Lee Johnson’s first off-season as a manager has largely been a successful one, both with respect to pre-season results, and also the signings he has brought in. The departure of FA Cup hero Matt Smith, alongside giant defender Jean-Yves M’voto posed some issues, however Johnson has brought in seven full time signings, as well as loanee ‘keeper, Mark Oxley. The signings include Korey Smith, who impressed on loan at Latics last season, and Johnson’s former team mate at Kilmarnock: James Dayton, who was tipped for an England call up only last season (yes – seriously!).
The new squad seems to have settled well, going unbeaten throughout pre-season, with a draw against Romanian giants Dinamo Bucharest, and the defeat of Huddersfield Town the highlights. The performances of Cristian Montaño, who notched four goals, suggests he has overcome his fitness issues which blighted his first season at Latics. An in-form Montaño could be a huge asset going forward, with his pace and trickery only seen in glimpses during last season.
I noted on my start of season blog last year, how short of attacking options we were, and Johnson seems to have a variety of different strikers to hit the back of the neck. Experienced poacher Charlie MacDonald has a decent record in League One, and looks set to be partnered in attack with the imminent signing of Adam Rooney – the only important Rooney North-West transfer saga. Young target man, Jonson Clarke-Harris, signed from Peterborough, had a positive loan spell at Bury in the latter stages of last season, including a bruising performance against his new employer. Key however, will be Jose Baxter, who scored 15 goals in all competitions for Athletic last season, often playing just off the main striker. His goals and set pieces could turn a good season into a great one. There is set to be one more signing, alongside Rooney, prior to the new season commencing, most likely an experienced centre half, which is lacking in the squad. Currently James Tarkowski, Cliff Byrne and Edijs Joksts are the only recognised centre backs, with midfielder David Mellor having deputised during pre-season.
Barring the final defender, Johnson seems to have assembled a good League One squad, with the core being made up of enthusiastic and exciting young players. Only MacDonald and Byrne are older than 26, and with Johnson the youngest manager in the Football League (and probably one of the most suave), the lack of experience could be an issue, with Johnson’s search for a seasoned assistant manager being fruitless so far. However, he stated from day one that he would never rush this decision, and he has brought in the experienced Bobby Mimms, as well as fitness guru Lee Steele to aid himself and First Team coach Paul Murray as non-playing staff.
Looking at the coming season as a whole, it is difficult to predict how the season will pan out. The squad looks good on paper, and has produced during pre-season, and during Johnson’s 10 game tenure last season, he picked up 15 points: which extrapolated over a whole season would result in 69 points – a figure which would generally be just outside of the play-offs. Obviously this doesn’t really mean a lot, but with Johnson having his own squad now – hopefully he will have brought in 10 new signings by 3pm on Saturday – the season bodes well. There is a general mood of positivity around Boundary Park, with the Chaddy End’s roof finally being painted, and plans for the new stand in full motion, it could be a good season ahead. Compared with the situation last year, things are definitely looking up. The FA Cup run has alleviated some of the financial issues, and the squad is certainly deeper than last year, with youth team graduates Kirk Millar, Mellor, and Glenn Belezika all a year older, with varying degrees of first team football under their belts.
As stated above, it is difficult to state the situation will be, come May. The squad seems to be too good to be sucked into a relegation battle, as such, am upper mid-table finish is likely, and would certainly be an improvement on Paul Dickov’s reign, where his highest finish was 16th. A good run could possibly result in a challenge for the play-offs, however it is best not to get ahead of ourselves!
Written by Joshua Bowker, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger
Joshua tweets at @JoshuaBowker