BASINGSTOKE Town’s league campaign may be over – but the hard work is just about to begin for manager Jason Bristow.
After a second disappointing season in a row, the Town boss must spend the next couple of months rebuilding his squad to ensure a better campaign in 2014-15.
I’m sure plenty of fans will be advocating a complete overhaul, but while I expect Bristow to make more changes than he has in either of his previous close seasons, he’s unlikely to go right back to the drawing board.
Here’s my opinion on which players should stay at the Camrose, who should be moved on and the areas where Bristow must strengthen over the summer.
Louis Wells has come in for more than his fair share of criticism over the season. At times, this has been justified, but on the whole, I think it’s fair to say that the former Staines and Dartford ’keeper has had a decent season.
You are not going to find the complete goalkeeper in the Conference South – and Wells’ problem is an occasional lapse in concentration.
These lapses have been costly at times, but he has also made some outstanding saves over the course of the season.
Sources close to the club indicated that Wells would not be offered a new deal before he suffered a serious injury at Eastleigh – and now, even if Bristow does want to keep him, surely he will have to prove his fitness in pre-season.
Wells’ misfortune gave Joe McDonnell his chance – and the youngster grasped it with both hands, putting in a string of fine performances at the end of the season.
He proved that he is ready for the rigours of Conference South football, but will Bristow risk making him first choice? It would be a gamble, but it’s one that is surely worth taking, freeing up money for other areas.
Despite the season being a disappointing one overall, the defence performed well.
Town conceded 56 goals, a massive improvement on the previous season, while David Ray and Jay Gasson formed an excellent partnership in the heart of the defence.
They must be among the first players Bristow looks to retain, assuming Ray recovers from his Achilles problem.
Nathan Smart must also be a certainty to be handed a new deal.
Every year, people question why he has been retained, and he generally starts the season out of the side. However, what he lacks in quality on the ball, he more than makes up for in work-rate, pace, versatility and fitness, and he always forces his way into the side.
Robbie Rice and Adam Green have also probably done enough to earn contracts for next season, though Green’s level of performance tailed off as the campaign went on.
Right-back Marcus Johnson-Schuster appears to be a decent prospect, but if Rice and Smart both re-sign, can Town afford to hold on to a third player in that position?
Sadly, it’s probably time to bid farewell to Ross Adams, who struggled to nail down a place in the side throughout the season and is likely to be moved on.
Bristow’s hardest decisions will probably come in this area.
Let’s start with the easy decisions. Simon Dunn and Andrew Jenkinson are players Town can build their team around going forward, while Louie Soares has shown enough since joining in mid-season to earn a permanent deal.
Shaun McAuley did not have his best season, but Town missed him when he was out of the side. Personally, I’d like to see him remain at the Camrose, but I’m not convinced that it’s a done deal.
Bristow made a big statement by handing Wes Daly the captaincy last summer. He was to be the lynchpin of Town’s new, passing game.
Sadly, Daly didn’t repay the faith shown in him and spent several games warming the bench towards the end of the campaign.
Bristow insisted that people should not read too much into it, that he was trying things out, but picking Matt Partridge, an on-loan player who is highly unlikely to be at the club next season, ahead of his captain, said a lot.
Daly has flattered to deceive throughout his three seasons at the Camrose, and it might be time for him to move on.
One player Bristow must bring to the club is a big, physical holding midfielder. One of the mistakes made last summer was failing to adequately replace Stuart Lake, and that is something that must be remedied.
If Bristow succeeds on that front, then Daly may be surplus to requirements as Jenkinson’s range of passing is just as good.
Neil Barrett is almost certain to move on after a miserable season at the Camrose.
It’s no secret that Town have struggled for goals this season.
Kezie Ibe and Robbie Matthews were brought in to replace the goals provided by Delano Sam-Yorke and Tim Sills, but they failed to cut the mustard. I can’t see either being at the club next season, unless Matthews is signed as a centre-back.
Jordace Holder-Spooner must also be on his way out after another poor campaign. The guy clearly has bags of talent, but he cannot turn that into performances on the pitch.
Manny Williams has not had the same impact he did last season, but I think he deserves another year.
This is clearly the area where Bristow will focus a good deal of his attention over the summer, but he may have already found the answer.
Persuading Nicholas Bignall and Liam Enver-Marum to sign on a permanent basis would be a real triumph, but is by no means a certainty as both will have admirers elsewhere following their performances at the end of the season.
Gosport’s Rory Williams impressed in the two meetings between the Hampshire rivals towards the end of the season. He’s a player I would like to see at the Camrose, while Greg Draper is constantly being linked with a return.
Whether any of those strikers line up for Town in August remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure – it’s going to be an interesting couple of months.