Getting there

From the Rage Online newsdesk Sunday, July 22nd, 2001  

As the new season rapidly approaches the building nears completion, both of the new stadium and of the playing squad. However, on both fronts, there is still some work to be done.

Minchery Farm will be ready for the start of the season, but it won’t be complete. It is highly likely that none of the hospitality areas will be ready for a few weeks into the season and a lot of the club offices will have a makeshift appearance to them. The club shop will be a portakabin in the car park.

This is not, in itself, unduly worrying. What is of greater concern is the fact that it all seems to be being done on the cheap. There will be no new furniture in the offices, instead all the old tat will be taken from the Manor – the desks, the chairs, the PCs, even the wonky shelving and old electric heaters.

In itself this could not be construed as anything other than financial prudence; the downside is the message this sends to the overworked and loyal staff at the club. The message that their services are not particularly valued, or that the new stadium doesn’t deserve decent facilities for those who have to work there.

Money has been invested on new players though, which to the supporters of United is indeed heartening, although the ?150,000 that the club paid to Barnet for Sam Stockley might not be enough. Enough to ensure the club has a good enough squad to compete next season, nor enough to satisfy those who doubt Firoz Kassam’s motives and who demand that he buy success for United.

The evidence of the pre-season friendlies played so far is that all four of the new players are decent enough acquisitions. Stockley is good both defending and going forward and has the potential to be the best player in that position since David Bardsley. Martin Thomas in midfield is combative, aggressive, fearless and distributes the ball well. The Southport twins of Scott Guyett and Phil Bolland have shown themselves to be solid both in the air and on the ground and have linked up well.

In addition some of the triallists who have been on show, in particular John ‘Tumble’ Dreyer who has impressed and complements the twins well, despite his advanced age. Gareth Hall looks like a good midfield anchor, in spite of his origins (chelsea and swindon, what a combination!) although he could do with losing a few stone. Simon Betts, in his one appearance, seemed to do everything necessary of him in the left back position. The two goalkeepers, Nathan Abbey and Ian McCaldon, have not had much to do but have both, for the most part, done okay, although McCaldon’s confidence on crosses appears to be lacking, especially as this was cited by Mark Wright as being one of his strengths.

So things look promising thus far, but there are a couple of areas where new players still need to be brought in. Between the sticks is the obvious weakness, and one that Wright is obviously keen to address, although it is difficult to tell whether one of the two triallist ‘keepers (or both?) are the answer. Another obvious gap is up front. Against both Brackley and Didcot the club struggled to even look like scoring and, with only three recognised strikers on the books, there is not enough cover for injury or lack of form. Indeed Manny Omoyinmi is already injured (presumably from too much driving his new BMW around Blackbird Leys with his baseball cap on back-to-front and, no doubt, playing Dr Dre on the stereo) and Phil Gray doesn’t look at all match fit yet (and he looks to have gained some weight too).

Fill these two holes, and maybe get another couple of players in to strengthen the squad, and United can take to the pitch against Rochdale with something approaching confidence for the coming season. Failure to complete the squad, though, could leave the team looking thin and could give serious cause for concern, especially if Andy Scott gets injured or suffers a loss of form. Thank god for Jamie Brooks!


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