The proof is in the pudding when it comes to the signings from last summer, which made me consider the impact the new board has had since they were appointed by Simon Sadler. After a chaotic first summer for Sadler where Terry McPhillips was replaced by Simon Grayson and the majority of our signings were loaned out without making an appearance for the club, Sadler appointed Ben Mansford in October 2019 and brought in Tommy Johnson as Head of Recruitment, Head of Technical Scouting Jonathan Gibson and later Head of Football Operations John Stephenson. So how do the 33 signings under Mansford rank?
33. Alex Fojticek
Not much to say about the young keeper signed on a free from Man Utd. He played a few friendlies before the season kicked off, didn’t do a lot wrong but did drop a clanger against Blackburn in the penultimate game. He’s yet to make a senior appearance and looks sure to depart upon the expiry of his contract in the summer.
32. Teddy Howe
This signing has Simon Grayson written all over it in my opinion. He was on borrowed time when Charlie Adam’s Reading came to town for the FA Cup replay and Teddy impressed. We signed him later that week and he’s only appeared in the FL Trophy since. At the age of 22,h he’s currently on loan at Scunthorpe in League Two and again looks to be released this summer.
31. Ben Garrity
This was a relatively low-risk signing given we plucked him from Warrington and he looked likely when he did play in tangerine. He’s had a seemingly relatively good loan spell with Oldham this season in League Two where he’s scored four goals in 38 games. Hopefully he can have a career in the game, but sadly I don’t think it will be at Bloomfield Road.
30. Oliver Sarkic
Sarkic only appears so highly because he was another one signed with no risk associated. He came on a free after a decent season with Burton Albion, and hopefully we didn’t fork out a big sell-on fee or a sizeable contract. He didn’t make an impact in preseason or the first half of this campaign, and has made four appearances for Mansfield in the second half of this season, none of which they won.
29. Stuart Moore
A keeper who was brought in as a backup, he finally got his chance at the weekend and didn’t do a lot wrong. Sadly for the Sandown born stopper, I don’t think he has a long-term future at the club and was more of a stop-gap to cover any injuries.
28. Sam Walker
The third keeper to appear on the list so far, but the one who’s made the most impact. He saved two penalties in two appearances over the festive period, impressing but ultimately only plugging the gap for Chris Maxwell who had Covid. You have to thank him for his commitment in joining us, moving up north over Christmas to spend it away from his family and new born baby. He’s spent the rest of the season with Wimbledon, helping to keep them up alongside former Pool defender Ben Heneghan. I certainly wish him well.
27. Ben Woodburn
This one was one of the more disappointing signings. When he came in on loan towards the end of the transfer window, I thought we’d bagged ourselves a match winner. As it was, he didn’t do much for us. He only actually made three league starts and played at Harrogate in the FA Cup.
26. Marc Bola
What a disappointing signing. He was great for us when he played for us, so I am told. I never actually saw him play personally until his loan spell where he seemed to be unfit, uninterested and the season was thankfully cut short before it got ugly.
25. MJ Williams
MJ didn’t do too bad, but was in a struggling side at the start of the season. He was actually one of our standout performers before he got injured, paving the way for Kenny Dougall to come in. To say both of them in the same sentence puts into context how far we’ve come in the last nine months.
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24. Bez Lubala
The disappointing thing about the signing of Bez is that he came with so much noise. He cost a similar fee to CJ Hamilton and Jerry Yates, which proves that it is a gamble to sign players from the level below. Two out of three ain’t bad though. It’s not worked for one reason or another, with him missing a large chunk of the season due to a “club matter”, and I expect him to depart in the summer, regardless of the division we’re playing in.
23. Dan Kemp
I actually liked Kemp and I think he’ll have a decent career at Championship level. I was surprised when he moved to League Two Leyton Orient and surely he’ll be a key man for them, moving onto better things as he gains experience. He was a good option to have from the bench in the first half of the season and I expect he would’ve featured more in the second half, though the fact he left meant we could sign Embleton who is a class above in fairness.
22. Ethan Robson
Robson is one of the summer signings I was most excited about. He came with a pedigree having played a few games for Sunderland but ultimately he doesn’t seem to fit our two-man midfield. He’s a bit of a luxury for me at this level and might actually do better if we were to make it to the Championship – similar to David Fox who looked better at that level for us under Simon Grayson. I haven’t given up on him yet.
21. Elliot Embleton
To say he features so low down the list is testament to all of those ahead of him. The reason is because he hasn’t quite had that big moment for us yet. It’s clear to see the boy has talent and I have a sneaky feeling he could do the business for us in the play-offs, providing we don’t come up against Sunderland which would make him ineligible! In the same way Dobbie and DJ did it for us under Holloway, it would be great if he could bag the goal to send us up!
20. Connor Ronan
What a difference this lad made on loan last season, having some real quality on the ball and coming up with a few good moments during his 10 games before Covid ended the season prematurely – just as he was getting into the groove. He could’ve had a good career with us, particularly under Neil Critchley, but for some reason Critch didn’t fancy him and he’s now on loan at Grasshopper Club Zürich.
19. Demetri Mitchell
This is where it becomes really hard to rank these players. How can there be 17 better signings than a free transfer from Man Utd? Dem’bappe has really come into his own the last few games, playing further forward and causing havoc in the oppositions’ back line. He’ll be a real player when he matures a bit, and needs to keep hold of that rawness he’s got.
18. Kevin Stewart
A real Rolls Royce footballer for this level, it has to be said. The only complaint I can have is that we seem to have a better balance when he’s not in the side, with Grant Ward or previously Matty Virtue playing alongside Dougall. He’ll come good though and he’s a safe pair of hands, particularly when we’re holding onto a lead by a slender margin.
17. Jordan Thorniley
This guy has climbed about 10 places in this line up since February. Costing upwards of £250k, he had a horrendous first 12 months in tangerine, starting with his debut at Oxford last January and lasting right up to when Critch told him he could go this January. But following an injury crisis he got his chance and has retained his place ever since. Very much deserves his place in the side going into the play-offs.
16. Taylor Moore
What a player – clearly too good for this level and it’s no surprise that he’s become a regular for Bristol City in the Championship this season. He really shored up our defence under Grayson and helped to stop the rot. A pity we couldn’t keep hold of him.
15. Gary Madine
What a guy. I love Gary Goals and I want nothing more than for him to bag a last minute winner at Wembley. He didn’t have a great few games last season and looked to be on his way out last summer when he couldn’t get into the side during preseason, but he made the place his own when we went 4-4-2 in October and came up with some huge goals and a great, loveable attitude. You can be sure he’s a big part of what goes on on the training ground. He’s been absent recently which is why he doesn’t feature higher in this rating.
14. James Husband
He looked average under Simon Grayson if I’m honest, although the same can be said about our whole squad last season. He looked a fish out of water at centre half, but since the turn of the year he’s been so reliable and his decision making has clearly been worked on. He had looked destined for a higher level as a young player and hopefully, thanks to Critchley’s coaching, he looks like he’s on the way back now.
13. Ellis Simms
Eight goals in 21 games and he doesn’t even make the top 10. Incredible, really, as the Everton loanee has helped us climb from 13th to 3rd in the league, filling the void for Gary Madine and showing a real step up in quality over the last few games. Another one who might be saving his best for the play-off shakeup.
12. Luke Garbutt
What a signing this was when he came in last summer. You can say the same about most of these, but this is a player who would never have signed for us under the previous owner – Holloway era aside. It was a real statement of intent from the board that we meant business this season and while his form has been inconsistent, he’s come into his own recently with a good run of fitness and form. Possesses more quality than most at this level.
11. Keshi Anderson
I absolutely love Keshi – he has so much skill and is a real danger to opposition defences. I can’t place him any higher because of the players above him – if he’d played more then he would certainly be in the top five. Was the standout talent in preseason and has hit the ground running on his recent return to the side.
10. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
Another who would feel hard-done-by only to make ninth. What an impact he made last season, but wasn’t around for long enough to feature any higher for me. He seems to have made a similar impact for Luton in the Championship and seems destined to play in the Premier League with Leicester. A top player.
9. Marvin Ekpiteta
Signed on a free from Leyton Orient, I can’t say I’d heard of him before but what a first season he’s had at this level. He’s barely made a mistake and would definitely have been in the running for Player of the Year had he stayed fit all season. Was unfortunate with our fixture congestion that he seems to have missed so many games despite only missing a couple of months. Certainly wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship.
8. Daniel Gretarsson
Plucked from the Norwegian First Division, what a find he was. The Icelandic defender was a member of an Icelandic Seasiders supporters group which places him in the top 10 of this list on its own. But his committed displays on the field, putting his way in harm’s way for the cause, has been so good. Our form with him in the side is ridiculous and we’ve barely had a bad defensive display. So organised, so committed and possesses so much quality. Wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship, that’s for sure.
7. CJ Hamilton
Another who should really have featured higher but has been let down by fitness. He pulled his hamstring in December and has barely featured since after injuring his foot on his return. Better things are to come next season for CJ and he would terrorise any Championship defence with his pace and trickery.
6. Jordan Gabriel
After a rocky debut against Ipswich, Gabriel has really benefitted from regular game time and has made such an impact for a right-back – comparable to Seamus Coleman in our Championship days. Also capable of playing further forward, I’m convinced he will go on to have a career at the top level. Has a little to learn with his defending, but Critch could coach that into him no problem.
5. Dan Ballard
Signed on loan from Arsenal, Ballard possesses all of the quality to make it in the senior squad at the Emirates. At the tender age of 21, he’s had the likes of Charlie Wyke and Jonson Clarke-Harris in his pocket. He’s committed, strong, well organised and can play. He’s got the lot.
4. Grant Ward
Another who wouldn’t have featured anywhere near the top after last season, but what a season he’s had. Particularly his last 10 games before his injuries, Ward looked a class above for this league. Signed on a free transfer after 12 months out with an injury, it’s taken him some time to find fitness and form, but he had both up until the Sunderland game when he pulled up with injury. Hopefully his season isn’t over.
3. Kenny Dougall
The impact the Aussie has had on this side cannot be underestimated. From his debut to now, no club in the division has won more points – what more is there to say? We were lucky to get him and hopefully he’ll have a long, successful career in tangerine.
2. Chris Maxwell
Can you believe he was signed by Grayson? We have to thank him for something, and that’s that he brought in former PNE and Fleetwood keeper and captain Chris Maxwell. The guy’s shot stopping is the best in the division, his leadership skills make all the difference, and he’s involved in community events off the field. Finished the regular season with 21 clean sheets, winning the League One Golden Glove.
- Jerry Yates
Who else? Jerry became the first man to score 20 league goals in 27 years since Andy Watson in 1994, and he offers so much more than goals. With the right club and manager, Jerry could go all the way to the top in my opinion.
The board have certainly got more right than wrong, and when you consider the sales of Jordan Thompson, Curtis Tilt, Tony Weston, Calum Guy, Callum McDonald and Ryan Hardie, it’s likely they’ve just about broken even in transfer fees. They had Financial Fair Play to contend with and have given Neil Critchley with the most in-depth quality in the division. It’s allowed us to be consistent throughout the majority of the season, and made promotion a real possibility.
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