Magic Johnson ready to work wonders

After a few weeks off and a European Championships and the Olympics to completely wipe our memories of any woes of the previous term, the pre-season optimism is back.

Another year and another host of book-makers are tipping Yeovil for the drop. However, we are out to prove them wrong once again as we head into our eighth consecutive season in League One and celebrating just our tenth season in the Football League.

I don’t know why it is we are so readily tipped to feature as relegation-fodder each year. Yeovil have not been relegated since 1995 when we dropped into the ICIS Premier League. We are not a yo-yo team, we are not punching above our weight and this year I believe we will set out to prove just that.

At the turn of the year the club re-appointed manager Gary Johnson, the man who led the Glovers to the Football League in his first tenure, with Terry Skiverton willingly stepping into the assistant manager’s position in a kind of ‘master and apprentice’ set-up alongside the man who he served as captain in Yeovil’s purple patch.

Since the new manager returned, Yeovil sat around second and third in the form table in the run-in to the end of the season with a number of players he stated would not be around this season, so I am looking forward to watching the side that the management team have put together.

As was the short-term contract ethos at Yeovil in recent seasons, there have been a large turnover of players, and this summer was no different. Important departures came in the shape of top-scorer of Andy Williams and team captain Paul Huntington, who both turned down new contracts.

Pleasingly, Johnson managed to convince an ever improving selection of players to re-sign in Luke Ayling, Ed Upson and Dominic Blizzard plus the experience of Gavin Williams and Richard Hinds who turned out for the club towards the end of last season.

This mixture of youth and raw talent coupled with experience and players who have ‘been there, done that’ has been central in Johnson sculpting of his squad for the 2012/13 season.

Adding to the experience of Williams and Hinds, Yeovil have recruited Jamie McAllister from Bristol City, who experienced promotion with the Robins and striker James Hayter, who helped nodded Doncaster Rovers towards the Championship with his goal in the play-off final in 2008.

Yeovil is often a club for players who are looking for their first crack at league football and are given a lot of responsibility and experience (Stephen Caulker being a prime example) as well as being a club who can give players second or even third chances. Both remits have been fulfilled this season with the additions of Reuben Reid, who is looking to rid his ‘journeyman tag’ and Keanu Marsh-Brown.

More youth and relative inexperience has been given a chance in the shape of new recruits Sam Foley from Newport County, Nathan Ralph and Lewis Young, younger brother of Manchester United’s Ashley.

The strongest desire from many fans was for Gary Johnson to sign Yeovil’s first permanent goalkeeper since about 2009. We have been treated to some cracking loan goalkeepers over the last couple of seasons including Alex McCarthy, Stephen Henderson and John Sullivan but with five ‘keepers turning out for Yeovil last season, it was time for some stability and assurance that we will have a quality ‘keeper behind the defence for the majority of the season.

With Chelsea goalkeeper Sam Walker and ex-Glover Chris Weale cited by the manager as potential candidates, the calls were answered when one of last season’s five, Marek Stech, was released by West Ham United and Gary Johnson, Terry Skiverton and a whole host of fans on Twitter set about persuading Stech to return to the Westcountry which he did on a two year contract.

The reality is that we won’t keep him for the full contract but should get a successful season out of him before another club comes in, it is hoped, with a mouth-watering sum to take the promising number one elsewhere on his track to the Premier League. However, a full season of a permanent goalkeeper who is starting to prove his class is perfectly fine by me.

With Gary Johnson at the helm, I believe we can go for a season without a Christmas time relegation-panic and if the team he is moulding can play the type of football they have displayed in pre-season then Yeovil fans could be in for an entertaining year with multiple goals coming from all of the forwards and three clean sheets.

Although it could be argued that we may not see a full season of Johnson at the helm. So long as results go Yeovil’s way, both board and manager will be relatively happy but frustrations could bubble to the fore. Johnson’s gripes with the way a number of issues have been clumsily handled could stretch patience, with an unplayable training pitch and a below standard surface at Huish Park which led to Yeovil having to play a ‘home’ pre-season fixture with Plymouth Argyle in Dorchester. Add to that the lack of sponsor for the squad’s kit which made the national news, but only when Gary Johnson himself came up with the idea to pose half-naked for the team’s photoshoot.

However, these are all ifs and buts, I hope to see Johnson take this squad and achieve a positive step with the club. Utilising, rather than relying on, the loan market will help add to the modestly sized squad throughout the long season. The management team have already recruited effectively using that method with the additions of Gozie Ugwu from Reading and Rohan Ince from Chelsea.

The key to a trouble-free season, I predict, will be successfully navigating our way through what may prove to be a tricky set of opening fixtures with clashes with Coventry, Bournemouth, MK Dons, Sheffield United, Preston North End and Porstmouth within the first ten matches.

Coventry failed to take three points on the first day of the season and the Glovers have set themselves up with a tie against West Brom in the second round of the League Cup as well as being drawn against local rivals Bristol Rovers in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and the new season is off to an exciting start.

Where Yeovil could fall down this season is with the lack of strength in depth. Pre-season injuries have already been suffered by Rohan Ince, Gavin Williams and Dominic Blizzard and anything like the injury list seen last season would leave us with the bare bones. Town have a little breathing space in this regard this season with three more available loans to be utilised to cover for any injuries or suspensions.

No doubt the majority of fans in League One are optimistic of a successful season but could this be the season where Yeovil send the message out that they are key members of the division and emulate their cup runs of the past where Yeovil made their name? One thing is for sure, we’re all ready for the rocky ride that is the Football League season.

Written by Ryan Peasland, We Are Going Up’s Yeovil Town Blogger

Ryan tweets at @rpeasland

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