IT SEEMS an age since the World Cup came to a close, but we will finally have some competitive football to watch again this weekend.
I am, of course, joking. The season doesn’t appear to have ended this year, but like me, football nuts everywhere will still be looking forward to the start of the new campaign.
There’s something special about the first day of the season. I think it’s because there’s a sense of optimism in the air that you don’t often find at football grounds.
With just flimsy pre-season form to go on, almost everybody goes into their opening game with at least some belief that this could be their team’s year.
Of course, for some supporters, this optimistic outlook will be smashed to pieces in the space of 90 short minutes, but at least it’s there to start with.
Having said all of that, for various reasons, most notably the fact that my wife’s birthday falls on August 15, I quite often miss Basingstoke Town’s first game. It’s the same story this year. One of my friends is getting married on Saturday, so I won’t be at The Soccer AM Stadium to see Wes Daly return with Hemel Hempstead Town.
I think it’s difficult to predict how Town will fare this season, because there have been so many changes over the summer.
10 players, including Daly, who was the captain last season, have left. Just six players have come in.
Looking at the positions of the incoming and outgoing players, it's easy to see the areas where Basingstoke might struggle.
Town lost two goalkeepers, with their replacement Stuart Moore, a young loanee from Reading.
Defenders Adam Green and Ross Adams were allowed to leave. Green has been replaced, by Tom Bird, but Adams’ departure has left Bristow with just three recognised centre-backs and Kieran Maylen as back-up.
In midfield, Daly and Neil Barrett are no longer with the club, while Matt Partridge, who spent a good chunk of the season on loan from Reading, has signed for Dagenham and Redbridge.
This is where there could be issues, as Jason Bristow has not been able to sign a single midfielder. I have it on good authority that he was close to signing Partridge until Dagenham came in, and it’s that sort of player, a powerful central midfielder who is not afraid to put a foot in, that Town are missing.
Ryan Scott could have been the answer, but work and family commitments mean that deal is now dead.
Andrew Jenkinson is a player who I rate very highly, but is he ready or strong enough to play as Town’s only holding midfielder in the Conference South? We are about to find out, but we should have a better idea after Saturday’s game against a Hemel side reported to be big and physical.
Town look set to start the season with a midfield diamond. Jenkinson will anchor, with Simon Dunn and one of Shaun McAuley or Louie Soares ahead of him and Manny Williams just behind the front two.
It’s a system that could work well. Williams has a free role and has been excellent in pre-season, while it also allows Bristow to play two strikers.
Having seen his side struggle to score goals last season, Bristow has really bolstered his forward line over the summer.
The ineffective trio of Robbie Matthews, Kezie Ibe and Jordace Holder-Spooner have all left, as has Nicholas Bignall. In addition to Williams and Liam Enver-Marum, unquestionably Town’s best signing of the summer, Bristow has brought in Lloyd Macklin, Sam Argent, Chris Flood and Julian Owusu.
It’s a strong pack of six strikers, several of who can play in other positions if needed, and it will be interesting to see who Bristow partners with Enver-Marum, who is likely to be the lynchpin. I suspect he will go for the pace of Flood, certainly to begin with, but there will be plenty of options from the bench.
With so much change, it’s hard to predict how the season will go. The squad seems to have gelled well in pre-season, so the signs have been positive, but I’m not expecting them to run away with the title.
My gut feeling is that they will improve on last season’s 14th place and I would be disappointed if they didn’t end up in the top 10. A play-off push is a possibility, but they will need a lot of luck with injuries, and if I had to put my head on the block, I think they will come up a bit short.
Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be an interesting season. Let’s hope they get off to the perfect start on Saturday.