I thought I’d emerge from my summer cocoon a bit early to put together some thoughts on how things are shaping up at Ilkeston FC ahead of the new season.
This time last year we were talking about a new head coach having been installed and several new players signing for the club. And here we are again.
On this occasion it’s Paul Holland who is the new man in charge and although I was slightly surprised the Robins went down the head coach rather than player/manager route this time given some of the comments owner Nigel Harrop made after Andy Watson left, that’s in no way meant to be disrespectful to Holland who has great experience in the game and who could prove a fine appointment.
As always, time will tell, and it’ll probably take a while for all of the new components to work properly before results start showing on the pitch.
For whatever reason, Andy Watson wasn’t deemed the right fit at Ilkeston and was sent packing just before the end of last season. I had sympathy for the Scotsman who was undoubtedly a very good coach and a thoroughly nice chap to deal with as well, but I’d imagine a man of his calibre didn’t come cheap and that could well have been behind the thinking when it came to another change being made.
The fact that two player-coaches have been brought in, and ones with excellent playing experience at that, also shows that the ‘killing two birds with one stone’ mentality clearly holds some water at the NMG, namely bringing some of the promised playing experience on board but also letting them do some coaching too.
The two players in question, Liam Hearn and Luke Foster, both come with very good experience in the game and will have lots to offer on a playing front and hopefully in coaching too even though it’s the first time either have had a major coaching role.
Both players have had injury issues in the past but Foster has been a regular in the National League for the last few seasons and Hearn, if fully fit, will most likely score well over 20 goals in the Evo-Stik Premier.
It’s been good to see a few of the key players from last season sign up to stay on, particularly the likes of Matt Baker, Danny Gordon and the academy boys who pushed into the first team last year. I also think we are still to see the best of Dexter Atkinson and players like Tevahn Tyrell and David Jones could be useful weapons too as their games develop.
I hope Mike Williams will also commit but you can understand him wanting to see what offers might come his way. I think he’s ready for football at a higher level but another season with Ilkeston won’t do him any harm.
The Jordan Wheatley situation leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth as depending on who you speak to it seems he’s been either badly advised, badly treated, or both. I hope he gets a good level of football one way or another because he was looking the real deal last season before he got injured and, as with Williams, I feel another season with Ilkeston might have continued to turn him into a very good player, perhaps more so than a move into a Football League club’s academy might.
The goalkeeping position has been a bit of a problem at Ilkeston since they reformed, perhaps with the exception of Jordan Smith whose consistency was a big plus in 2014/15. Evandro Rachoni wasn’t really the man for the job and Jamie Hannis simply wasn’t ready for what was thrown at him when plunged into the team last season.
He did well at times, but being a young goalkeeper carries with it far different pressures and problems to being an outfield player and he’ll probably need at least another year or two of training and non-first team matches before he really starts to shine.
A loan move to a level or two below might not be the worst idea, although with Jahquil Hill having been moved on he may well be required as the second goalkeeper.
With that in mind, the return of Ross Durrant was welcome and although he’s again still quite raw, he’s had a good upbringing at Nottingham Forest and will hopefully prove an excellent signing.
The acquisition of players like Mark Shelton and Rory Coleman will add some depth and with Holland still keen to bring in some more experience to the team, it could be a strong squad by the time August 13 comes around.
The fans’ forum the other week was really productive and the right people said the right things. I just hope now that all the positivity from that night remains and that Holland and his team are allowed to progress unhindered.
Nigel Harrop will still have plenty of questions to answer and now he’s had some time to recover from his major surgery I plan to arrange the long-awaited Q&A with him in the very near future, probably alongside the chairman of the Ilkeston FC Supporters Group and maybe others.
This time of year is always filled with a degree of optimism as well as a degree of dread in some cases but I’d say the former is probably the best way to be at the moment.
Yes, there have been lots of changes and for the second summer running it’s a very different looking club to that which finished the previous season, but stability will now be crucial and if that can be achieved throughout the whole season, both on and off the pitch, then there’s no reason to believe that promotion isn’t a possibility.
If things don’t stabilise and fans continue to have reasons for concern on whatever level, then I fear any further damage done could be a lot harder to repair.
A very interesting season awaits.