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Sunday, 29 June 2014

NEW SIGNING: Korey Smith - an Oldham fans view

Just when you thought a manic week of signings was over, Bristol City pulled another surprise out of the bag with Friday evening's capture of Oldham Athletic captain Korey Smith, the 23-year old moving to Ashton Gate with Liam Kelly moving the other way.

Kelly was seen by many as a hot prospect at City but his injury last season clearly hampered both his progress and his chances of establishing himself. Much as he could turn out to be a huge loss, I find it personally difficult to reconcile a couple of decent performances in pre-season friendlies with the 'great white hope' some fans seemed to be associating. He may have made some difference last season, but I think it was certainly one of those cases where he was better off well away from the firing line and his stature only grew with inept performance after inept performance.

So he leaves with many well-wishers hoping he can put his injuries behind him and establish himself in English football's third tier, whilst City welcome a fourth new face to BS3 in just three days. For some, having a central midfielder who Lee Johnson clearly rates highly is testament enough, for others there will be plenty to prove, but what is clear is, that amongst the concerns many fans - including myself - had about the potential age and wage of our summer transfer recruits, it's fair to say only Freeman is likely to have demanded truly big bucks so far, whilst at 25, 22 and 23, the trio have more than compensated for Wade Elliott's necessary experience.

Smith is a player I admittedly knew little about, having just seen a couple of times, so I sought the views of Latics fan Joshua Bowker to find out more about our newest signing.

"Korey Smith is primarily a deep –lying midfielder, who can also cover at right-back (he played there for Norwich during their consecutive promotions up the Football League), who is very comfortable on the ball, and superb at keeping possession. 

Towards the end of last season, during Oldham’s 10 match unbeaten run, he was used as the anchorman in a 4-1-4-1 formation, and shielded the defence extremely well, with only 6 goals conceded in that period. 

Whilst excellent at recovering and recycling possession, many fans would criticise his attacking intent – he often chooses the easy sideways pass rather than pushing the team forward, and he only found the net once in the league last season (albeit an excellent finish http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ1Cq1P90AA&t=1m28s ).

His technical ability is undoubted, as underlined by his solitary goal, and he is likely to flourish in a more positive, attacking team. His mandate in the final months of the season was to protect, but if given a license to push on, his attacking capabilities will come to the fore. As captain last year he played through niggling knee injuries for numerous months, underlining his mental strength.

Bristol City are getting a very gifted player, and his experiences last season will only have helped these talents develop. Lee Johnson did not want to sell him, however with his contract expiring in 2015, and Smith showing no signs of renewing, the club decided to cash in before losing him on a free. Hopefully Liam Kelly can help fill the void left by Smith’s departure."

Certainly a touch of Lee Johnson in that review, which will ignite old debates nicely! However, equally the sort of player we could probably do with to counter the natural attacking instinct many of our midfielders have got. It does seem that he might be a direct replacement for Marlon Pack in terms of style and it will be interesting to see how much action Pack gets this season, assuming he's still with us on September 1st.

The close season has ignited into life this, now we can only wonder who is next! It does seem clear that Cotterill seems keen on getting as many of his targets as possible in early, giving them the maximum time to get to know their new surroundings, teammates and club - which can only be a good thing. You suspect another one or two names aren't a million miles away from being announced.


The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 27 June 2014

NEW SIGNING: Mark Little - a Posh view

More than seven weeks after the last campaign ended with gloating celebrations at Crawley, City’s close season exploded into life this week with the capture of three players to bolster manager Steve Cotterill’s options for the new season.  Wade Elliott’s signature was the least surprising (but still very welcome) deal, whilst Luke Freeman was a name many of us had hoped for but few dared believe we might get, with reported interest from several Championship clubs for his services. His pace, direct running and eye for a goal couldn’t have failed to any watching Robins fan in our encounters with Stevenage last season, despite him ending on the losing side on both occasions.

The other signing is a player many may not know much about.  Mark Little may be getting on a bit, I remember watching him in Neighbours when I got home from school at the end of the 1980’s but with Bouncer in tow I reckon we’ve got a great signing….

Mark Little

Ah, OK, not him? Right, right…Little joins from potential promotion rivals Peterborough United, which may seem a strange move but clearly his time at London Road was up and full back is certainly an area the gaffer sees the need to strengthen in, being seemingly unconvinced about the capability of Moloney or Cunningham.

I asked John Verrall, long time contributor to the Posh blog and podcast Standing on the Glebe and more recently writing for UEFA and Here is the City amongst others.

"Answering what to expect from Mark Little is quite a tough question as, put simply, most the time I’m not convinced he knows himself.

Little is a great athlete, a competent runner who is strong in the air, but with the ball at his feet he is clearly uncomfortable.  That said, it is not something that seems like a hindrance to his play.  His own unique style seems to be very effective, especially at League One level, where his surging runs from right-back cause defences no end of problems.

Little is an attacking right-back, who will not stop running forward. You are guaranteed 100% from him and there is no doubting his persistence.

Mark Little

What there is some concern over, however, is his end product. There are times where Little flatters to deceive. A lot of casual observers of Posh will wax lyrical about his ability going forward and yet, considering the amount of times he arrives in a dangerous position, his final ball often leaves a lot to be desired.

When not given time Little seems more at ease, but when he is able to think about things it often goes wrong for him. He is an instinctive, attacking player, but not necessarily a naturally creative one for all his efforts.  It is also noticeable that the first thing that is discussed when talking about Little is his forward-going qualities, given he is a defender by trade.

When facing his own goal Little can be a problem. He is not a full-back to rely on in a match played on the back-foot. His positioning often questionable and it means that he is often required to use his ample pace to try and recover from a mess that he has put himself in.

At this level, though, he is an excellent player. Britt Assombalonga would have been Posh’s most noticeable star to an outsider, but Little was arguably the best player for the course of the season.

He departs and he will be remembered very fondly at London Road and I’m sure he will become a fans’ favourite at Ashton Gate, too, in time.  Just don’t expect him to do too much defending…”

My thanks to John for this excellent, rounded contribution.  Our defensive woes were well publicised last season and on the face of it this signing does ‘Little’ to address that, but the fact that John believes he was one of their star players – and the way he went past Greg Cunningham seemingly at will last season – promises much on the attack.

From the signings made so far and the players we’ve kept (to date) it looks as if we’re going all guns blazing on the attack.  Of most interest to me with these signings is the formation Cotterill is planning on making the standard next season.  Last year he drifted between variations of 4-4-2 and a 3-5-2, indicating that the players we had in the squad were better suited to the latter.

This summer is his chance to mould the squad how he wants it, which I suspect is a more traditional 4 at the back as a starting point.  However, from the description above, Little seems more suited to playing as a wing-back, whilst it was interesting to note comments made during Freeman’s unveiling where – despite the new man’s natural left wing positioning – Cotterill talked about his ability to play across the front line and possibly in behind the strikers.

One thing is for sure, you can’t play wingers and wing-backs together and I hope we don’t negate Freeman’s attacking instincts by forcing him to think too defensively. It seems the signing splurge is far from over however, so all may become much clearer over the next few weeks.

Are your expectation levels rising sufficiently yet?

The Exiled Robin

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