After the thrill of working at a new club wore off, the size of the job ahead of me became clear. I had just a few days to prepare Weston Super Mare Football Club for a taxing pre-season schedule, including eight tough fixtures and a lot of travel.
Before the first game of pre-season, a home ‘glamour’ tie against Barnsley, I worked hard on signing some new players and brought in a number of new signings, including Cherno Samba, Marc Hughes and Jamil Adam, the former Barnsley striker. I also brought in seasoned striker Trevor Benjamin as an attacking back up. So far I had just signed strikers, but I was hopeful of adding to other parts of the squad soon.
No more players arrived before the game against Barnsley, and I wasn’t sure how useful it would be. The team had a good run out but went down 1-3 to a far superior Barnsley, inspired by Reuben Noble-Lazarus. Justin Porter got the goal for us, although how involved he will go on to be is unclear as he doesn’t appear to have what it takes to be successful at this level.
After the game, some good news arrived in the shape of right-back Robert Cavener, a free transfer from Newcastle United. Right-back was a trouble position for me in the Barnsley game, and Cavener was an upgrade on our previous right-back (even if he doesn’t look much here).
Further strengthening my defence, I brought it another right-back, Liam Darville, and a left-back, Frenchman Sacha Opinell.
I also looked to strengthen our midfield options. The club already had a strong midfield, but I wanted some more options in the centre and out wide to allow us to have some competition and to cover for injuries during the long season ahead. Therefore I brought in Brian King in the centre and Harpal Singh at left midfield.
Singh, in particular, is a strong signing, as our only other left winger is useless and has been told to find a new club.
With the new signings in place, we were ready for our next pre-season game, a home tie against Welsh side Neath. The changes I had made to the side, with more competent right and left backs and with Singh at left midfield, bore immediate fruit, and we stormed our way to a 4-2 win in front of 74 faithful fans. Impressive performances were put in all over the pitch, but man-of-the-match went to Cherno Samba, who scored a 30-minute hat-trick and set up our fourth goal. If he plays like that all season we will do very well indeed! One small worry was the form of goalkeeper Lloyd Irish, who let in two easy goals, including one speculative effort from over 30 yards out. I might have to dip into the market for a new goalkeeper, as our back-up is very poor.
Our next signing was Irish midfielder Gavin Whelan, a player with extensive experience in the Irish leagues that will do us a world of good over the course of the season.
We then had two more games in quick succession. First, we played Gloucester City, a team from the Blue Square Bet North and a good yardstick by which to measure our progress for the coming season. Despite going behind twice, we eventually won 3-2, with Cherno Samba again on the score sheet.
In a short break between what now seemed like too many pre-season games, I had time to sign former York City and VVV Venlo striker Michael Evans. He may be old and slow, but he offers a midfield option and his experience could be key. Plus, with the state of the club’s physio room at the moment, it might be better just to have lots of options rather than wait for injured players to get fit..!
We then moved quickly on to play Bolton Wanderers, the second of our glamour ties. We played well and almost snatched a draw, but a late winner for Bolton condemned us to a 1-2 defeat. Positives at least were that we drew in over 2,500 fans to the game, making us a fair bit of money in the process.
Just three days later we travelled to Wales for our pre-season tour, where we were scheduled to play Ton Pentre, Carmarthen, and Port Talbot all in the space of seven days. We thumped Ton Pentre (with Samba again bagging a hat-trick), edged past Carmarthen thanks to a late 30-yarder from Trevor Benjamin, and back home with tired legs we were held to a 1-1 draw with Port Talbot. Overall these were three decent results, although we lost Jamil Adam, who had played well in pre-season so far, to an injury. We also brought in a new back-up ‘keeper, Paddy Gamble.
We rounded off a hectic pre-season with our final money-spinning tie against Blackburn Rovers. We were heavily tipped to lose this game, and they brought a strong team including the likes of Anthony Modeste, David Goodwillie, and Mauro Formica. Nevertheless, we battled hard and pulled off a shock 1-0 win to send the 2,114 fans who attended home happy.
With just a week to go before the big league kick-off, I allowed the team time to recover in preparation. Cherno Samba, in particular, has had an excellent pre-season, scoring six goals in seven games, and I will be looking for him to continue this form into the league. I feel the squad is in a good position and we might well surprise a few people this year. I told the board that we will aim for a mid-table finish, but I think we could be an outside bet for promotion if we can keep our key players fit.
There is just time for a quick thought from the new England manager, Stuart Pearce, who has clearly found the hidden ingredient to England’s footballing woes:
Next time, I will document the results of the first five league games of the season, starting with the season opener against Bromley. Can Weston continue their good form from pre-season, or am I reading too much into some decent results? Find out next time…