Stick Or Twist??
No' to shabby for a club with a shell of a squad four months ago eh??!! From a pool of twenty-three made up predominantly of kids and loanees we sit in the Top Six of the SPL with only one defeat from the first round of matches at the hands of high-flying Hibs. Our next major challenge may well lie in January as Jim Gannon will (probably as much through necessity as choice) have to wheel and deal in the transfer window to ensure we have a competitive squad for the second half of the campaign.
So what will we want/need to do to continue the good work thus far in season 2009/10??
Whilst "Ruddy Must Stay" is the obvious chant from the fans, how realistic is it to happen?? The big Englishman has arguably been the gaffer's best signing of the summer and has had a huge hand (well, two I suppose.....) in our recording of six clean sheets from the ten SPL starts he has made. It won't be the last time I write this in the next couple of pages but the success of our loanee by definition casts doubt of an extension to the deal, with the decisions of David Moyes in particular looking key to where we finish this season. Will there be a team who will offer Everton some cash for the big fella during the notoriously quiet Winter Window? Might Mr Boyle stick his hand in his pocket a la Stephen Hughes and Chris Porter to bankroll a key signing for Jim Gannon?? Fingers crossed ......
At the other end of the spectrum in the supporters hearts and minds is Michael Fraser. From losing the debut goal to Llanelli right up to the last two against Accies, where Ruddy is the first 'proper' goalie we feel we've signed since Sieb Dykstra, McGhee's final signing looks more in the mould of messrs Woods, Howie, Kaven, Brown, Smith et al. With the only other keeper in Stewart Kerr's team being Seb Kosiorowski ('Give Us a K, Give us an O, Give us ......') I think the results of the straw poll would be if our first choice has to leave, please ensure a replacement is sourced before the end of the first month of 2010 .....
How long have we lamented our 'achilles heel' of being unable to cope with dead ball situations and cried out for. most recently, McGhee to sign a dominating centre-half. The what do you know, we have a look around and find we've got a couple waiting in the wings for an opportunity to dislodge Crags and Reynolds from the side!?! Suddenly we have Shaun Hutchison and Stevie Saunders keeping internationalists either out of their recognised postion or out of the starting XI altogether. I remember sitting at the Club's AGM back in March when McGhee was asked why some of ths kids weren't getting a run-out as we limped towards our meaningless Bottom Six round of matches. His reply was that the kids simply weren't ready, and the only one who was even close to a chance was a big laddie called Hutchison but he was still too raw to do himself justice .........
Of course, no sooner do we find ourselves with a decent hand of centres to choose than we suddenly seem shy of options at full-back. After a shaky start, Stevie Hammell seems to have re-established himself in the gaffer's plans, whilst Mark Reynolds put a few less than stunning shows behind him to rampage up and down the park at Hamilton. Quick hypothetical question here - if someone was to offer decent wonga for our number 4, would Jimbo cash in if promised a percentage to wheel and deal with???
At right-back Yassin looks like he could quickly turn into an enigma - to good for us? not as good as he thinks?? moving on in January??? Who knows, but with the only other realistic options being pulling Tom Hateley out of position to cover and with our manager's wish for our full-backs to join in our attacking play I wouldn't bet against some movement in this part of our team in the not too distant future.
To me this is another part of the team where recently fans have argued that we have been a couple of players short, but suddenly almost everyone has a different opinion as to who they would choose from a pool of Coke, Humphrey, Jennings, Lasley, O'Brien, Hateley and Forbes. Note of that seven four have been signed in the summer whilst one was deemed only good enough for Dumbarton. Taking Hateley, Forbes, Coke and O'Brien as regular starters we don't have bad cover in place when we can call on Gannon's first signing (hopefully not heading the same way as the first signing of McGhee's reign - whatever happened to Simon Mensing??!) a pacy winger who for tragic personal reasons hasn't had sufficient opportunity to make a name for himself yet and a fan's favourite from previous regimes. Again for me the only problem arises if Giles decides to exercise his Bosman right to talk to other clubs, Lasley if moved on in the rumoured 'old guard' clearout, somebody is keen enough to take an early punt on our goalscoring discovery and/or O'Brien is seduced by the bright lights or .... er, Aberdeen. Stay tuned!!!!!!
Now things get serious!! Nobody was fooled into thinking that any two from Jutkiewicz, Sutton, Murphy and McHugh was gonna be sufficient to regularly trouble the opposition goalies and so In Jim We Trust that the first month of the Teenies will see him sign up some more attacking options. In fairness big John has bounced back from 'Traffic Cone-gate' to put in some good performances but has recently been outstripped by the slowly-starting English/Pole as our focal-point striker.
Bob McHugh looks lively but probably isn't quite ready yet whilst as I write Jamie Murphy has followed of his Hamilton howitzer with a brace for the national Under-21s. Hopefully he can take this confidence into his club form as the two big men combination looks okay but hardly prolific. The one player omitted thus far is the name on most fans' lips - Paul Slane. recent good news following his second operation will hopefully see him return akin to a new signing over the festive period and whilst expectations are dauntingly high, here's hoping he can continue where he left off in the summer.
So, how much surgery is required to help us progress into the Spring?? As previously hinted, I think much could hinge on what response we get to requests to retain the services of Ruddy, Moutouakil and Jutkiewicz and how many of the squad players Jim Gannon feels he both wants to and physically can move on to pastures new. Hopefully with what our manager has displayed and achieved to date, there will be young, ambitious players who see what an positive impact pulling on the Claret and Amber jersey can have and will snap up the opportunity to join the Jim Gannon revolution at Fir Park for the months and hopefully years to come.
by Christopher Hutton
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