Football: Waddock gets his menBy Charlie Oliver
July 30, 2009
IT’S been a battling summer for Gary Waddock but the impecunious Aldershot Town manager has at last found sufficient funds to add to his squad.
In the last week, Waddock has signed as many as four players, in the wake of Nikki Bull’s shock departure. He now has 19 contracted players at the club.
In have come goalkeeper Clark Masters, defenders Ben Herd and Adam Hinshelwood and holding midfielder John Halls.
All three of the outfield players had impressed over the last week in pre-season — even if only Herd emerged with much credit from Tuesday evening’s 1-0 friendly defeat at Woking — and it was clear that Waddock, after working so hard to bring them to Aldershot on trial, was keen to sign them before other clubs could come gazumping.
The signings are, indeed, something of a coup, given that Herd, at just 24, has 150-odd appearances in the Football League to his name, while Halls and Hinshelwood, the 25-year-old former Brighton & Hove Albion player, have both played at a higher level.
Halls, who is 27, has, albeit briefly, played as high as the Premier League, for Reading, as well as learning his trade as a youth player at Arsenal.
Hinshelwood, who puts Chris Blackburn’s place in the team under threat, has signed a one-year deal, as has Masters, while Halls and Herd have joined for two.
“It’s been a busy summer,” said Waddock, “It’s been a battle to try to improve the quality of the squad, given the budget.
“But I don’t mind battles. I’ve had a few in my career. Martin Kuhl and I have worked very hard over the summer and I’m delighted that we have signed the players.
“It’s clear that they are good ones,” added Waddock. “For us to be able to get them into our club is a big achievement and I am pleased that they have committed. They have a lot of quality and know the Football League well.
“Now we have to make sure that we pick up points, with them on board, starting against Darlington."
That first League Two match of the season is just nine days away, with one last pre-season friendly, against a Chelsea XI, on Saturday at the Rec (3pm kick-off) to come.
Darlington have far more pressing financial concerns than Waddock but the manager said that he was still governed by a tight budget and any new recruits are unlikely before the Darlington match.
The squad is crying out for more quality and options up front, with neither John Grant nor Marvin Morgan looking especially effective as the one central striker, in the new formation Waddock continues to use in pre-season.
“The squad is improving but we can only do what we can do,” said Waddock.
“I’m happy with the squad I’ve got. There are areas we want to work on and improve but the budget dictates that.
“Yes, of course I would like to bring in another forward. We only have three on the books,” he said. "But strikers cost a lot of money. And we haven’t got that money.”
If the players’ transfer fund company, proposed by club press officer Nick Fryer, could be set up, then Waddock might just have enough money to bring in another forward before the transfer window closes at the end of August.
But the latest news on that front is that the Football League are still at least a fortnight away from making a decision as to whether the scheme meets their approval.
Increasingly it looks like bureaucracy will dictate that, even if the company gets the go-ahead, Waddock may not have use of any money until the January transfer window, although the loan window does, at least, stay open beyond August.
So, for now, it looks like Waddock’s squad has been finalised ahead of the big kick-off.
It is no surprise that Waddock’s recruits are defensive-minded players; they come more cheaply, for a start, but the manager has clearly recognised that last season’s open style of play and weak defending left the side far too exposed, hence the many goals conceding and the string of away defeats.
Whether the new system will go too far the other way, at the expense of the free-scoring play that has brought Waddock success, remains to be seen.
Judging from the pre-season matches, Herd looks a fine answer to the year-long right-back problem, while Halls will start in midfield, sweeping in front of the back four, probably with Ben Harding and Lewis Chalmers in front of him in the middle.
It is a new role for Halls, who has played at right back for most of his career.
“It’s not a role I have played a lot in my career but it’s been really enjoyable,” said Halls, speaking after the defeat to Woking.
“I like the role a lot. When the system works, we should get some space in midfield and that is when we need to exploit teams.
“It does leave us a bit short up front but we can work on that. From talking to the boys about last season, we are already more solid. The extra man [in midfield] does give stability.”
Halls was part of the Brentford squad that won League Two last season and The Shots’ new recruit compared his new squad favourably with his old one.
“Player-wise, I think we have as good a set of players as Brentford had,” said Halls. “We just need to be organised. Clean sheets are vital. When you’re not playing well you need to grind out results. If we can do that, as well as playing with a bit of style at other times, we can do well.”
Herd has been involved in two play-off campaigns for Shrewsbury and he too thinks that he has arrived at a club with plenty of quality within it.
“Ability wise, I think our squad is better than the first Shrewsbury squad I reached the play-offs with and, possibly, it matches last season’s too,” Herd said.
“If you can cut out mistakes at this level and are solid and compact, then anything is possible. I believe if we continue to play the right way and stick to it, we are heading in the right direction. I think we can do OK. Long-term, I think we can do well.
“We’ve signed players who have played at a higher level. It reflects the times; clubs have quite a bit of power with lots of players around who are out of contract. It’s a prime time for clubs to nick players that they might not have been able to get a few years ago.”
To that end, Herd is quietly confident that Aldershot can make a good impression on League Two this season — a happening that did not look too likely on the evidence of Tuesday’s defeat at Woking.
But Waddock, quite rightly, pointed out that his side had scored three times against £25million worth of Tottenham talent a week before; in essence, the results in pre-season mean nothing. Besides, Waddock started with Louie Soares and Anthony Straker in central midfield, so it was hardly a first-choice XI.
In the event, in a tame match, Delano Sam-Yorke ran clean through to score the only goal on ten minutes.
Masters, the 22-year-old former Brentford and Southend United player, looked confident in goal, with some excellent catches, throws and, most notably, kicks.
Lewis Chalmers, Scott Donnelly and Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz missed the game but Waddock said they would all be fit for the Darlington game.
Not so Dean Howell, who may be out for a few months with a hip problem.
Waddock confirmed that he will not be offering a deal to right back Carl Martin, who had also been trialling with the club.
"He is a player I really like but finances dictate and we just can't run with two right backs in the squad. Pray God nothing happens to Ben Herd but we do have cover in the squad in that position," said Waddock.
Halls, Blackburn, Soares, Hinshelwood and Chalmers have all played at right back in their professional careers.