The Tigers currently have 31 players on professional contracts. This is somewhat on the high side for a third division side, regardless of our ability to bankroll it. City should really be aiming to get the size of the squad down to about 22, a first choice 11 and cover for every position. That's at least 9 players required to depart between now and the start of pre-season in early July. How do you decide who needs to go? A number of different factors like form, commitment, cover, ability, contract terms etc, come into play when considering such a task. The easiest way to find the candidates is to review the squad, position by position. Let's start with the Goalkeepers.
Boaz Myhill has arrived from Aston Villa with the expectation of being a 'great prospect' sat squarely on his shoulders. His first few matches have done nothing to suggest that he won't indeed fulfil this potential. His youth, tremendous frame and keenness to command his area all add up to an exciting talent who could well make the position his own for a very long time to come.
Paul Musselwhite, to his credit, has never let his fitness and enthusiasm waiver through trying times. At the age of 35 some worry that he is getting a little long in the tooth. But when you consider that David Seaman kept his place as England's number 1 until he was 39, you realise he could potentially continue for another 3 or 4 years. He may not be the quickest or most commanding, but he has good reflexes and an abundance of experience to call upon.
Danny Harvey's credentials are hard to assess, primarily due to the limited chances he gets at Reserve level, never mind the first team. The season's end, when he is out of contract, will determine whether or not he is to be Myhill's understudy or released, probably into non-league, in order to gain experience.
Alan Fettis is fast becoming a frustrating figure at City. On his day he is a superb shot stopper, latterly though his poor positional play and the consequent lack of confidence this gives the defence has resulted in some disappointing performances. Now that Myhill has arrived I suspect Alan will either sign a permanent deal with Sheffield United when his final loan month expires in March or he'll go on loan somewhere else.
Goalkeeper candidates to go: Danny Harvey and Alan Fettis
How about the department of defence? Let's compartmentalise the defence into 3 distinct disciplines, Centre Backs, Right Backs and Left Backs. First up, Centre Backs.
Marc Joseph is a solid player with pace and at 27 a good age considering Whittle and Anderson are now entering the twilight of their careers. Taylor has played Joseph in every position across the back line, but has now firmly signalled his intention to play him regularly at his preferred position of right-sided centre back.
Then we have Taylor's first signing, Damien Delaney. Such a physique coupled with a good left foot make for an impressive player and one who will only get better with time. Another of Taylor's utility signings, he has now made the left sided centre back slot his own with some towering performances.
Justin Whittle is not great with the ball at his feet. Thought I'd get the sum total of Justin's bad points out of the way. His good points are many. Tough, passionate and committed are just a few superlatives one could mention to describe the mainstay that is Justin. That said, his inadequacies with the ball at his feet and his advancing years may consign him to a supporting role.
Richard Hinds is yet another new signing whose utility value has been emphasised. He started the season at centre back but has also proved his worth at right back. Recent performances in midfield have not proved as successful, but his defensive versatility is a real bonus.
John Anderson is for me the archetypal centre back - experienced, commanding and reliable. He goes about his business quietly but very effectively. The fact that you don't notice him that much is just testament to his effectiveness and consistency. Having said all that, the manager does prefer younger players to experienced pros and his recent foot injury has resulted in a lengthy spell on the fringes, during which time the likes of Joseph, Delaney, Hinds and Whittle have placed themselves firmly in front of him in the centre back's queue. It appears likely that John will sign for Kilmarnock on a free once he has proved his fitness.
Also left surplus to requirements is Greg Strong. I'm not prepared to comment on the validity of dispensing with Strong, purely on the basis that I've only seen him play in one competitive match. Regardless of this, injury, suspension, injury again and additional signings have left Greg very much on the fringe of things. It seems likely that he will either sign for someone with a settlement to smooth the way or he'll go out on loan for the remainder of the season.
Centre Back candidates: John Anderson and Greg Strong.
Next it's the Right Back berth.
Alton Thelwell's arrival from Tottenham Hotspur is yet another sign of Taylor's attempts to assemble a team of 6ft-plus youngsters, receptive to his coaching and management techniques. The right back berth appears to be his, when fit.
Although the arrival on loan of Lee Marshall from West Brom had been justified on the basis of injuries to Thelwell and Whittle, there seems a good chance he may well be looked at as a permanent signing. If he can first, prove his worth, and second, accept vastly reduced wages, he will probably sign a two-year deal in the summer.
Carl Regan, though not outstanding, has been fairly steady since arriving from Barnsley. However, the arrivals of Thelwell and Hinds and more recently Marshall have seen him slip down the pecking order. His loan move to Chester seemed inevitable and if a permanent transfer doesn't materialise, he will almost certainly move on in the summer.
Right Back candidates: Carl Regan
Now for the Left Backs.
Andy Dawson's arrival from Scunthorpe United, with the disputed title of 'best left back in the third division', would seem worthy after an impressive start to his Tigers career.
Steve Burton is a young, capable player with a background of playing Centre Back. His loan spell with Kidderminster appears to be reaping benefits with a more accomplished player emerging. Unfortunately for Steve the re-emergence of Andy Holt has put his future at City in doubt and he may well not be offered an extension to his deal, which expires this summer.
That leaves us with Shaun Smith who just hasn't been able to live up to expectations. He will probably suffer the same fate as Strong, signing elsewhere or agreeing to a loan deal.
Left Back candidates: Steve Burton and Shaun Smith
With the defence sorted we move onto the midfield. In Centre Midfield we need plenty of options.
Ian Ashbee is a reliable player with a no-nonsense approach. He may not possess much in the creativity department, but his enthusiasm and drive have made him an influential captain. His vocal presence and organisational skills should not be underestimated.
Then we have the precocious talent of Stuart Green. I don't think there's any need for me to wax lyrical. Suffice to say that his undoubted ability has won the day and his role in the team as the 'playmaker' is cemented.
Steve Melton, we are told, has First Division skills which will become more apparent to the team as City progress. Only time will tell and in the interim he provides cover from the bench.
Russell Fry is a young talent of whom much is expected. Being handed a three-year contract at only 16 years of age was a firm signal of City's belief and also a clear message of 'hands off' to would be suitors. Probably another year before he makes an impact on the first team as injuries have blighted his season.
Junior Lewis has arrived from Leicester City on loan until the end of the season. At this stage it is too early to assess his abilities and role in the team. Having signed for Taylor for the fifth time he may well have a good chance of securing a permanent deal come the summer, should performances warrant it.
Centre Midfield candidates: None.
Our options in Right Midfield are as follows.
Jason Price's signing from Tranmere Rovers not only gives the team attacking width in Right Midfield, but also provides essential balance, with Elliott operating in a similar role on the left.
Ryan France arrived from non-league Alfreton Town with a bang. Not many players make scoring debuts in a 6-1 victory. The early signs are good and he is the heir apparent to Price should injuries or suspension arise.
Right Midfield candidates: None.
The final midfield berth is Left Midfield.
Once again we have a very special talent in Stuart Elliott. Deceptively quick and good in the air, his potential; like so many of this team; will be truly recognised when City reach the First Division (notice I say 'when' and not 'if', there's confidence for you!).
Andy Holt looks to be awakening from the hibernation he's been in for the best part of two years. A string of solid substitute appearances might just be enough to earn him a years contract extension.
Further cover comes in the shape of a former City Junior with good ability, who's just biding his time, waiting for a breakthrough. Nathan Peat has that little something in his make-up that could make him a success, unfortunately it seems unlikely to be with his hometown club. Nathan is likely to make his breakthrough with a new club next season.
Left Midfield candidates: Nathan Peat
And so we arrive at the final, and some might say the most important area of the team, the Centre Forwards. After all, without goals you don't win matches, regardless of your defensive and creative prowess.
Ben Burgess is the attacking lynchpin through which City develop most of their attacks. At 6ft 3in and 14st you'd be forgiven for assuming his game is all about physical presence and aerial dominance, and to some extent it is, but he has good feet and links play very well.
City's first close season capture was Danny Allsopp from Notts County. At first glance City seem to have benefited greatly from the desperate financial position clubs like County find themselves in. We have signed a forward with a 'goal every other game' record, for an initial fee of around £50,000.
If his loan form at City last season is anything to go by, Jonathan Walters' arrival from Bolton Wanderers is going to provide Burgess, and in particular Allsopp, with stiff competition for one of the strikers jersey's. He is very similar in build and style to Allsopp, and has the same blistering pace.
Jamie Forrester joined the tigers with a very good 'goals per game' ratio in the second and third divisions and is providing the strength in depth required to mount a sustained promotion campaign.
Clayton Donaldson's performances, and more importantly, goals for the juniors and reserves, have resulted in a two-year contract. At such an early stage in his career, it is too early to assess his capabilities, suffice to say his potential has been recognised and rewarded. A loan spell with Halifax will help with his development for the immediate future.
Centre Forward candidates: None.
In summary, City's squad of 22 actually numbers 23 and would look like:
Goalkeepers - Boaz Myhill, Paul Musselwhite
Centre Backs - Damien Delaney, Marc Joseph, Justin Whittle, Richard Hinds
Right Backs - Lee Marshall, Alton Thelwell
Left Backs - Andy Dawson
Central Midfielders - Ian Ashbee, Stuart Green, Junior Lewis, Steve Melton, Russell Fry
Right Midfielders - Jason Price, Ryan France
Left Midfielders - Stuart Elliott, Andy Holt
Centre Forwards - Danny Allsopp, Ben Burgess, Jonathan Walters, Jamie Forrester, Clayton Donaldson
The actual scale of squad transformation could be even greater than suggested with uncertainty surrounding the likes of Musselwhite, Whittle and Holt who are out of contract in the summer and as yet have not been offered new deals. Marshall and Lewis may not be offered, or indeed, accept permanent contracts. Melton, Fry, Forrester and Donaldson may well decide not to spend another year as bit part players.
One thing's for sure - changes are inevitable come what may. Let's just hope it's triumphant strengthening and not another frustrated rebuilding come May itself.
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