WITH the start of the 2015-16 National League North season fast approaching, Callum Matthews takes a look at Stockport County’s chances ahead of the new campaign.
It’s been another summer of change at Edgeley Park: A new manager and coaching staff, 16 new players, 14 departures, the Council agreeing to buy the ground for the club. Life is certainly never dull in SK3.
Last season was bitterly disappointing for the Hatters. Last summer they were promised pace and power by manager Alan Lord. What they actually got was more limp and lifeless in truth.
Whilst in parts they played some good football, in particular in a spell either side of Christmas at home, on the whole they were poor. They were never realistically good enough to challenge for the play-offs. Four away wins all season told the story of their season. They weren’t good enough with their backs against the wall and the changing room lacked character. When the club and manager Alan Lord reached a mutual decision with three games left for him to become Director of Football with immediate effect a summer of change was inevitable.
The appointment of a new manager was slightly drawn out and fans were starting to think the club has missed out on their first choice target. However from the moment Neil Young arrived on May 16 nobody has looked back. As every new signing has been announced, the positivity around the club has increased.
Having already won this league with Chester in 2012-13, Young knows what it takes to get out of this division. And that’s something that County and their loyal supporters crave.
The 40-year-old has been ruthless in his work so far. To only retain one player- goalkeeper Danny Hurst- it meant he had a busy summer ahead of him. But perhaps more importantly it meant he had a team that he has faith in. With promotion the aim for Young and his new management team that was something that needed to happen.
Karl Ledsham (Midfielder from Barrow): The 27-year-old attacking midfielder arrived as Young’s first signing from last season’s title winners Barrow.
Lamin Colley (Striker from Bradford Park Avenue): The 21-year-old 6ft 4 striker became Young’s second signing having made 21 appearances for mid-table Avenue last season.
Danny Morton (Defender from Clitheroe): A powerful right-back and centre half left behind the captaincy at Clitheroe to play at Edgeley Park despite ‘attracting interest from the Conference North and higher’ according to Young.
Sean O’Hanlon (Defender from Carlisle): The experienced 32-year-old was playing in League Two last season but will be club captain at Edgeley Park this season.
Gareth Roberts (Defender from Chester): The 37-year-old was Young’s first choice target for left back and was ‘excellent’ for Chester last season according to Young.
Glenn Rule (Midfielder from Airbus UK): A box to box midfielder became Young’s sixth signing and has previously played under the boss at Colwyn Bay.
Andy Robinson (Midfielder): The 35-year-old had retired last season supposedly with a knee injury but Young believes the ex-Swansea player is a ‘really good signing’.
Micah Evans (Midfielder from Southport): The 22-year-old became Young’s eight signing and is a ‘quick and dynamic winger’ according to the former Chester boss.
Kevin Holsgrove (Midfielder from Stalybridge Celtic): Another player who has played under Young at Colwyn Bay and his versatility was key to his arrival at Edgeley Park.
Abdulai Bell-Baggie (Midfielder from Tranmere): The Sierra Leone born winger will be an ‘exciting and excellent signing’ according to Young and his impressive pre-season performances have got the fans excited.
Joe Garvin (Midfielder from Colne): A left-footed centre midfielder who joined from North West Counties Premier side had attracted interest from league clubs before joining the Hatters.
Kayode Odejayi (Striker from Tranmere): The Hatters become Odejayi’s tenth club of his career after a 12-month stay at Tranmere.
Sefton Gonzales (Striker from Clitheroe): The 19 goal man last season became the club’s second signing of the summer from Clitheroe despite interest from other clubs and was another signing Young was ‘delighted’ to secure.
Jordan Thorniley (Defender on loan from Everton): The 18-year-old won Everton’s Academy player of the year last season and joins on a youth loan.
Lewis Montrose (Midfielder from York): After spending two years at League Two York, the 26-year-old has bolstered Young’s midfield options.
Ryan Ellison (Defender from Oldham): A young-centre half that can also play at full-back impressed Young with a string of fine performances during a trial over pre-season and has secured a contract.
Calum Dyson (Striker on loan from Everton): Dyson became the second player to join the Hatters on a youth loan from Everton after Thorniley, and Young is confident that the striker will deliver goals.
Jordan Fagbola (to Colwyn Bay, free transfer): After joining the club in 2012, he was released this summer and was quickly snapped up by Ashley Hoskin.
Chris Sharp (to Colwyn Bay, free transfer): After one season at Edgeley Park, the 29-year-old became the second County player to join the Seagulls this summer.
Kristian Dennis (to Macclesfield, season-long loan): Last season’s top scorer was transfer listed by Young upon his arrival and Dennis has returned to where his professional career started.
Danny Glover (to AFC Telford, free transfer): Despite only joining the Hatters during the second-half of last season, Glover didn’t do enough to impress Young and after being transfer listed joining fellow National League North side Telford.
Kyle Jacobs (to Ashton United, free transfer): The popular right-back joined County in the second half of last season for a second spell but never delivered the form of his first spell and was released before joining Evo-Stik Premier side Ashton United.
Ian Ormson (unattached): The young goalkeeper made his debut for the Hatters in 2011 but he found his first-team opportunites limited by Danny Hurst last season.
Glenn Belezika (unattached): A promising young defender who barely spent six months at Edgeley Park. Joined last summer but failed to cement down a starting place and spent half the season on loan at Linfield.
Danny Gregson (to Stalybridge Celtic, undisclosed): Joined the Hatters last summer and started brilliantly before a knee injury prematurely ended his season. Was one of the two retained by Young before Liam Watson signed him for Celtic. He’s since left Bower Fold for a full-time coaching role at League One Fleetwood.
Scott Spencer (to Hyde, free transfer): After spending just one season at Edgeley Park, the ex-Tigers man has returned to Ewen Fields to form a huge part of Hyde’s promotion challenge.
Jordan Lazenbury (unattached): A young midfielder who joined from Fleetwood last summer. He mainly played in the development squad last season but was part of the mass exodus to leave Edgeley Park this summer.
Stephen O’Halloran (to Salford, free transfer): Despite being hugely impressive in his new role at centre-half last season Young deemed the former Coventry man surplus to requirements and he became Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson’s first signing of the summer at Moor Lane.
Tunji Moses (to Salford, free transfer): Another player who’s made the short journey to Salford to join the Class of 92 owned club. Struggled with injuries during his time in SK3 but should be a good signing Evostik Premier side Salford.
Nathan Woolfe (unattached): Another player who spent just 12 months at Edgeley Park. The winger struggled with injuries during his short spell and couldn’t cement down a starting place. The former Telford man is currently on trial at Jim Gannon’s Northwich Victoria.
Mark Lees (to Telford, free transfer): The ex-club captain was transfer listed when Young arrived at the club and despite multiple impressive pre-season appearances the ex-Stalybridge man left by mutual consent before joining Telford on the same day.
Bobby Loftohuse (unattached): After being placed on the transfer list when Young first arrived at the club, the left-footed midfielder agreed to leave by mutual consent on August 3.
Scott Duxbury and Chris Churchman all remain on the clubs transfer list. Development squad players Matthew Todd and Connor Hancock have reportedly joined Northwich Victoria on loan.
Glenn Rule- The former Airbus man is going to be key if County are going to succeed in their aim of promotion this year. With Young set to play two wingers Rule’s position in the centre of midfield in stopping opposition attacks could be absolutely crucial. Don’t be surprised if he chips in with the odd goal too.
Abdulai Bell-Baggie- ‘Baggie’ as he’s decided to be called on his shirt has already been tipped by numerous County fans as a potential player of the season. He’s scored a couple of screamers already in pre-season as well as impressing on the whole. He has the potential to win County matches and that’s something that’s sadly been missing at Edgeley Park for too many seasons now.
Sean O’Hanlon- It perhaps seems an obvious choice with the former MK Don’s player being announced as club captain immediately upon his arrival. However behind more or less every single promotion campaign is a solid defence and the 32-year-old is going to be a crucial part of that.
Other squad members: Robinson, Holsgrove, Gonzales, Colley, Ledsham, Ellison, Russell.
It’s always a risky policy when you rip apart the whole playing squad and start from scratch. However I don’t think anyone that watched County last season would argue that it’s the right thing to do. At times they were gutless and that’s something that Young appears to have spotted. Some fans are questioning whether he’s been slightly harsh on the likes of Mark Lees and Kristian Dennis. On the other hand the former Chester boss believes his budget can be spent more efficiently and with the recruits he’s bought in over the close season it’s hard to argue with that. He’s added experience all over the pitch which has been sadly lacking in previous campaigns. Aligned with the potential rough diamonds he’s unearthed in Morton, Colley and Garvin for example it could be a promising season for the Hatters. Young knows that his target is promotion and anything else means his head is on the chopping block. There’s no doubt they’ll be wobbles along the way- it’s to be expected with a whole new squad. Nevertheless I think it’s finally going to be a positive season for the loyal County faithful. Whilst they might struggle to gain the single automatic promotion slot, I’d be shocked if they weren’t challenging for it. Goals are a slight concern however with the loan market available and Young’s obvious connections I really do think County will be challenging for promotion this season.
Verdict: 3rd (play offs)
By: Callum Matthews
*All signings and transfers out correct as of August 6*