With the new season a month away, manager Eddie Howe is making sound decisions in the transfer market and adding well to what proved itself to be a top-half squad last term.
Howe has stuck with his policy of signing young, relatively inexperienced players with lots of potential. So far Luke O’Neill, George Porter and Joseph Mills have joined the club with Mills being the oldest of the trio at 22 years of age.
What is more encouraging is that Howe is signing players in the positions we need them; too often in the transfer market in recent years we have brought in players whose positions are already filled, leaving the side weak in other areas of the field.
O’Neill arrives with a good reputation from Mansfield Town and although he is unlikely to force Kieran Trippier out of the side at right back, his versatility across the defence will be important in what is likely to be another small squad in comparison to other Championship clubs.
Mills, signed on loan for a year from Reading, is more experienced at Championship level and is likely to challenge with Danny Lafferty for the left back role. Towards the end of last season this was a real problem position for us, with Ben Mee – a centre half who lacks the pace required at full back – filling in for long periods before injury meant Ross Wallace was forced into emergency cover for the final few games.
Porter arrives from Leyton Orient to add competition to the wide midfield places, another area of the field where I felt we were lacking last season. Junior Stanislas was erratic at times last term, which led to frustration building in the stands. Josh McQuoid, asked to fill a wide berth for much of last year, performed manfully but has since left the club, as has Zavon Hines, who was restricted to five-minute substitute appearances at most.
Despite these youngsters arriving, the most encouraging signing for me so far has been Jason Shackell. We have been crying out for a solid, consistent centre half for years and I rate Shackell as one of the best defenders in the Championship. We had to fend off a handful of other clubs for his signature and it is excellent to see us filling such an important position with someone with Shackell’s experience.
We have struggled for a reliable centre half partnership in recent years with Andre Bikey, Clarke Carlisle and Steven Caldwell among those to have come and gone without really nailing a place down for any length of time. Michael Duff has been given a new one-year contract, which he thoroughly deserves for his performances last year, and David Edgar really grew into the side alongside him.
After paying Derby County just over £1million for Shackell (a bargain) I would be astounded if he is not in the starting eleven for the first game of the season, probably alongside Edgar. I think that Duff has one more season of Championship football in him, and this could be the year that he finds himself doing more watching than playing.
In terms of other positions, I would like to see us bring in another striker who will challenge Danny Ings and Charlie Austin for their starting roles. I am also desperate for us to sign a creative midfielder.
Last season, with Chris McCann and Dean Marney in the middle we looked strong and up for the battle, but when we got the ball down we looked short of ideas. I think the addition of a creative midfielder, with that ability to play the final killer ball, could prove the big difference between this season and the last.