Monk’s survival job is complete and we now look ahead to next season and a big 3 months for all players, staff and fans alike.
It seems strange that just 12 months ago we were in a very similar situation, yet for me, things seem so much better now. We still have a brand new manager who’s been around a matter of weeks, yet become a fan favourite quickly, a mash-up of players from numerous playing styles and once again we were left to the final 90 minutes of a 46 game campaign to know our fate.
However, the standard of the playing squad has seen unquestioned improvement. Already, in just 11 games, a style has been installed which blues fans can get behind and believe in. The Fulham result and a full house being the culmination of that. Finally, a manager speaking realistically about what changes can occur over a summer without ludicrous overhaul, which many shall blame for the catastrophic events pre-2018.
Looking to next season, thankfully in the Championship, and how recruitment shall, in my opinion, be the only aspect to halt Monk from taking this band of players from last day survival heroes to the top half, or even playoff contenders. When you think the points ratio Monk has managed over his current, however short, tenure would take us to 67 points over a season just 8 off a playoff place, which is something I’m sure we’d all prefer to Sunday’s antics.
As a result, I’ve been doing my research and raking my brain to find who I believe should be Garry’s big targets this Summer attempting to find one across each area of the pitch. Personally, I have always been a big fan of Brentford and their transfer tactics in general where they look to the lower leagues, where prices are lower, wages are lower and yet the quality is still available in abundance. You only have to look at recent signings of Ryan Woods, Romaine Sawyers, Rico Henry, John Egan, Ollie Watkins and the list really does go on for the quality they have found and this is forgetting our raid for Dean, Colin and Jota on deadline day which many said would cripple them.
Now finding a new goalkeeper is not something I expect Garry Monk to see as a primary summer transfer addition, however, if it were, I for one would be overjoyed with the announcement of Dean Henderson. The 21-year-old is currently at Shrewsbury Town on loan from Manchester United and has just picked up the PFA League One Team of the Year award after an outstanding campaign.
He has been a key element of what has taken Shrewsbury from relegation favourites in August to playoff hopefuls come May. I have had the opportunity to witness Shrewsbury first hand this season and Hendersons ability with both distribution and shot stopping was topped by his passion and connection with the locals, who could say no more about their love for him. With rumours circulating about him being at the exit door at United and neither Stockdale or Kuszczak getting any younger, bringing in a player like this now could sort out such an important position for years to come.
Bristol City left-back Joe Bryan and one who Redknapp came so close to signing back in August, is my next transfer target. One of my more longshot signings, but one I believe would lay down a real precedent for the so-called changes Monk plans to make for next season.
Now, don’t read this wrong as we can all agree before that nasty injury, Jonathan Grounds was odds-on favourite to win BCFCs player of the season as a big highlight in an otherwise dismal campaign. However, the man who joined from Oldham on a free may not have the potential to help take us to that next level and so the addition of Bryan would offer us something of a higher calibre while still having the ever-reliable Grounds to keep him in competition for a place. Starting out at Bristol City 7 years ago and him still walking out at Ashton Gate each fortnight shall make drawing him away that little bit harder.
Next is probably my most exciting choice and one I think would revolutionise our midfield. The man in question is 23-year-old Lewis Baker from Chelsea, currently on loan at Middlesbrough, but has had much more successful times at Vitesse. Both moves do however gain my interest for different reasons. First his to Middlesbrough because of whom he sat down with to sign the contract with, who else but our very own Garry Monk. He then moved to sign Baker after the canny signing of Britt Assombolonga from divisional rivals Nottingham Forest, another reason I back the man to be wise within the market.
The next was that while playing within the Eredivise, he made 64 appearances, some 81 less than our own beloved Maikel Kieftenbeld or “Dutch Mike” as he’s well known as. However, he managed a total of 15 goals a strike rate of near to 1 in 4 in comparison to Mike’s 2, a strike rate of 1 in 72.5. That is where the boy becomes “revolutionary” as I stated earlier. Goals and plenty of them in midfield will be key, where blues have so dearly struggled in recent times.
My penultimate choice is Bradley Dack of Blackburn who is coming off the back of a very influential and successful campaign for Blackburn Rovers as they saw an immediate return to Championship football. He is similar to Dean Henderson at the start of this list, who found himself within the PFAs Team of the Season and I for one am not surprised at all.
His 16 goals and 8 assists saw him involved with just under 30% of all Blackburn’s 82 goals for the season, an impressive stat. Again, Dack is only 24-years-old and has plenty of time to progress further and where better than an improving side with a manager implementing a new attacking style and an attacking partner in the shape of Jota? Obviously, had Blackburn missed out on promotion, I’m sure trying to steal him away would have been much easier, but nonetheless in modern day football money talks and I believe in this new side Dack could be the missing link we tried and failed to find in Fabbrini, Shinnie and Stewart, while aiding to push Jota to show us more of what we have begun to see in the last 11 games.
My last name and to many it may come as no surprise, Jack Marriott. The 23-year-old, 27 goal scoring machine has seen links to near every club across the championship and it’s no surprise when you’re scoring as freely as him in a side which can only just about manage top half finishes. As mentioned before, along with Dack and Henderson, he too collected a PFA Team of the Season award, also scooping top goal scorer, finishing well ahead of second place.
Thinking about Blues’ forward line, even as short-term as 2 or 3 months ago, Jukey was written off by many, but now under Monk, no one can deny he’s got enough in his locker to perform again next season, especially if used in a rotational system.
We all know the ability Adams possesses and I still believe there is much more to come from him, especially if he plans to follow many others who have used blues as a stepping stone into the big time. Finally is the ever unfortunate Isaac Vassell, who I’m sure many bluenoses can’t wait to see back in action and if his goal against Sheffield Wednesday was anything to go off, the boy will no doubt score important goals when he returns fully fit next term.
Back to Marriott and how I’m sure many a side shall be having talks within the next couple of months but personally, especially with the loss of Gallagher back to Southampton, if we don’t even look at him as a replacement, I shall be disappointed. A front line of Jukey, Adams, Vassell and Marriott is something I certainly would sign off on for next year.
Whatever happens within the window I have no doubts in Garry Monk and his team to look after us and as he has already said, make a team worth backing and believing in, the likes of which hasn’t existed around blues since the Rowett and before that, even Hughton days. For now bluenoses, enjoy the sun and survival and hopefully see many of you next season, Keep Right On!
Words by @benonslow