With pre-season almost complete and only one week to go until the start of the season, questions start to appear of who will be in the XI for the start of the season. So far we’ve seen different partnerships across the team, and now manager Neil Harris has to pick his XI which we’d hope gets us off to a good start to the season.
With business done early this summer, Harris and his coaching team have been able to get a good look at every single player at their disposal, and should now have a clear indication of what their best XI is. Three new arrivals from other clubs, as well as opportunities offered to the next batch of youngsters available from our own youth setup, it has provided extra competition to a squad which has largely been kept in tact.
Of course, we can’t always control injuries in the squad with both full backs Joe Martin and Shaun Cummings yet to appear in a pre-season friendly, however with both we know what they offer to the club, having seen both play a part for most of last season.
On the basis of Harris favouring a 4-4-2 formation, below in my opinion is our strongest XI going into the new season:
In goal I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see Jordan Archer. Having got an opportunity last season, Archer has quickly become a fan favourite and has continued to develop under the guidance of Harris and goalkeeping coach Kevin Pressman. Having also ended the career of David Forde at Millwall, Archer – who only one year left on his contract – could easily be our number one keeper for many years to come.
In the heart of defence I’ve gone for new signing Shaun Hutchinson and the turnaround man Byron Webster. Having started last season as nearly a scapegoat for most fans, Webster’s turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable. To the point where he was ultimately a huge miss that day at Wembley, a day I wish I could forget in a hurry. An organiser in the back line and able to contribute with goals from set plays, if the end of last season is anything to go by, Webster could be a potential underdog for player of the season.
As mentioned next to Webster, and first of the new signings is Shaun Hutchinson. Having attended each and every game of pre-season, Hutchinson has certainly left an impression for a lot of us. A nuisance in both defence and attack, the towering defender just doesn’t lose out in any 50 50 duel, with also the occasional crunching tackle which guarantees a cheer from us.
On either side of defence I’ve kept both Mahlon Romeo and Joe Martin. Romeo is another who just grew on all of us, and we all shared his disappointment when missing out on the whole of the play-off campaign due to suspension. An immense outlet on the right side, Romeo just doesn’t stop motoring up and down the right flank and causing havoc to the opposition when on the overlap. Even in defence, Romeo has the ability to get himself out of trouble with his ability on the ball, another who needs to be tied down and never allowed to leave.
Despite his injury, I suppose the reason for Martin’s inclusion is because the direct competition is either Tony Craig or Noah Chesmain. While Chesmain has impressed in pre-season, and I would start the defender in place of Martin on the opening day of the season, however I feel that Martin at least at this level is the consistent defender we need. Tony Craig on the other hand, just doesn’t for me have the same ability on the ball as Martin, and if in the team should be played in the middle of defence.
In central midfield I’d have Jimmy Abdou and Ben Thompson. Although both aren’t the type of player to sit deep and ping the ball 50 yards like Shaun Williams can do, both are willing runners and won’t stop working for the team. Often in a 4-4-2 formation you need two like Abdou and Thompson who are able to press and make up ground when chasing the game.
The only doubt with Thompson and Abdou is where the goals would come from, however as we saw with Thompson’s goal last season against Shrewsbury and also in the FA Cup, he is a player that could develop to being our goal scoring midfielder.
On the right and left sides of midfield it has to be David Worrall and Shane Ferguson. Despite Ferguson joining late after being allowed extra time off from The Euros, the impact Ferguson made at Crawley in his short spell showed his importance to our team. A dead ball specialist, Ferguson along with Worrall both have the ability to consistently produce good deliveries for our attackers.
New signing Worrall has also impressed during pre-season, and as is the case with Ferguson on the opposite flank, both provide added security when in defence, often able to support their full backs behind them. Other new signing Wylde has also been an interesting addition, however in competition with Ferguson I’d favour the Northern Irish man. However, I’m sure during the season we will be needing Wylde and his pace on the counter.
And finally up front I’ve gone for the 46 goal partnership of Steve Morison and Lee Gregory. Both were just as important in our play-off push last season, with Gregory scoring 27 of the 46 but Morison also contributing with the most assists in the squad. The two seem to have an understanding between each other that we don’t quite have when O’Brien comes into the team, and as such this keeps O’Brien out of the side, with Harris trying to play him in other positions across the field.
That’s my XI then, what is your opinion of my XI and would you make any changes?