DUFFERS’ DIARIES: Robins exodus begs many questions

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As you’ve no doubt seen, Ilkeston FC today released eight first-team players from their squad.

If you haven’t, you can read about it HERE

To say it’s an interesting move by the club is an understatement. It’s certainly not something I can recall happening to this extent before, at least not from a club which is still in with a shout of reaching the play-offs.

It’s begging far more questions than answers from Ilkeston supporters and perhaps rightly so, as they are the ones who will now be paying to see an even younger team than before turn out on a Saturday and that’s saying something given the average age of most Robins starting elevens this season has been around 19.

There is a degree of logic behind what CEO Nigel Harrop is saying in terms of the reasons for this happening. Get rid of what relatively speaking are big earners, some of whom aren’t playing often enough to justify keeping, save money in the process to make the club a more attractive proposition to investors and then try and generate more cash by giving talented young players first-team games that will in turn boost their value.

Once that has or hasn’t happened, re-assess next season and see what kind of squad can be put together on whatever budget is available and with the help of whichever investors there are on board, although preferably not too much of the latter given what they apparently want to see happen first.

Simple, eh?

Many fans are questioning whether these are the real reasons for the mass exodus and are expressing concerns over the club’s financial position as a whole. That’s understandable and inevitable and time will tell whether those fears have any foundation.

I’m yet to see or hear of any hard enough evidence that the club is in any major trouble, nor do I believe that’s the case, but releasing eight decent players in one go is always likely to fan the flames.

Maybe it makes financial sense to save money if there’s no longer as much chance of promotion and the club is almost certain to stay up, particularly if investors are looking at how stable things actually are.

With regard to the players leaving, some will be missed more than others. The likes of Joe Burgess, Joe Doyle and JJ Blake have been regular starters and performed consistently enough to suggest their absence will be felt.

Liam Marshall hasn’t featured as much recently due to injury and Lee Ndlovu, whilst having scored a few goals, was perhaps a disposable commodity given Dan Udoh, Dexter Atkinson and some bright academy prospects can step in up front.

Olly Luto never really convinced me he was good enough for this level but I hope I’m proved wrong should he get a good move, while Eli Bako perhaps needed more regular games to show his quality as at times he was excellent. Charlie Coulson too had shown bright sparks but wasn’t getting enough game time to justify him staying.

Having said all of that, usually these kinds of exits will have happened at the end of the season and there’s a gaping hole in the squad that now has to be filled for the next 16 league games.

It’s a big ask of such young players to now step into the breach. There will still be the likes of Matt Baker, Jordan Wheatley, Dan Udoh, Danny Gordon et al who have played plenty of football this season to help keep a degree of continuity, while Jamie Hannis has done enough since stepping in between the sticks to deserve the number one shirt for the remainder of the campaign.

The key now is blending those less experienced players such as Luis Rose, Ben Morris, Ryan Head and Keenan Meakin to name but a few, into the side in a way that they will remain competitive and able to play some decent football. I’m confident that will happen.

It seems to me that head coach Andy Watson will have had little or no say in what’s happened at Ilkeston this week and he will now face quite a challenge, but it’s one he’ll no doubt relish. I hope fans will continue to get behind the team too as these young players will need the support and thrive on it.

Time will tell on whether or not this strategy will backfire on Ilkeston. A good run could see the play-offs in sight again and, as I understand it, more experienced players with the quality needed to aid a promotion push could well be added in if it becomes a possiblity.

In the meantime, the spotlight is on yet more fledgling Ilkeston academy players to see if they can flourish in the short to medium term and help Ilkeston FC fulfil the long-term dreams the club’s ‘going young’ ethos was designed to achieve.