the games I saw him play, is the one I’ve opted for. He didn’t score or assist on anywhere near the same level as Grant did, and obviously played from a deeper position, but was so important to the way that Appleton wanted to play. Not everything about Lincoln was designed for passing their way through teams, and they had a nice, hybrid approach that offered them lots of routes to goal, but McGrandles was ever so good at breaking the lines with his passing and movement last year.

He’s still young, only 25, but with Grant gone and the replacements – Chris Maguire and Hakeeb Adelakun – less likely to strike the balance between playmaker, creator and finisher that Grant so ably provided, I think that McGrandles is going to play a vital role in keeping Lincoln a balanced side in attack, particularly when trying to break down an opponent.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Michael Appleton

Ten years into his managerial career, Michael Appleton is yet to win a title, but that doesn’t mean his career has been a failure to this point. Far from it. But, that’s not to say it started well.

Appleton’s playing career was cut short when he was forced to retire following a knee injury in a training ground collision, however he remained with West Brom as part of their coaching set-up. He got his first permanent managerial role at Portsmouth as they were being run into the ground by a series of owners. Following administration, he was unable to keep the stricken club in the Championship, but was offered an opportunity to jump back into the Championship with Blackpool. His time there was short and unhappy: with just two wins from twelve he resigned, making him the shortest serving manager in their history. He then jumped ship to Blackburn, seemingly having a knack for failing upwards, but ended up joining another club in a behind-the-scenes mess. He lasted just two days longer in Lancashire than on the coast before he was sacked.

With his career in a tailspin, he joined a promising Oxford United side but started awfully, winning just one of the first ten league games, but eventually turned it around. The next season saw Oxford confirm promotion on the final day of the season after a year of exciting attacking football and he maintained the same style, promoting young talents and getting the best out of them as the club fell four points short of the play-offs in their first season in League One for fifteen years.

Surprisingly, he left for Leicester City to join as their assistant manager during the summer but left the next summer and just over a year later he took over at Lincoln following the departure of the Cowleys. His first season saw him stabilise the club and prevent relegation, which looked a potential threat in the months after he took over. After undertaking a wholesale cleanout of the more pragmatic team the Cowleys had put together, even removing some of the player you’d expect to better match his intended style, he generated a hard-working, physical yet skilled team on a good but not outstanding budget that took Lincoln ever so close to the Championship, almost mirroring that of Shrewsbury back in 2018.

For so long they looked like gaining automatic promotion, even the title. Then the slip, ignited by Joe Edwards’ dramatic, late double at Home Park, the same day that Grant was injured for a period of weeks, saw the clubs form drop and eventually lead them to the play-offs and ultimately defeat to Blackpool at Wembley.

Rock: Lewis Montsma

Let’s not beat about the bush, Montsma was one of the signings of the season last year. Brought in from the Dutch second tier as a relatively unknown (to all but the Lincoln scouting department), he oozed quality in pre-season and it was not long before he showed off his ability in the League. Capable in the air, calm in possession, a danger at set pieces (9 goals last season) and still only 23, this player is only heading in one direction, and that’s the Championship (or the top division of a foreign league).

A core component of one of the league’s best defences last season, don’t be surprised if he makes the League One team of the year for a second season in a row (that is assuming he is still playing at this level in 10 months time).

Key departure: Jorge Grant

In another season, the signing of Adelakun would be down as their key transfer, given his obvious quality in this division, but you just can’t overlook the impact of losing Jorge Grant. For Argyle fans, it’s best compared to losing 2017/18 Graham Carey. An attacking midfielder who can operate as an inverted winger in a 4-3-3, he scored 17 goals, made 13 assists, was vital to all phases of attacking play, an inspirational leader, and a big-game player capable of slotting in pressure penalties.

People have known about Grant’s obvious talent for a while now, especailly after his excellent run at Notts County and Mansfield. He had a good first season at Lincoln, with 2 goals and 11 assists, but kicked it up a gear last season as the poster boy of Appleton’s almost promotion winners. Lincoln have lost some big players from last year, and brought in some seemingly great replacements, but the loss of Grant is such that he can be the only one highlighted here.

Target: Play-offs

Were it not for last season, I’d be putting Lincoln down as targetting the top half of the league, as I did last season, but you can’t overlook the impact Appleton had. Quality managers are always more valuable than quality teams, and Appleton has proved his quality in this division with Oxford and Lincoln. Sure, I don’t think they’ll make the play-offs, given the quality of the division and the loss of key players, but Appleton is a manager I like, I think he can deliver the play-offs again, and, importantly, it’ll no doubt be Lincoln’s target for the season internally.

 

Previous: Ipswich Town Next: Milton Keynes

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Player Ratings: Plymouth Argyle 0 Bristol City 1

Bristol City edged out Plymouth Argyle in another well contested pre-season friendly against strong opposition.

For the third consecutive game, Argyle lost by a single goal to near-full strengh Championship opposition, which is a promising sign, though a win against Torquay feels required after the Pilgrims have thus far squandered opportunities to get the right results that their performances have deserved against professional opponents.

Michael Cooper, GK – 6

Difficult performance to grade for Cooper. Passing was as composed and accurate as you could expect. Gave away the penalty, showing his inexperience to plough through the back of O’Dowda but not claim the ball, only to then save Chris Martin’s poor effort, the first penalty he’s saved in nine attempts. Had few other shots to save and had no chance with the only goal of the game. Not that City didn’t have chances, just that Palmer, Martin and Weiman wasted some great openings.

Cooper wasn’t totally error prone himself last season, and will need to iron out those silly mistakes to avoid costing Argyle needless goals in the season ahead.

James Wilson, CB – 7

Read the game very well at times, closing passing lanes and blocking off space. Strong in the air alongside his fellow centre-backs, a welcome sight after the last season.

Most impressive was how he fared up against O’Dowda, a fast, dangerous winger. Yet, he more than held his own, impressively using his experience to ease him out on occasion when you’d expect the difference in speed to tell. However, he switched off when he fouled O’Dowda but the referee somehow waved play on while both players involved waited for the whistle, allowing the winger to get up and set up a huge chance for Ciry to kill the game off. In Wilson’s defence, he did receive a stray elbow as O’Dowda went down that gave him a nose bleed.

Dan Scarr, CB – 8

Experience isn’t always the answer, but Argyle’s defence was crying out for it after last season and Scarr, together with other signings, look like they’re going to leave Argyle with a far stronger foundation at the back.

The mark of a good defender is to go unnoticed as much as possible: they read the game and make deal with danger quickly and efficiently before it becomes too threatening. Thus far, Scarr has largely ticked those boxes despite facing some tough opposition. That Scarr is not the fastest but has been able to beat quicker players to the ball when teams are on the counter speaks to the way he reads passes.

Likewise, Scarr is clearly not the best passer, but has remained calm and composed when under pressure and avoided making any clangers  – that I can recall – despite some strong pressure on him. Equally, he’s clearly a far better passer than Walsall fans give him credit for.

Brendan Galloway, CB – 6

A couple of great defensive moments, as he stuck close to Wieman early on and make the first opening of the game significantly harder than it otherwise would have been. Similarly, he provided excellent covering, racing back to prevent a City second on the counter, intercepting as O’Dowda tried to put Wieman clean-through, though the question could be asked – why wasn’t he there in the first place?

However, he was beaten by Wieman to create a brilliant chance for Martin – though that could be expected of a player who will be rusty, given he’s barely started any professional games over the past four seasons.

Looked comfortable dribbling the ball forwards when space opened up, but less so when the press was put on him. On first viewing, his passing possibly the worst of the four CBs we’ve seen (still no sight of James Bolton), though maybe he doesn’t have the confidence to attempt passes he could otherwise make.

Jordan Houghton, DM – 7

Set the tempo nicely, though should have done more in the first fifteen as Bristol City dominated the ball. After that, he and Mayor in particular teamed up to hold possession, take the sting out of City and give Argyle the platform to create chances of their own.

Two things in particular impressed me: first, Houghton’s willingness to break the lines and burst forward through the middle, which we almost never saw last season and rarely in 2019/20. Second, he knows when to not get involved. Always demanding the ball makes him an easier target to close down Argyle’s passing route out of defence. Allowing the ball to pass him by at times as City crowded the centre of the pitch with their four attackers allowed Mayor to pick up the ball either in space or with no protection behind the next line of players, or for the wide centre-backs to carry the ball forward themselves.

Poked in and won the ball back here and there, but overall Argyle’s centre of midfield remains a big problem area defensively and Bristol City created some openings, by making space to run through it with simple pass and move. As the deepest player, doubts will lead to questions about whether he is secure enough defensively if that occurs during the season.

Joe Edwards, RWB – 6

Nearly turned the ball home, but the cross was just too far behind him and he struck it wide on his left foot from a signature late surge into the box to meet a Grant cross. Similarly, he had the last effort of the game after Shirley went down in the area, but his snapshot through the crowd was too close to Bentley, who saved well.

Overall, pretty quiet and didn’t deliver any dangerous crosses, unlike his brilliant ball against Swansea for Ennis to waste.

Panutche Camara CM – 7

Pressed superbly in spells, though didn’t turn over possession as effectively as he has in previous matches. Tidy but quiet in possession and failed to offer any late runs into the box of quality, which he should have been aiming to deliver given some of the crossing opportunities for Grant on the left.

Needs to find another gear sometimes,

Danny Mayor, CM – 7

Created Argyle’s best chance of the game, dropping his shoulder in signature Mayor style to beat two midfielders, driving at the centre of defence rather than at a full-back, before reading Jephcott’s late dart inside and playing a perfectly weighted pass to put him through. If only he had the finish.

Like the rest of the team, seemed timid, or overawed, or inferior during the first 15 minutes as City dominated. Yet, for the next ten Argyle’s midfield asserted themselves and began to create chances. The final twenty were more balanced, but Mayor was the creative spark more than any other player, and deserved an assist from the game.

Still needs to learn that ALWAYS SLOWING DOWN THE ATTACK is not a benefit. Sure, he’s maybe better set to deliver a cross instead of playing it first time on his left foot, but guess what? The number of players defending the opposition box has doubled in that time and you’re going to end up passing backwards. Infuritating.

Conor Grant, LWB – 6

Delivered some good crosses, most notably the one that fell just behind Edwards. Set-piece delivery wasn’t as good as it should have been. Defended competently and played some lovely passes inside that kept attacks moving, but it was a relatively quiet game for Grant otherwise.

Luke Jephcott, ST – 4

Desperately needs to work on his shooting on the run. Go back and look at his goals for Argyle: he’s almost never sprinting with the ball at his feet. The big chances he’s had when on the run – the first ones that spring to mind for me are Bristol Rovers away, Doncaster away, Swansea a week back and tonight – never seem to find the net.

Here, he was largely anonymous. He was dominated in the air when Argyle went long and a bit sloppy in possession when the ball came to his feet, but came to life with that dart inside Rob Atkinson to be put through by Mayor, only to waste the biggest chance of the first half.

Ryan Hardie, ST – 6

For most of the game, he worked hard but saw little of the ball. Ran the channels as well as you’d expect him to, but a tough game with no chances falling to him – until Ennis slipped him in behind on the angle and he drilled an excellent left footed shot towards the top corner, but Bentley parried away. Argyle’s best shot of the match, but it still came to nothing.

Not that it was Hardie’s fault tonight, but over pre-season he has been the biggest waster of chances, along with Jephcott and Ennis. Surely at least one of them has to find their scoring boots and start finishing these chances, else Argyle’s season is not going to start well at all.

Substitutes

Macaulay Gillesphey, CB – 7

More willing to take a risk with the ball than Galloway, including some nice switches of the play. Defended tidily and looks to be a good member of the trio at the back along with Scarr and Wilson. Personally, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start the season first choice, but if he makes sloppy mistakes – as he did against Rovers – then the door is definitely open for Galloway to come in.

Niall Ennis, ST – 8

Instant impact off the bench, injecting the energy that Jephcott struggled to offer and knitted together Argyle’s midfield and attack, particularly on the counter. Started or ended almost every chance Argyle had in the final half hour.

Had a deflected shot that nearly spun in, burst beyond the defence, cut inside and shot at Bentley, hit one from range that was parried away and nearly got in behind right at the very last. Created the chance for Hardie and almost put him in behind five minutes prior. Was dangerous every time he got the ball and if Argyle were to score, it seemed as though was going to involve Ennis in some way.

Staked his claim to start away at Rotherham.

Adam Randell, DM – 6

Randell has done no harm to his chances of raking up the minutes during the coming season after another good display in pre-season against another near-full strength Championship side.

Unlike Houghton, Randell displays that extra level of fearlessness so often associated with youth. Houghton can be more passive in possession and take fewer risks; no such cautiousness from Randell! A graduate of the school of Mayor, he’ll drop to receive the ball, spin, and try to get things going whenever he can. Excellent range of passing, even if a couple were just out today.

Shame about the two, poor set-piece deliveres right at the end as Argyle chased an equaliser, but I won’t be surprised when he gets an extended run ahead of Houghton in defensive midfield during the coming season, I’m increasingly sure it’s going to happen. Maybe even in centre midfield.

Rhys Shirley, ST – n/a

Wasted a chance in behind by running it too close to the defender, though won a coner that Randell wasted. Should have won a penalty I think – looked to be clipped as he poked the ball to Edwards as the ball bounced around the box from a set-piece.

Ryan Law, LWB – n/a

Came on but had nothing to do, save a nice pass inside to Randell. Only had a few minutes at the end.

Top 10: Free Agents – Attacking Midfielders

Plymouth Argyle are starting to piece their squad together for the 2021-22 season. It’s therefore time for us to start looking at the free agents who may be available to sign during this summer transfer window.

Compared to some other positions we’ve looked at, attacking midfield seems to be a fairly solid area in Argyle’s current squad. Danny Mayor and Conor Grant have signed new deals, whilst Panutche Camara is already under contract. All three impressed at various stages last season, and will surely do so again in the forthcoming campaign.

However, there’s still every chance Ryan Lowe will enter the market here this summer. Ben Reeves’ departure has left a space in the squad, and we know from Lowe’s Bury days that he always loves to add creativity. Here are some who may fit the bill.

Billy Bodin

Club: Preston North End
Status: Released
Age: 29
Appearances: 5
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

Though his moved to Preston three-and-a-half years ago has not gone the way he will have planned, Billy Bodin remains a quality player who will now be looking for the right transfer to kick-start his career. Perhaps a move back to the West Country will do the trick, having previously player for Torquay before making his breakthrough at Bristol Rovers, scoring 37 in 107 as he helped the Pirates return to League One in 2016.

Bodin has not played in central midfield before, though he could slot into that position under Ryan Lowe’s system with the right support. Bodin is blessed with speed, vision, intelligent attacking movement and good finishing. He may have to develop the mentality to play in central midfield, but his natural talent would help him adapt.

Given how Argyle often lacked a cutting edge in the opposition box, both in terms of the final pass and the finishing touch, Bodin could help lift the burden from Danny Mayor’s shoulders while offering a more consistent stream of goal, lifting the pressure on the strikers.

Bodin has had injury problems at Preston but has been injury free for six months now and is the sort of player that is a gamble, as many are at this time of year. Some of those pay off handsomely, and Bodin could fall into that category for the right team.

 

Jimmy Keohane

Club: Rochdale
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 30
Appearances: 50
Goals: 10
Assists: 2

Keohane enjoyed the most prolific season of his career despite Rochdale suffering relegation to League Two, and the Irishman could prove to be the perfect Ryan Lowe signing due to his versatility. Having spent the vast majority of the season as a full-back, half of his goals came in the final dozen games of the season as manager Brian Barry-Murphy opted to play him in a more advanced role for Dale.

Pilgrims fans might well remember his calamitous goal during the 4-0 defeat earlier in the season as his header from a Stephen Dooley cross appeared to briefly pause time as the Argyle defence watched the ball trickle into the opposite corner of the goal. On later viewing, the ‘highlights’ from that game are just as painful to watch.

Keohane can play on either side of the defence or midfield, and whilst his statistics suggest a level of selfishness in front of goal, the 5ft 11in man is known for his passing ability with an impressive 79% accuracy in a side in a side that spent much of the season predominantly playing long balls. His poor long ball accuracy (38%) in comparison shows he might be more suited to a side like Argyle who look to play the ball on the floor.

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Erhun Oztumer

Club: Charlton Athletic
Status: Released
Age: 30
Appearances: 31 (5 for Charlton, 26 on loan at Bristol Rovers)
Goals: 2 (1 Charlton, 1 Rovers)
Assists: 2 (both Rovers)

Erhun Oztumer was, for a not insignificant period of time, a real hot property in League One. Walsall fans loved to call him the Turkish Messi, and you can see why – his record for them was immense after joining from Peterborough United back in 2016. Peterborough had, predictably, nabbed him from non-league after a superb spell at Dulwich Hamlet, and his career was very much on the up.

However, a series of bad career move have seen his progress very much stunted in recent years. He moved up to the Championship after leaving Walsall, which seemed like a natural step forward, but he did so with Bolton Wanderers as their financial crisis worsened. After that, he went to Charlton Athletic who would soon find themselves in a similar situation. A loan move to Bristol Rovers followed. They were relegated.

Amazingly for a player of Oztumer’s ability, he hasn’t actually scored a league goal since he left Walsall in 2018. A series of moves to clubs in crisis has contributed, and Argyle could be an appealing option to provide a much more stable platform for his talents.

 

Liam Walsh

Club: Bristol City
Status: Released
Age: 23
Appearances: 2
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

There is one factor that makes Liam Walsh more likely to sign for Argyle. Born in the Liverpool suburb of Huyton, he would be another member of the ‘Scouse Mafia’ so ubiquitous at the club for the last two years.

The midfielder, just released by Bristol City after three years at the club following an injury-hit campaign, stands just 5’6” tall. What he lacks in size he makes up for in tenacity – often surging with the ball from deep where he can either play in a team-mate or go for goal himself.

It was with one of these runs that he won Coventry’s goal of the season award in 2020. He picked up the ball in the midfield and jinked past three players before firing it in with his left foot. 2019-20 was a very successful season for Walsh in League One – winning the player and young player of the season award with the Sky Blues.

Walsh could be sent to Coventry again and their fans would be happy to see him. If he opts against a return, or Mark Robins feels like he’s moved on, he’d fit perfectly next to Conor Grant and Panutche Camara in the Argyle midfield.

 

Ben Gladwin

Club: Milton Keynes
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 29
Appearances: 30
Goals: 2
Assists: 3

Ben Gladwin hasn’t had everything handed to him on a plate. Bouncing around non-league teams near his home in Reading before finally getting a chance in League football with Swindon, he fits the definition of a journeyman.

It is with Swindon that he has enjoyed most success. His first spell at the club attracted the attention of QPR, who later loaned him back after he failed to make the grade at Loftus Road.

His knack for grabbing goals from midfield is what most rocked the Robins fans. Nicknamed the Rocketman for his powerful shot, Gladwin loves to collect the ball in deeper areas and bulldoze forward. His ability to strike the ball with either foot keeps defenders guessing.

Injuries have limited him in his career. He’s not fully fit this summer – surgery on his knee means he’d need an extended pre-season to be fit for the new season. Clubs may be looking towards a ‘pay-as-you-play’ deal if they were to sign Gladwin.

On the pitch, Gladwin would be a safe signing for any League One club. It’s his injury record that makes him a risk.

 

Jevani Brown

Club: Colchester United
Status: Released
Age: 26
Appearances: 45
Goals: 11
Assists: 2

Though Jevani Brown’s move from Cambridge to Colchester two seasons back did not go as well as he would have hoped, he enjoyed a far stronger season this time around that in his first. In fact, started the season in lightning form, scoring all his goals before December, but dropped off in 2021.

Colchester actually pushed Brown further forward into a striker’s role for much of the season, but given his powerful dribbling and awareness of space – both his and his teammates’ – he is still best from an attacking midfield position.

More similar to Antoni Sarcevic than Danny Mayor, he might introduce a greater balance to Argyle’s midfield in games that they see less of the ball, providing bursting runs from deep and more goals from outside the box. Like many names on this list, Brown did not have his best season last year – why else would he have been released – but he is still yet to reach his full potential, has time on his side, and the drive to bounce back with a new challenge.

 

Matty Lund

Club: Rochdale
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 30
Appearances: 35
Goals: 12
Assists: 5

It might seem a little odd for Argyle to target someone relegated from the league last season but Matty Lund was certainly one of the better performances as Rochdale narrowly dropped into League Two.

Dale were a side who typically scored and conceded a lot of goals, much like Argyle for most of the season in fact. Whilst Ryan Lowe knows we need to strengthen at the back, a player of Lund’s creative ability may be handy. Rochdale offered him a contract to stay however so Argyle should be mindful of how much they spend on the Mancunian in terms of wages, especially if he’s more of a squad option.

Historically, Lund has always been a handy lower league player with a successful previous spell at Rochdale as well as impressing at Scunthorpe and (earlier) Bristol Rovers. Indeed, he actually scored one of the goals for the Pirates on that infamous New Year’s Day loss that saw Carl Fletcher lose his job in 2013.

Since then, he’s added a few international caps at Northern Ireland to his resume as well as success at club level. If he does sign for us, let’s hope he’s helping an Argyle manager to keep their job this time rather than lose it.

 

Izzy Brown

Club: Chelsea
Status: Released
Age: 24
Appearances: 21 (on loan at Sheffield Wednesday)
Goals: 0
Assists: 1

Here’s an option if Argyle are looking to be seriously ambitious this summer. Izzy Brown comes with great pedigree as a loanee in the division above, perhaps peaking with an influential role at Huddersfield Town during their promotion season in 2016-17.

Then, injury struck, and badly. A cruciate ligament injury struck in January 2018, keeping him out for the rest of the season and indeed most of the 2018-19 campaign. He’s had a couple of loan spells since at Luton Town and Sheffield Wednesday, but he’s never been able to hit his pre-injury heights. Indeed, Brown’s Wednesday were relegated from the Championship on the final day of last season.

But he’s still a player of immense talent. And now he’s been released from Chelsea you’d expect there to be a clamour for his permanent signature. Argyle ought to be in the hunt, and may have a chance with his recent record. However, with Championship clubs such as Preston rumoured to be interested, completing a deal will be tough. But it’s definitely worth a try.

 

Jake Hesketh

Club: Southampton
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 15 (on loan at Crawley Town)
Goals: 0
Assists: 1

Southampton have always had one of the most prestigious academies in England, developing numerous players who have gone on to become regulars for the Hampshire club. Indeed, many have been sold on and had careers at bigger, top six clubs. A really good academy though will also produce players who make it in football even when they don’t quite have enough to make it at St Mary’s.

Whoever signs Jake Hesketh will definitely be getting somebody of that ilk. He made his debut for the Saints as early as 2014 when he was just 18 years old. After a few years of being coached through the under-21 side, Hesketh became a perennial lower league loanee.

His spells at Burton, Milton Keynes, Lincoln and most recently Crawley have seen him establish himself as a good League Two option and at least a solid squad option for League One.

He may not offer many goals but he likes to dictate the tempo of the game and draw fouls. Argyle will want to rotate and Hesketh could be the perfect Reeves replacement.

 

Andrew Shinnie

Club: Charlton Athletic
Status: Released
Age: 25
Appearances: 31 (29 for Charlton, 2 for Luton Town)
Goals: 3 (all Charlton)
Assists: 6 (all Charlton)

Despite making his loan move from Luton to Charlton permanent in February, Shinnie finds himself without a club following the resignation of Lee Bowyer who moved to Birmingham just a few weeks later. His successor, Nigel Adkins afforded the Scot just one start in the final five games as the Addicks missed out on the League One play-offs on goal difference.

Whilst it was an up and down season, the 31-year-old scored or assisted a goal every 189 minutes for Charlton, chipping in with three goals and six assists, despite only making 18 starts and a further 11 substitute appearances.

Whilst able to play anywhere across the midfield, Shinnie excels on the left or in an advanced role just behind the forwards. His impressive ability on the ball and range of passing would give Lowe another option from set pieces. In an otherwise still young midfield, the former Rangers man would provide the sort of experience that Argyle have been crying out for in the middle of the pitch.

 


Top 10: Free Agents – Defensive Midfielders