It’s that time of year again. The players are back in for pre-season training, informing us via Twitter how hard it is to earn thousands of pounds a week to run around a bit, the start of the pre-season friendly campaign is just over a week away and plans have been made for the first few away games. The return of domestic football is becoming very real.
With the start of the season barely more than a month away, it’s also a time for Charlton fans to find something to panic about. Last season it was financial constraints and a lack of signings, the summer before the promotion season there was a question as to where Chris Powell’s host of signings would jell and in the summer preceding the disastrous 13th place finish in League One, a severe shortage of numbers in the playing staff caused many to worry.
This summer, it would appear the topic of concern is a lack of signings along with shortages in the squad in certain areas. Baring in mind there’s still five weeks until the big kick off at Bournemouth, these concerns are of course incredibly premature. Those concerns were only made worse this week with Jacques Maghoma, an apparent transfer target, opting to join Sheffield Wednesday over the Addicks. With last summer marred by Powell’s frustration at losing out on his targets, such as Sam Baldock and Sone Aluko, losing out on potential signings is a worrying trend that can’t continue.
However, only a fool would doubt Powell’s ability to bring in the signings needed, no matter what the financial constraints are. With time on his side, I have little doubt that new signings will be made in due course to improve a side that impressed many by finishing 9th in the Addicks’ first season back in the Championship. The squad isn’t that far from being complete, but there are areas that need some improvement.
This is one area that can safely be said is covered. Baring is minor blip in form that saw him dropped; Ben Hamer impressed through the majority of the season and won the Addicks a number of points with his displays. There is no doubting his shot stopping ability whilst his command of his area has improved along with his distribution which caused frustration amongst some Charlton fans. Hamer’s understudy David Button has proved himself to be an adequate replacement without being at the same level, but that’s all that’s needed for a replacement keeper at a Championship club with a tight budget. The promising Nick Pope waits in the wings if an injury crisis forces Powell to call upon him, but he should be full of confidence following his title winning campaign with the U21’s and an appearance for the first team on the final day of the season.
Can Charlton keep a hold of the best right back in the division? I hope so. Chris Solly is an integral part of this side and a second consecutive player of the year award just goes to show how talented the academy graduate is. If Solly were to leave, a high quality replacement will need to be found with the versatile Lawrie Wilson being better suited to a position on the wing despite filling at right back when needed last season. If Solly stays, I’d like to see a versatile defender come in who can perform adequately across the back four and act as more appropriate cover than Wilson in case the ‘5’3’ full back suffers from injury.
This is another position in which the Addicks have a number of high quality performers and should be covered already going into the new season. Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite proved themselves to be an impressive partnership in the end of season unbeaten run, whilst Leon Cort was a rock at the back at the beginning of the season. The loss of Matthew Taylor following his release should be covered by the growing talents of Kevin Feely and Semi Ajayi, who both played for their respective countries’ youth sides over the summer.
With Cedric Evina reporting to pre-season training, it would appear hope of him signing a new contract isn’t dead. If the former Arsenal trainee signs up for another season, the left side of defence will be covered. The impressive Rhoys Wiggins’ return to the side and form coincided with the unbeaten end of season run, whilst Evina showed promise, especially in his performance away at Watford in the 4-3 win. There’s also high hope for youngster Morgan Fox, who can fill in as a reserve if Evina leaves or injury strikes.
Bradley Pritchard made this position his own towards the end of the season and began to look more suited to a position on the wing than his more natural centre midfield position. His display against Barnsley was most promising, scoring goals, providing assists and beating his man like an out and out winger. Lawrie Wilson and Danny Green provide adequate cover for the Zimbabwean.
The permanent signing of Mark Gower beefs up a strong contingent of centre midfielders at the Valley. Skipper Johnnie Jackson impressed last season with his 12 goals, whilst Andy Hughes’ return from injury was a breath of fresh air, helping to change the course of the season. Although transfer listed, along with Green, Dale Stephens and Danny Hollands are both excellent talents and I fully expect at least one of them to stay put. Stephens added fuel to the fires of his critics with a number of disappointing displays, but maintains a level of quality, whilst Hollands showed he can perform in the Championship with an excellent performance away at Middlesbrough. With Pritchard able to come inside if needed, the midfield should be sorted.
With Jackson now firmly in the centre of midfield and Salim Kerkar released alongside Danny Haynes and Scott Wagstaff, the left wing position is a little short of numbers. Whilst youngster Callum Harriott impressed and fully deserved his call up the England U19 squad, he is far from the finished article, often lacking an end product to his talents on the ball. It’s also difficult to expect a 19 year old to cope with an entire 46 game season. Whilst Jordan Cook might be ready to step up to the first team, some left wingers are needed. Losing out on Maghoma becomes even more frustrating when this is considered, but Powell will have more targets in mind to plug the gaps.
Now this is where we have an issue. With game changers Ricardo Fuller and Haynes released alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips, Yann Kermorgant is the only senior striker at the club. Hopefully Jonathan Obika will come in on a permanent basis, but he lacks that game changing ability that will be sorely missed without Fuller and Haynes. Despite being an average Championship club, I’d like to think we’ll be able to secure both an impact forward and a 20 goal a season striker to accompany Kermorgant in attack. Obika along with two strikers fulfilling those criteria is what’s needed. If I were to suggest some names, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Simeon Jackson would be my targets of choice, but both are unlikely to be within our wage budget. From within the club, a host of promising strikers can be called upon, such as Michael Smith and Adebayo Azezz, can be called upon if needed.
It would seem that the only real cause for concern is on the left of midfield and upfront; not too bad considering we’ve got weeks and weeks until the season begins. It might take a sale to trigger the club into action; the money from selling one of the three transfer listed players might be what’s needed to make some additions. Whatever happens, Powell will have a squad fit and ready for the kick off on August 3rd.