Well, Mark Kinsella says we’re planning for next season and there’s no good reason to disagree. So its time to be thinking about who’s staying and who’s going (in addition to Soares). Actually Drinking During The Game at least has got in there first, even to the extent of using the same song title that I was planning on. As I agree with most if not all of what he’s said there’s a fair element of repetition here. But as I’d written most of it anyway ...
Is there any reason to speculate on why it was Kinsella and not Phil Parkinson giving the post-match interviews on Saturday? The reason is probably mundane, but its worth raising the notion that an acceptance of the inevitability of relegation will be prompting some introspection on the part of management as well as the playing staff. They must after all be feeling the burden of failure along with the rest of us (hopefully including most if not all of the players).
We fans don’t have the option of quitting. For me the die was cast many years ago, before I had any say in the matter it has to be said. I’m ashamed to admit that just briefly, as a teenager, when we were struggling and going nowhere (which was after all the norm) I went to Selhurst Park for a match against Palace. They were going for promotion and I was struck by the possible appeal of supporting a team that seemed to be on the up and that for their supporters (at the time) there seemed to be some semblance of enjoying the process. I was back in my right mind the following morning and it doesn’t even count as a near terrible error. Bottom line is I’m bloody proud of our club, haven’t forgotten what we’ve had over the past 20 years (including the Lawrence era), and know that it will take a damn site more than three consecutive seasons of failure to change that.
For the record, whatever the rights and wrongs of his appointment and the way things have turned out, I’m happy with Parkinson at the helm and hope that after some licking of wounds he will be able to shed any sense of defeatism and show next season why he deserves the job. There are always going to be quibbles about team selection, from people like me who can only guess at some of what goes on behind the scenes. But it’s clear that the board are far more comfortable with him in charge than Pardew – and I don’t mean comfortable in a negative sense – and there’s no doubt that since he took over the players’ commitment has improved. Also, there have been signs along the way (OK, false dawns in terms of staying up) that he knows how he wants us to play and will shape a squad for next season capable of getting us back up.
Just who might be in that squad is of course a matter of finances and we know that everything has to be done to cut the wage bill. I know nothing more than what’s on the club website regarding who is out of contract at the end of the season, but its fair to assume that anyone who is will probably be out of the door, along with anyone who can command a fee and/or is on high wages. The News Shopper is talking about 14 players in the first-team squad being out of contract.
We all know one of them is Zhi. No hard feelings, but I think there’s nothing left to be gained from playing him during the remaining games. We are preparing for next season and he’s not going to be here. Rather more worrying (in my opinion) is that Kinsella talked of Zhi and Racon in the same terms, commenting that we have to benefit “while we have got them”. According to the club site Racon signed a four-year deal with us, so unless there’s some release clause I’m assuming he’ll still be under contract. Whether he wants to stay is of course another matter – and he is someone who could command a fee. I hope he stays; he brightened up my Saturday.
So, let’s do the positions:
Goalkeeper: It seems clear to all that Weaver is on his way. Fair enough; at least he leaves us thinking better about him than before. Elliot has done well enough to be first choice next season (as long as he stays off the pies, sometimes seems less than trim for one so young), with Randolph the number two. Can we manage with two inexperienced keepers? Probably. After all, emergency goalkeeper loan signings are always possible during the season – and there won’t be any shortage of capable old lags if necessary after the summer.
Right-back: Moutaouakil is of course a conundrum. Another according to the site who signed on a four-year deal. It seems clear that Parkinson has problems with his attitude and he may have already decided to head for pastures new. If so, it’s disappointing but so be it. If he stays he has to be first choice next season. I can’t see any reason why Butterfield would or should stay, so if not Moutaouakil it has to be Solly stepping up or a new signing.
Left-back: As for Moutaouakil, so with Youga. Just hasn’t looked the player of last season, so either has to come back after the break refreshed and up for the challenge or out the door. In the third tier I’d have no problem with Basey being first choice. It would be his chance to prove he can nail down the position.
Centre-back: Well, we only have two recognised centre-halves, so assuming Fortune returns from injury and Ward heads back to Wolves, and that Holland will only be used as potential back-up (if he stays for another season), Hudson and Fortune are the pairing – unless either has to be sold, in which case we would need to buy in.
Central midfield: Even assuming no Zhi the full list of options here – Bailey, Shelvey, Holland, Ambrose, Spring, Wright, Racon, Semedo (and eventually Sinclair) - must mean shedding and looking to keep the best feasible combination. I’m assuming Ambrose is out of contract and will be off, so it would seem down to whether Racon and/or Semedo are sold – and whether a decent offer comes in for Shelvey (or for that matter Bailey). My preferred ‘four’ (ie two and two back-up) would be Bailey, Semedo, Racon and Shelvey, but Spring can be expected to do a decent job in the third flight and will probably be one of the four assuming others are offloaded.
Wingers: If Sam stays (I assume he’s on decent money) next season has to be his year. It’s time. I thought this season would be the one when he played a key role in the side – and in some games he shone, just not consistently enough. Wagstaff has to step up next season if he’s going to. Otherwise, barring Ambrose staying, Shelvey being employed out wide (which is possible), Christensen making an unexpected return, or Bailey remaining consigned to the flanks (a worthwhile move but one which has outlived its usefulness) it is an area we are light. Again, the burden rests on Sam.
Forwards: The full line-up at present is Gray, Burton, Todorov, Dickson, Kandol, McLeod and Fleetwood. The key is whether someone bids for Gray (seems Sheff Utd might be interested). If he is offloaded he will go down as one of the worst signings we have made in recent history; if he stays I hope he feels he owes us something (although this may be a little unfair in light of family problems). Why we signed Burton is a mystery to me, but I would have thought he and Dickson could do something together in the lower league. McLeod? I'm assuming he's on good money and will be sold, but if he stays the case for keeping Kandol looks thin. Todorov? Well, he’s already gone I’m sorry to say. Kandol? If Gray goes with Todorov and McLeod we will probably need another, so as long as he’s cheap – and that would give a chance for a Kandol-Dickson partnership, one which showed promise against Plymouth at least.
So, after all the imponderables, here’s my starting line-up for the first game of next season (with the proviso that I’ll be amazed if it’s anything like the eventual outcome as at least two of them might need to be sold in addition to those being let go):
Elliot, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Sam, Bailey, Racon, Shelvey, Kandol, Dickson.
Subs: Randolph, Holland (just has to be, doesn’t it?), Basey, Semedo, Burton.