Steve Harris – @SteveHarris84
With Connor Lemonheigh-Evans returning to the Gulls on a permanent basis, which takes Gary Johnson’s squad up to 20 players, I will take a look the selection choices open to the United manager in the 2020-21 season.
Since he was appointed as Gulls’ boss in September 2018, Johnson has shown great tactical flexibility, using three different formations – namely 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 3-5-2 – at various times. With the summer signings of Gary Warren, Fraser Kerr, Danny Wright, Andrew Nelson and – most recently – Lemonheigh-Evans now on board, he has option of doing the same again in the forthcoming campaign.
Last season the goalkeeping duties were shared between Brazilian Lucas Covolan and Shaun MacDonald and that looks set to be the case again, with Johnson regarding both of them as first team goalkeepers. It’s a situation that many Gulls’ fans will no doubt remember from the highly successful 2003-04 campaign when Leroy Rosenior had both Kevin Dearden and Arjan Van Heusden to call upon.
In the Gulls’ final three fixtures of the 2019-20 season – FC Halifax (h), Chorley (h) and Sutton United (a) before the suspension of the campaign due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Johnson deployed a centre back trio which consisted of two loan signings Joe Lewis and Robbie Cundy alongside United vice-captain Kyle Cameron. Whilst Lewis and Cundy have returned to their parent clubs – Swansea City and Bristol City respectively – the newly arrived Warren and Kerr appear primed to slot straight into their vacated roles.
Another option open to Johnson – should he decide to opt for a back four – is to play Warren alongside Cameron just as he did during Warren’s four-match loan spell from Exeter City in January-February 2020.
Ben Wynter and Liam Davis are expected to continue their roles at right-back and left-back respectively, and they could also be used as wing-backs if required. In addition to this, young hopefuls Louis Slough and Owen Price – both former South Devon College students – will be aiming to make the most of any opportunities that come their way.
At many of his previous clubs Johnson has been blessed with having a number of talented midfielders at his disposal. In his first spell as Yeovil Town manager he was able to field a midfield quartet which consisted of Gavin Williams, Darren Way, Lee Johnson (his son) and Michael McIndoe, as he took the Glovers to promotion to the Football League in the 2002-03 season. Later in his managerial career, when in charge of Bristol City, Johnson had David Noble, Lee Johnson (again), Alex Russell and Cole Skuse to choose from when he won promotion to the Championship with the Robins in the 2006-07 campaign.
Currently at Plainmoor, Johnson has a roster of midfielders which contains bags of talent and potential in the form of Ben Whitfield, Armani Little, Jake Andrews as well as the recently returned Lemonheigh-Evans. In addition to this, he also has the commanding influence of skipper Asa Hall and Matt Buse, who will be looking to build on a promising first season in full time football following his summer 2019 move from Taunton Town, to call upon.
The aforementioned sextet scored 24 goals in all competitions between them (Whitfield 7, Andrews 6, Hall 4, Little 3, Buse and Lemonheigh-Evans 2 each). If they can repeat that feat, or even better it, in the 2020-21 campaign then United can be amongst the division’s front runners. And then there is JJ Evans, the former South Devon College student who has also represented England Colleges, who Johnson has spoken of as a player with great potential.
On occasions last season Little, Lemonheigh-Evans and Whitfield all played in the number 10 role behind Jamie Reid. Andrews and former Manchester City starlet Aaron Nemane – who is primarily a winger – can also play there as well. With only three strikers under contract for next season so far there is every chance that at least one of them might be deployed in that role again.
Arguably the biggest challenge facing Johnson during the Covid-19 enforced break from football was how to fill a Jamie Reid-shaped space in his forward line, following the decision of United’s leading scorer of the past two seasons to join Mansfield Town.
However, Johnson is hoping to fill the void left by Reid’s move to Field Mill with the acquisition of former Sunderland and Dundee striker Andrew Nelson. Reid struck 52 of the 63 goals he scored in 176 appearances for the Gulls following Johnson’s arrival at Plainmoor, as he joined the list of strikers who have enjoyed an upturn in their fortunes after working with the former Yeovil and Bristol City boss. It’s a list that also features Paddy Madden, who Johnson signed from Carlisle United for £15,000 and later sold to Scunthorpe United for £300,000 after he’d helped the Glovers win an unlikely promotion to the Championship in the 2012-13 season. And then there’s Mo Eisa, who Johnson plucked from non-league side Greenwich Borough while he was in charge of Cheltenham Town before later selling him to Bristol City in a deal worth £1.5million.
Likely to be lining up alongside Nelson will be the experienced figure of Danny Wright, a 36 year-old ‘been there, done it and bought the T-shirt’ centre forward. He was part of Johnson’s Cheltenham side who won the National League title in the 2015-16 season and he was also an FA Trophy winner with Wrexham in 2013. He will be looking to enjoy further success with the Gulls this season.
Last, but by no means least, Olaf Koszela will be hoping to stake a claim for a first team spot. Koszela has been in and around the first team for the few seasons and he scored his first goal for the club shortly United clinched the National League South title in April 2019. He also holds the title of being the first player to have appeared for United who was born after the infamous final day decider against Barnet in 2001.
United squad in full: Goalkeepers: Lucas Covolan, Shaun MacDonald; Defenders: Ben Wynter, Liam Davis, Gary Warren, Fraser Kerr, Kyle Cameron, Louis Slough, Owen Price; Midfielders: Ben Whitfield, Asa Hall, Armani Little, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Matt Buse, Jake Andrews, Aaron Nemane, JJ Evans; Strikers: Danny Wright, Andrew Nelson, Olaf Koszela