I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think we could do both, challenge for promotion and improve our squad at the same time.
We only finished 9 points off the playoffs and that was despite going through a defensive injury crisis, some poor refereeing decisions, the usual mid-season managerial change and having to endure a lot of bang ordinary loan players. I don’t think it would take a lot to get those extra 10 points (automatic promotion may be a different story) at the same time as putting in sensible policies to manage the squad rather than our usual scatter gun approach.
My priorities would be;
1. Assess players in the final year of their contract. It looks like we have a lot of players with only a year left on their contract (18 by my count) so the first thing we should do is to evaluate who we want to keep, who we could get a fee for, who we could loan out for the season and who we could try and pay off. It may be easier than previous summers to get a few of these off our books.
2. Let’s not just make changes for the sake of it. We should accept that not all of our squad (e.g. the likes of Darikwa and Guedioura) are going to rip up the division but also recognise that they are decent squad players at this level. It may be a simple philosophy but we should only get players who are genuine upgrades rather than just get people in to ‘add numbers’.
3. Use loan players wisely. The general standard of players we’ve had on loan in recent years has been poor with a few who have been injured or unfit for their whole spell. Do we actually undertake any scouting or simple medicals of the dross that we get on loan or do we just take any player offered? It actually strikes me as the easiest way to inject quality into the squad so we should make it count.
4. How about we have some more youth players in our squad? We don’t always need several established pros for each position. For example, we currently have Bridcutt as 7th choice in midfield. In the unlikely event that we have 5/6 central midfielders out injured then isn’t there a young player who could come in? It seems ridiculous that we have an under 23 squad (i.e. a squad full of grown men) and they are nowhere near contention for the first team.
5. Overall it would be nice to add some more dynamism and guile into the team. Another attacking wide player who can score goals consistently and a competent right back are the priorities. We have a fairly strong defence to build on.