Tag: transfers

Scouting Report: Jordan Rossiter – Let’s Leave the Injury Jokes Aside, and Talk About His Ability

2018/2019 stats (for Glasgow Rangers in all competitions): 181 minutes, 2 starts, 3 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists.

By now, you’ll have seen the superbly put together video of the ‘worst kept secret’ of the winter transfer deadline day. Just like Ryan Lowe said during his interview yesterday, I would never have expected the likes of Jordan Rossiter at the club, although it becomes a little easier to understand why when you look at his career trajectory in the past five years, with two hugely contributory factors weighing him down in my view.

Firstly, and most obviously, it’s his injury record. Assuming his page on Transfermarkt is reasonably accurate, to have so many lengthy spells on the sidelines at such a young age can only have had a massive impact on him, but it also says a lot about his character and mental toughness to have fought his way back to fitness so many times. Unfortunately, having so many knockbacks will inevitably start to attract ire, derision, and this can then take the form of ‘banter’ about him spending more time in Fairfield General Hospital than he will on the Gigg Lane turf. You just have to accept that some people will resort to that, given how much focus professional footballers are under, particularly ones with Rossiter’s profile.

A local Liverpool lad, he entered the academy at just six, and rose through each age bracket with glowing references, and made his debut at 15 in the now-defunct NextGen Series, a continental cup competition designed principally for U19 players… which brings me to the second issue. A strong showing as a substitute in that game against Inter Milan was sufficient for Reds legend Robbie Fowler to draw comparisons between him and Steven Gerrard:

I’m sure it was meant as only the highest praise, but that is an extremely heavy mantle to have to take on whilst still an adolescent. Of course, it’s far from a unique situation to him, but I’ve always found it a lazy, often damaging way of describing a player, which both sets fans up to have unrealistic expectations, and the label can become internalised by the individual him/herself, making it that much more difficult to enjoy their football and progress.

One thing that’s rarely been questioned is Rossiter’s actual ability, as that tweet attests to. In compiling this Scouting Report, there is a bevy of evidence to support the claims that have always been made about him, but it is unavoidably scattered over a large expanse of time.

Capped up to England U20s level, he’s been used exclusively at club and international levels as either a defensive or central midfielder. His strong left foot, which he’s nearly as adept with as his right, has meant often being chosen to be the left of a midfield duo or trio in order to utilise this facet of his game more extensively. His career passing accuracy to date is just a shade lower than 90%, with around a third of his total being played forward, and his impressive array and range has helped to unlock defences from deep areas on the pitch, in not too dissimilar a way to former Celtic prospect Eoghan O’Connell’s recent exploits for the Shakers.

Whilst not the quickest, which has doubtlessly been exacerbated by persistent calf and hamstring problems, he does cover a lot of ground in every phase, which will be a crucial aspect under Ryan Lowe’s system without the ball. Equally as handy is his ability to really get stuck in, and he’s just as apt to recover possession in the opposition half as he is his own. This could be of great help in reducing the number of instances Bury get countered upon, especially when coupled with how well he retains the ball.

In my review of January, I identified that as perhaps the weakest part of the current tactics. Rossiter is not a silver bullet for all that’s given up in defence for the sake of attack, but he does offer a skillset that’s hard to replicate, and is testament to the coaching he received at Melwood and more recently at the Rangers Training Centre; strong in the tackle, decent in the air, a natural with both feet, quite positive when passing, likes a shot from range, and most importantly in a sense, he loves to drive forwards, which will be key to how well he meshes into the XI when called upon. With Neil Danns on international duty with Guyana in March to try to earn qualification to the Gold Cup, there is a place up for grabs in his absence, if indeed he hasn’t already established himself by then.

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Rangers manager Steven Gerrard remains one of Rossiter’s biggest admirers and proponents, and will surely feature the 21 year-old heavily in his plans for 2019/2020 if he can prove his fitness with a much-needed run of consistent matches

It remains to be seen whether he’ll start tomorrow as Crawley Town make the journey north from West Sussex, but I think he’ll definitely feature at some point. There’s little chance that he’s been brought here at the expense of possible alternatives in the SPFL and the third tier of England to sit on the bench, and much of the credit must go to Lowe’s friendship with Gerrard to help persuade him and the rest of the Glasgow Rangers setup to send a second player from Ibrox to BL9 this campaign. Jamie Barjonas didn’t feature as much as he or his parent club would have liked, but in truth, Rossiter is a different prospect from the outset from his teammate, and that’s not meant to in any way diminish Barjonas, who will now spend the remainder of the campaign at Raith Rovers in a similar pursuit of regular minutes.

To give you an illustration of just how at odds 2018/2019 is the years immediately preceding it, Sporting Director Lee Dykes, together with Lowe, has ensured that the squad has been reduced in size, two of the leading lights in the U18s have signed pro terms, and none of the ‘core’ senior contingent have been sold at an important juncture. Only Scott Wharton and Rossiter have arrived at Carrington, and they both eptiomise quality over quantity in positions that needed strengthening to maintain the tilt for automatic promotion. It’s equally plausible that the latter is ‘above’ the Shakers’ relatively low standing, as I’ve seen suggested both within and without the club, but as good as he is and could prove to be, I don’t feel as though the collective success is all hinging on him being a success in his time there. He has retained a positive outlook in the face of adversity on several occasions, and that will help him no end in fitting into the squad, no matter how much he does or doesn’t end up playing.

 

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Scouting Report: Nicky Ajose – You Better? You Bet!

2016/2017 stats (for Charlton Athletic & Swindon Town in all competitions): 3,274 minutes, 38 starts, 5 sub appearances; 12 goals, 3 assists.

Bury acted extremely quickly to fill the gaping chasm left by James Vaughan’s transfer to Sunderland by acquiring the services of Nicky Ajose on loan for the third time and on this occasion from fellow League One outfit Charlton Athletic. The Nigerian underage international played no part in yesterday’s challenging friendly encounter with Huddersfield Town, owing chiefly to a relative lack of pre-season training in comparison to his new peers, which is a little puzzling.

Ajose needs little (re)introduction to the bulk of the Shakers’ faithful. His first loan spell was back in the promotion-winning 2010/2011 season, where as ever, a degree of scepticism awaited his arrival for the campaign from Manchester United given that he hadn’t tasted any senior football at the time. Those fears were quickly assuaged under the stewardship of Alan Knill (and later Richie Barker), with the Bury-born youngster forming a deadly partnership with Ryan Lowe, amassing over 40 goals between them with the former notching 13.

Of course, his exploits attracted interest in higher echelons than BL9 and he signed for Sir Alex Ferguson’s son Darren at the helm of Peterborough United. However, his three-year stint with The Posh was largely forgettable and the majority of his playing time confined to further loan spells; the latter of these in 2012/2013 was back at Gigg Lane under very different circumstances. Barker was long gone and in his place was Kevin Blackwell, who either couldn’t or wouldn’t make the best use of Ajose’s abilities as the club meandered to relegation back to the fourth tier and in well-documented financial trouble.

For the following season, he was sent out yet again on loan but seemed to find his niche at Swindon Town, impressing enough that he was recalled after six months back to Cambridgeshire and he added seven further goals in the latter stages of the campaign to take his personal total for 2013/2014 to 17. Chairman Darragh MacAnthony’s widely known policy of transfer listing any player in the last year of their contract came into effect that summer and Ajose was no exception, joining Leeds United in a cut-price deal.

His time at Elland Road tumultuous; the revolving door of managers that season badly damaged the club’s reputation, with the finger of blame squarely pointed at the feet of hugely controversial owner Massimo Cellino. By November and on their third boss of the season, it was obvious that Ajose wasn’t in Neil Redfearn’s plans and he joined Crewe Alexandra on an emergency loan deal, where even though it wasn’t his most prolific period, he at least enjoyed some semblance of structure and more importantly, sustained time on the pitch.

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A very rare sighting of Ajose in a Leeds shirt; players in the 2014/2015 season would head to training on a Monday morning wondering who would be in charge that week

On his return to The Whites, he was not given a squad number by Uwe Rösler and had his contract terminated. On the same day, he joined Swindon once more and had the most productive season of his career, finishing second behind Will Grigg by only a single league goal. Yet again, with his reputation increased, he was the subject of another transfer, this time to recently relegated Charlton Athletic for £800,000, a very high sum between two third tier teams.

In a situation that mirrored the chaos behind the scenes at Leeds, a manager under Roland Duchâtelet can be even less sure of their position than their counterparts. Results under Russell Slade had been a very mixed bag and he seemed incapable of harnessing the most of the talent at his disposal, Ajose being a prime example. Slade was sacked with The Addicks languishing in 15th place and his eventual replacement Karl Robinson’s preferred system left little room to manoeuvre for someone of his build and playstyle.

Ajose found himself back at The County Ground for the third time in his career at just 24. The Robins were no strangers to farce off the pitch last season and on it, their inexperienced side weren’t putting up too much resistance to falling through the relegation trap-door. He did manage a respectable goals to games ratio of one in three alongside the injury-prone Jonathan Obika in 2016/2017 but it was another largely forgettable year.

Now 25, he again finds himself not in favour at his parent club but can take heart that he was Bury manager Lee Clark’s preferred option to come in for Vaughan. I actually believe that the partnership he will foster with Jermaine Beckford will be better than the latter might have experienced with his old Huddersfield teammate, even though it will be a tough ask to expect Ajose to score as many… but he might not need to for it to still to be a successful campaign.

In what will prove to be a marked contrast to last term, both first choice strikers will be facing their opponents’ goal for the vast majority of a given match. Ajose’s role will be different to what Vaughan’s would have been even though a lot of the qualities they both possess are a close match; Ajose is most at home when nominally starting an attack in the left or right channel and using his close dribbling skills to take him towards the penalty area. He is also likely to sit slightly deeper than Beckford and perform more of a supporting role for both his strike partner and the inside forward he lines up closest to, which given the current situation, is anyone’s guess who that will be. However, he has the pace and positioning to also be on the end of crosses into the area and it’s understandable given his height that he latches onto low balls most effectively.

A calm finisher of shots like Ryan Lowe (who undoubtedly put the good word in for him once the Vaughan situation was resolved), he doesn’t tend to lash the ball and takes his time to place his efforts. This can be a disadvantage if marked tightly and/or there is a lack of space in the area. Under Lowe’s tutelage, expect to see Ajose flourish once again, with the added advantage that he also has a track record of providing chances for his strike partner. Make no mistake, he will be steely in his determination to put a disappointing previous season in League One behind him and he is in the right environment to do just that. His third stint in the white and royal blue could start tomorrow evening against Macclesfield Town with a 30-minute cameo and fans will be hoping to see the first glimpse of him and that it is more akin to his maiden loan spell at Bury than his second one. Time will tell but everything is in place…

Scouting Report: Tom Heardman – The Start of a Beautiful Relationship?

2016/2017 stats (for Newcastle United U23s & Hartlepool United in all competitions): 1,064 minutes, 12 starts, 6 sub appearances; 7 goals, 0 assists.

Another poorly kept secret of recent weeks is the protracted pursuit of target man Tom Heardman on a season-long loan from Newcastle United’s development squad. He joins a forward line with a burgeoning number of different roles that could either complement one of James Vaughan and Jermaine Beckford well or give the team a totally different tactical outlook if neither of the preferred pair are available for selection.

The lack of true senior action afforded to the Gosforth-born striker in previous loan spells at Gateshead and Hartlepool United would normally be a cause for concern (and an indictment of larger clubs hoarding promising players, but that’s an issue I’ll cover in a different blogpost). However, he has had an endorsement from current U23s manager and playing legend Peter Beardsley backed up by a one-year extension to his current contract on Tyneside.

Described somewhat unhelpfully by Lee Clark as being reminiscent of “a young Andy Carroll”, his outings in the glorified reserves when not blighted by injury have been fruitful as his goal tally attests to above. He is mobile, unafraid of (and fairly accurate with) taking a chance and shooting with his weaker left foot. He will also look to play in teammates with his strength and ability to shield the ball from defenders.  Most crucially of all, his mobility allows him to work the channels to good effect and could be the perfect foil for the likes of Jay O’Shea and Zeli Ismail to make runs in behind the backline.

How many opportunities he’ll receive is up for debate. With five senior strikers currently on the books (six if you count the retained registration of Ryan Lowe), much like George Miller did last season, he’ll need to make an impression from the bench at least at for the opening league matches of 2017/2018 but the EFL Trophy could see him take centre stage.

Perhaps more significant is under Clark’s tenure that friendly overtures have been put out in his native north-east. If Rafa Benítez, Beardsley and the rest of the important backroom staff at St. James’ Park can see that their assets are being used effectively, then it can only augur well for Bury. Whilst near neighbours Manchester City and United normally opting to send their fringe players to continental sister clubs, the Toon Army have no such formal ties. Heardman could be the first of several in the coming year.

 

 

Scouting Report: Tom Aldred Bolsters the Case for the Defence

2016/2017 stats (for Blackpool in all competitions): 4,598 minutes, 52 starts, 0 sub appearances; 2 goals, 1 assist.

The protracted pursuit of Tom Aldred finally ended last week in time for the first pre-season friendly of 2017/2018. A number of the Shakers’ contingent had openly wondered why Bury manager Lee Clark wanted to add a fourth specialist centre back but given the ongoing concerns over Nathan Cameron, coupled with potential further international call-ups for Adam Thompson, the reasons are actually quite clear.

As the stats above indicate, the former Tangerines skipper was an integral, almost ever-present component of a miserly defence, shipping exactly one a game. Only champions Portsmouth and fellow play-off side Luton Town conceded fewer in the fourth tier last season.

Centre backs on the whole tend to be older than their more advanced brethren when it comes to being involved regularly with the first team. Aldred was no exception to that and he had reached 22 by the time that his employers in 2003 Accrington Stanley offered him a fresh start after numerous loan spells in Scotland and the fifth tier in England. His calm, no-nonsense attitude to dealing with the opposition won him many plaudits and also earned him an extension on his contract.

After being involved in every league match in 2013/2014, the following season was proceeding in a similar vein until a certain Lee Clark acquired his services for the badly struggling Championship side. His efforts were curtailed by injury in March 2015 and by the time he regained fitness, he was a mainstay in an outfit doomed to a second successive demotion under the toxic, shambolic auspices of the Oyston ownership. He was one of the few of a disparate squad to emerge with credit to his name from those fans who still turned up to Bloomfield Road whilst almost everyone else by this point was staying away in protest.

At long last, the club rallied and only confirmed their play-off place on the final day before contesting a thrilling two-legged semi against Luton Town. The Wembley triumph over Exeter City was bittersweet for Blackpool’s captain as he succumbed to an injury half an hour into proceedings. Speculation almost immediately followed that he’d be leaving for pastures new with his contract expiring and that the mooted destination was a little further east… and so it has come to pass. It is likely that the proximity of the two towns to each other and his previous working relationship with Clark helped to swing things in Bury’s favour when pursuing his signature.

Let’s start off by saying what Aldred isn’t: particularly quick in terms of both raw speed and on the turn. That is his main negative. Increasingly often, the modern footballer is judged on that particular attribute above almost all others and I believe that it is a very poor measure of their abilities. However, not being blessed with an abundance of pace didn’t prevent the last stopper from the coast being a massive hit and it won’t be a barrier for him either.

Good positioning can make up for being the loser in a foot race, as can bravery when making decisions. This is where Aldred excels most obviously. Commitment to the cause is always appreciated by fans, especially when backed up by no shortage of defensive solidity. A lot of his general play will evoke memories of Peter Clarke whilst having the advantage of longevity on his side at still only 26.

As for how he’ll be deployed, expect to see him starting off as the #1 right-sided centre back, with Eoghan O’Connell his main backup whilst the Cameron saga continues. The absence of a strong left foot amongst any of those four is a small cause for concern and it will be intriguing to see how the disadvantage is masked tactically by Clark. Left back Joe Skarz’ natural tendency to be conservative could be crucial in this regard.

His capture completes the defensive picture, aside from a second goalkeeper to challenge Joe Murphy. That slot is likely to be the last one filled for the 2017/2018 squad with further two attacking additions due to be formally announced imminently at the time of writing.

 

 

Ferry Across the Solent… But At What Cost to Bury?

I should preface this post by saying it wasn’t easy to write but moreover, I have nothing but the utmost respect towards Will Ferry and his representatives and wish him every success in his future career. I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on how he fares.

So another Bury U18 player has departed for a club higher up the food chain. As the official website proudly states:

"Will Ferry has become the sixth player to progress, in the last four years, from the academy to join clubs further up the leagues such as Matt Foulds (Everton), John Ruddy (Wolves), Liam Williams (Sheffield Wednesday), Jacob Bedeau (Aston Villa) and Emeka Obi (Liverpool)."

Now, on the surface, there is nothing at all wrong with the statement. It is factually correct and is a glowing testament to the work done by the likes of Ryan Kidd, Mark Litherland and the rest of the academy staff in the various age groups applicable to when the above joined the ranks. The fruits of their labours are starting to be ‘picked’ more and more often in the four-year period since the academy side of the club was completely overhauled and with that comes a glowing reputation but also increased scrutiny in the form of scouts from the elite clubs in the Premier League.

My main problem is it still feels as though all of the above were simply moved on a little too willingly (although the circumstances in Liam Williams’ case are a bit different from the other five). Only Jacob Bedeau can lay claim to having more than one senior start to his name and overall, he equipped himself very well in a side that was badly listing in December and January towards rock bottom in the third tier.

Of course, I am not saying that it is the players’ fault that their time at Bury has been cut short; far from it. As a Bury supporter, I have grown accustomed in the past few seasons to players in the academy being talked up in public and it’s difficult to sometimes shake the feeling that they are also being touted as mere ‘commodities’ for the club to make a quick buck on rather than employ a more sustainable, long-term approach.

I risk the ire of some of my readership by once more looking east and casting envious glances at Rochdale’s policy. Callum Camps has recently signed a contract extension. Now 21, he has over 100 senior appearances to his name since he graduated from the academy. A hot property who I have previously praised on these very pages, he is the embodiment of the current philosophical differences between the boards of the neighbouring clubs. Dale have continuously lived within their means and have been organically growing their infrastructure and look all set to have another serious tilt at the play-offs without breaking the bank to achieve their goal.

They don’t need to sell players like Camps early on in their fledgling careers when their development (be it psychological, physiological or sporting) is at its most crucial juncture. Camps is ambitious and will almost certainly leave Spotland in the next couple of years but it will be on their terms and when the time is right. This will ensure that they maximise the return of their investment in him and the residual benefit to the club will be in a similar vein.

Now more than ever before, it is absolutely vital that Bury’s board changes tack and allow Lee Clark the chance to keep bringing players like Will Ferry, Callum Hulme, Joe Adams and Femi Seriki through to the first team because not only will their potential transfer values increase but it will also go a long way to safeguarding the business and is normally a ‘cheaper’ way of building or augmenting a squad than arranging loan deals with other sides and/or signing well-known players who are unlikely to be tempted to Carrington just for the facilities the complex provides. Had the manager been able to keep Ferry (who was more than probably in his first team plans), it might not have necessitated the acquisition of Chris Humphrey. That isn’t a slight on the latter but more of an indictment on the short-termist mentality currently at the heart of the football club as evidenced by the ongoing (and sometimes public) financial predicament.

I am not privy to the finer detail of Ferry’s transfer to Southampton. By going there, he has to my mind joined the best academy in England, both in terms of its output and standing in the modern game. I simply question the ‘need’ to sell now. Doubtlessly, the negotiations weren’t straightforward, even though the Saints will have done extensive due diligence on Ferry and watched him in matches easily reaching double figures to ensure as far as possible that he would add something they lacked in their U18s for 2017/2018 and perhaps even in their first team when the moment is right.

There can be no higher praise for him and his family that the Hampshire outfit sought him out and I have every confidence that he will be a success as he can fulfill a number of attacking roles, is comfortable with both feet and best of all is humble and eager to learn. He hasn’t ‘made it’ just yet and he will be keenly aware of that. He is only 16 and to that end, recently completed his GCSEs. Thanks to the likes of EPPP and how things are at Bury, the discussions will have crisscrossed his education and this is unlikely to go away anytime soon; the high-profile transfer saga involving Ethan Ampadu at Exeter is evidence of that.

It is unfortunate that yet again, supporters have been robbed of seeing ‘one of their own’ grace the pitch at Gigg Lane for a period of time longer than the blink of an eye. Whilst this latest deal is another ‘success’, it also highlights the need to progress onto the next stage of the development of young players at the club. Whilst not wholly culpable, the very existence of Bury F.C. is in the hands of Stewart Day and the rest of the directors and I urge them to do their utmost to preserve it for generations to come.

Scouting Report: Mr. Humphrey to Serve Up Something Special?

2016/2017 stats (for Preston North EndHibernian in all competitions): 1,156 minutes, 14 starts, 8 sub appearances; 1 goal, 3 assists.

Bury manager Lee Clark has added senior competition for the right flank with the signing of free agent Chris Humphrey after the Jamaican decided to leave Hibernian and head south of the border. His capture most likely leaves just three or four more holes to fill, with goalkeeper Ben Williams’ contract mutually terminated. Clark is keen to tie the rest of them up before the next fortnight has elapsed and Humphrey will be present at the first full day of pre-season training.

It is not unreasonable to suggest the St. Catherine-born defensive winger didn’t have the best experience last season at either club he featured for. He fell out of favour under then-Lilywhites boss Simon Grayson and Tom Barkuizen’s subsequent form certainly justified that particular swap. He started off well for the Hibees but he suffered an injury during the month of February, which kept him out of contention until very late on last season.

Humphrey had previously suffered an even longer spell out for Preston at the back-end of 2015, so you would hope that Clark and his new physio Paul Smith have done sufficient checks to ensure they have an individualised programme in place to minimise the risk of aggravating any previous areas of concern.

The manager has been quoted as saying that he is of the belief that Humphrey will “provide something different” to the likes of Jay O’Shea and Zeli Ismail and he is not incorrect in that assessment. While there are similarities with how direct in their approach play the trio are (and Clark wouldn’t have signed Humphrey if he wasn’t direct), where they differ significantly is how early they like to send in crosses and not just aimlessly or without bearing fruit. This is the main calling card he possesses in attacking areas, with his tireless running and tracking back a close second. If his abilities have hallmarks of anyone on Bury’s books, it would actually be Craig Jones.

This point is borne out by Humphrey’s proclivity and comfort when performing defensive duties. Whilst he probably won’t quite be as effective in the air or in the tackle as his new teammate, he is quicker in a foot race than most opponents he will face, which could help mask some of the weaker elements of his game. He is unlikely to threaten the goalscoring charts with a 1:20 ratio in his career to date, but he might be a better option to use when the Shakers have a lead to protect than his more adventurous and potent comrades.

Whilst I don’t think he will start the season as first choice on the right, he will provide competition for Ismail and not just be a carbon copy of the Albanian when he is called upon, which will help keep the opposition guessing and change tack. Fans from his previous clubs have been effusive in their praise of the battling qualities, effort and endeavour he provides and that will go a long to winning round the Shakers’ faithful. He does have that bit of quality too but the key will be keeping him fit and he represents a riskier prospect than almost every other target acquired thus far for that reason.

 

Scouting Report: Jay O’Shea – A Team of Jay O’Sheas?

2016/2017 stats (for Chesterfield & Sheffield United in all competitions): 2,903 minutes, 34 starts, 9 sub appearances; 11 goals, 1 assist.

The title is a nod to both the growing number of Irish-born players at Bury and also my good friends at A Team of John O’Sheas, who run both an excellent website and podcast. I am also an entrant in the Crayon d’Or, so please vote for me if you like my content!

Not 24 hours after Eoghan O’Connell put pen to paper on a three-year deal to join the Shakers, fellow countryman Jay O’Shea signed a two-year contract in a move I was hoping would come to fruition weeks ago. The 10th permanent player to come through the revolving doors at Carrington since the last ball was kicked in anger, he represents something different to all the other new faces thus far.

As I have previously discussed at length, manager Lee Clark will go for a high-tempo 4-4-2 shape with the wingers acting as inside forwards, pushing up to the strikers when in possession. On the face of it, O’Shea will be directly competing with both Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail for those places, with injuries plaguing the pair in the previous campaign and already affecting their training regimen at the time of typing during the close season.

However, he’s the only attack-minded player with plenty of senior experience at the club who can fulfill several roles comfortably and should Clark make good on his promise to have more than one strategy up his sleeve, it’s O’Shea he will likely look to first to be the man to sit on the chair when the music stops.

Strong with his left foot and, like Mayor, particularly fond of cutting inside from out wide, O’Shea can help stretch the pitch when deployed there. He will also quite happily operate on the other flank and drift into the channels without the ball to be another option for a teammate to pick out and occupy the opposition’s defence.

He is also more than at home in a central area behind the forwards. Whilst there is little doubt he can be creative, he is equally as likely to try to score himself as he is to try to set someone up. The bulk of his assists actually come from dead-ball situations, which is yet another box that remained stubbornly unticked by any player in a white shirt all season long. Look out for him taking penalties should neither James Vaughan (if he stays) or Jermaine Beckford be on the pitch.

The most intriguing role I think we could see him perform is actually as a deep-lying forward, whose task is to link the second and third phases and ease the burden on his strike partner. This might be the case when Bury are either up against it and need that extra body to come back into midfield to close down any gaps or when Clark doesn’t anticipate to boss possession.

Whilst he made no secret of his desire to remain with the Blades once his loan spell expired, the lack of assurances offered to him by Chris Wilder meant that he had to look elsewhere following his release from relegated Chesterfield. In his prime at 28 and having enjoyed a productive 2016/2017 with both League One outfits he plied his trade with, O’Shea has demonstrated for several years that he has the consistency and versatility required to be a prominent figure in a side gunning for promotion. That aim becomes ever-so-slightly more likely with each promising player Clark brings in at the same time that questions over the financial sustainability grow and grow should that not be achieved immediately. The dice are almost certainly loaded.

 

 

Scouting Report: Eoghan O’Connell – Strong & Stable

2016/2017 stats (for CelticWalsall in all competitions): 2,001 minutes, 22 starts, 1 sub appearance; 1 goal, 0 assists.

An entire week nearly went by without a new player joining the swelling first team squad at Carrington. Winger Jack Mackreth departed to Wrexham during the lull with barely a whimper (through no fault of his own), temporarily stalling the growing contingent.

Manager Lee Clark moved quickly for 21 year-old ball-playing centre back Eoghan O’Connell from Celtic, a player his remaining contacts in Scotland were familiar with primarily from the Bhoys’ development squad. Joining the Glasgow outfit’s youth academy at 16, he broke into the senior reckoning two seasons later and made sporadic appearances during the next two campaigns, also taking in a loan spell at Bury’s near neighbours Oldham Athletic to further aid his acclimatisation to senior competitive football.

During the close season last year, Brendan Rodgers stepped into one of the most famous dugouts in the sport and, armed with a well-earned reputation for a progressive philosophy and an emphasis on bringing through young talent, handed the Cork-born and bred defender a full game against Kazakh team FC Astana in the third qualifying round stage of the Champions League, where he acquitted himself well in a difficult environment.

An ongoing injury crisis in the heart of their defence afforded O’Connell further starts, this time in the Premiership in away ties at Hearts and St. Johnstone. The biggest game of his career followed shortly afterwards; he had the extremely unenviable task of keeping an eye on the most potent front three in world football, coming on as a substitute with the Hoops already 5-0 down at the Camp Nou.

With the first choice backline fully restored, the fierce competition to be in the reckoning for a spot understandably proved very difficult and with the re-opening of the transfer window in January, he found himself once again crossing the Irish Sea but this time well-run Walsall was his destination. There, he established himself quickly in the XI and proved to be an assured presence with the Saddlers conceding a fraction higher than a goal per game with him on the pitch.

Upon his return north of the border, he was made surplus to requirements with no shortage of suitors. The assurance an offer of a three-year deal brings to almost any footballer below the elite level in the modern game is likely to have swung things in Bury’s favour. At the Shakers, he will probably square off against Nathan Cameron for the left-sided centre back berth or could operate in the middle of a three if Clark opts for a return to that shape, however temporary that proves to be. Strong in the tackle, an aerial presence in both boxes, reasonably quick on his feet and comfortable on the ball, O’Connell’s capture is yet another indicator of the direction of travel in terms of both on and off-field ambitions the club harbours and the tactics that will be employed.

His one major weakness other than a relative lack of first team opportunities at his parent club is being a little slow on the turn from a counter by the opposition. This can be partly remedied in a number of ways but it will be something to look for if, as expected, he starts the season alongside fellow new signing Adam Thompson.

Scouting Report: Joe Skarz – Much-Needed Defensive Conservativism

2016/2017 stats (for Oxford United in all competitions): 3,003 minutes, 36 starts, 2 sub appearances; 0 goals, 2 assists.

It was all quiet for a few days… at least regarding incoming players. The once much-maligned centre back Leon Barnett, who had a renaissance later in the season, has departed Gigg Lane for divisional rivals Northampton Town. The move took the first team squad back down to just two centre backs. Only a day later however, the number nominally doubled.

Just like Stephen Dawson this summer, Joe Skarz is of course no stranger to the club, having been on the books four years ago when the last big financial crisis occurred. In those days, he was only positioned at left back and whilst he had undoubted quality, he had a tendency to be targeted by the opposition, principally because of a lack of tracking back from Mike Jones or whoever happened to be ahead of him on the flank during his first spell in BL9. His arrival from Huddersfield Town in 2010 helped to solve what had been a problem area for several seasons and he was an ever-present in the side that eventually pushed Chesterfield all the way for the title but had to settle for the runners-up spot.

The step up to the third tier was initially a struggle for him. Not only did he often face a tricky winger and an overlapping full back but he often showed the former inside, which created a big gap in the defence and often led to clear-cut chances (and goals).

His loan move to Rotherham United in 2013 (such was the desperate situation at his parent club when he was still first choice in a team that latterly had just two substitutes on the bench) became permanent. Whilst it was a step down the pyramid, it proved to be just what he needed. Under the management of Steve Evans, the Millers gained back-to-back promotions and Skarz was an integral part of the play-off winning side, earning a reputation for warrior-like performances and adding steel to his playing style, which wasn’t always evident in a white shirt.

Having to adapt to a new higher league was a daunting challenge for the Yorkshire side and once he suffered an injury in November 2014, the writing was on the wall. He moved to Oxford United in the next transfer window, dropping back down to the fourth tier. In his first full season with the U’s, he tasted yet another promotion and became a very popular figure in the side and with the fans, playing through the pain barrier to ensure a swift return to League One.

Injuries by this stage were beginning to catch up with him and slow his pace down noticeably. It was partly for this reason that Michael Appleton started changing his role to a more safety-first approach and he stepped up to the plate, completing several games as an assured, calming left-sided centre back in a team full of dynamic individuals. His former manager was full of praise for him and the efforts he had given in the yellow jersey.

It is unlikely he has come back to Bury just to sit on the bench, which does raise an interesting question about Greg Leigh’s immediate future. Although their preferred position is the same, they vary wildly in their mentality. Leigh always looks to attack and use his considerable pace to support the inside forward. Skarz will hang back much more and help keep the defensive line disciplined and intact, with opposite full back Phil Edwards similarly conservative in his approach. In an ideal world, both left backs will duke it out over the course of 2017/2018 but that is far from a certainty. A more mature presence and at his peak, Skarz could get the nod, which would almost guarantee less onus on the full backs pushing up and leave all the wingplay to Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail in a shape that will at times resemble a 4-2-4 in possession.

Clark has made a deliberate point of talking up his versatility and for good reason. He will need players like Skarz to fulfill more than one role during the course of the coming season and he is another close season signing that has both a Huddersfield connection and exeprience of winning promotion to the second tier. It’s very clear where he believes he can take Bury… it’s the getting there that will be extremely hard.

Scouting Report: Adam Thompson – The Jewel in the Crown?

2016/2017 stats (for Southend United in all competitions): 4,016 minutes, 45 starts, 0 sub appearances; 1 goal, 1 assist.

The second signing of yesterday, Adam Thompson was a surprise to both Shakers and Shrimpers fans. For the former contingent, it’s because he hasn’t played under Lee Clark previously or for Huddersfield Town and for the latter, it’s because he turned down a two-year contract extension at a side that only narrowly missed out on the play-offs to join another whose safety was only assured on the final day despite losing at Roots Hall on a three-year deal.

Only several days prior to his move, Thompson earned a call-up to the senior Northern Ireland squad for the first time in six years, both serving as recognition of his burgeoning talent and vastly increased gametime. Initially struggling to find form in 2016/2017, he looked much more assured once Anton Ferdinand was his regular partner in the heart of the Southend backline. The latter’s experience helped bring on his game signficantly and the pairing helped Phil Brown’s charges to be one of the meaner defences in the division, shipping a little over a goal per game.

A slow start to his playing career with only sporadic appearances out on loan from Watford, it was kicked into life once he joined the Essex outfit in 2013, which was initially on a temporary basis but he impressed Brown enough to make the move permanent in the next transfer window. It was the past season when things really started coming together and his name was regularly mentioned as being one of the stand-out performers in an upwardly mobile team.

Despite only scoring once last season (an expert finish into the far corner in the home game against Chesterfield), he is definitely an aerial presence in the penalty area from set pieces, a phenomenon that was sorely lacking in Bury’s recent campaign. His ability to disrupt the marking system the opposition employs could be just as important to his new side as any more ‘concrete’ contribution he makes in the goals for column. Reasonably quick on the ground and strong in the tackle, Thompson might opt to ‘mix it up’ more than Nathan Cameron would normally choose to do but in a first-choice back four that increasingly has a safety-first feel to it, there is nothing wrong with hitting it long or out of play if the pressure is concerted and it’s the most sensible option.

Like Cameron, he is coming into his peak years as a footballer, which is backed up by the length of the deal (putting my misgivings aside about the finances for a moment). Clark’s two signings yesterday have directly addressed problem areas both in terms of adding competition for places and more apparent solidity. His above-average speed also adds credence to my previous speculation that the defensive line will be more flexible in 2017/2018, which is a good tactical aid to call upon in a pinch. If the pair play together as seems likely to be the case, expect Cameron to be on the left, covering any gaps the box-to-box midfielders leave behind when possession is unexpectedly lost and Thompson on the right, sticking to the task at hand by keeping the defensive shape and not straying too far from his post.

Whilst not always the best barometer, the reaction of the vast majority of Southend’s fans online, both to his departure and Will Atkinson’s move to Mansfield, could be hints that some work needs to be done behind the scenes at Roots Hall to curtail the number of departures of players considered to be regulars in the first XI. Of course, there is plenty of time for Brown and his coaching staff to turn things around…

My next blogpost will be looking at the (dwindling) number of potential signings Bury could still make this summer.