Well, that was a relief.
While nothing’s going to be decided three games in, a third defeat in three could have seen us spiral, and with tough games at Coventry and at home to Southampton to come, those three points will surely calm a few nerves and give everyone a bit of breathing space.
It wasn’t a brilliant performance against an awful Rotherham team, by any stretch – I’ll be very surprised if they stay up this season – but it showed promise, and I guess that’s one big positive we can take from the game.
Of course, the huge positive was the performance of Jobe Bellingham, who looked every inch the centre forward when he swapped positions with Bradley Dack midway through the second half.
Jobe has looked good in the three games so far, and was outstanding on Saturday. Given his age, we can’t expect that level of performance every week in a 46 game season, but his potential is astronomical – and being able to watch players of his ilk come in and develop is hugely attractive right now, and makes watching us seriously enjoyable.
Dack’s inclusion was, again, a bit perplexing purely from a fitness perspective – but a few things have been puzzling over recent weeks in the world of SAFC, and hopefully, we’ll have a clearer idea of where things stand when the transfer window shuts next Friday.
We’ve heard rumours that Batth, Gooch and Pritchard have been told their contracts won’t be renewed at the end of the season, and they’re free to find a new home. Indeed, Tony Mowbray pretty much admitted it about Pritchard in his Thursday press conference.
Now, I’m not going to rewrite history here – Pritchard wasn’t a key player last season. He started around half the games, only played the full 90 on three occasions, and was generally a bit hit and miss.
But his experience made a big difference on occasions – and with Bailey Wright having left the club, Corry Evans sidelined, and Batth and Gooch seemingly surplus to requirements too, we risk being left pretty short in terms of know-how.
Batth’s experience in particular, was crucial last season, while Gooch was a key player in our run in. I have to be honest – I don’t understand why we’d even have those conversations right now. If we’re trying to do the right thing by the players, okay – but it’s to the detriment of the team as a whole. Surely we need all of those players around the club, helping their teammates, and coming into the team when they’re needed.
Bradley Dack’s come in on a free, and at 29 he’s certainly got a lot of experience to offer, so it’s clear we’re not just signing kids, however, it seems we’re unlikely to pay transfer fees for anyone older than early to mid 20s; and unlikely to pay big transfer fees regardless.
And, while you can see the potential benefit in that in the medium to long term, I think it’s got to be more balanced than that.
In terms of new arrivals, we failed to really go for it in January when we had a great chance of promotion, and hopefully we’ve learned our lesson.
While he’s hardly got vast experience, Everton’s Tom Cannon has already shown he can score goals at Championship level during his successful spell at Preston last season. We’ve got to speculate to accumulate, and if Everton want £8m for him as reported, it could be a signing worth making.
Hemir Semado’s came with a good reputation but is very raw. I thought he looked pretty good on Saturday and came close to scoring with almost his first touch, but he’s one we’re going to need to be patient with.
If Batth, Gooch and Pritchard do leave between now and the deadline, however, it will leave us incredibly short on experience, and as well as needing a striker or two, we’ll need some know-how.
While I said earlier, I was surprised by Dack’s inclusion, given his lack of fitness, I wasn’t surprised at all by it due to the squad’s lack of experience.
Dack’s a trustee lieutenant for Mowbray, and while clearly lacking fitness-wise, he was eager to get on the ball and lead the team forward. I think he’ll be a regular in the team this season – although where he fits in will be interesting. On Saturday’s showing, there’s no way Bellingham can be left out, and when (surely, not if) a new striker or two arrives, they’ll be upfront. If they’re both still here in September, Clarke and Roberts are nailed on starters, so where does that leave Dack? We’ll see.
Mowbray’s also talked of needing an experienced central midfielder, which I completely agree with, too. While I think Dan Neil’s had an excellent start to the season, Ekwah’s been a bit hit-and-miss, and it’s probably unfair on him to expect a full season of the type of performances he showed at the end of last season.
So, balance is needed over the next few days. Balance in terms of short, medium and long-term. Balance in terms of the ‘plan’. Balance in terms of the squad.
Because, to my mind at least, getting some more experienced reinforcements - or, certainly, a couple of players who walk straight into the first team – will not only help us get more points on the board and improve our playoff chances, it will also help the likes of Hume, Cirkin, Neil, Ekwah, Bellingham, Hemir et al develop.
And, surely, that’s a win/win?