NEW managers, squad reshuffles and protracted transfer sagas – it’s been an eventful pre-season across the South Yorkshire Times area. But now the talking can finally stop as the 2011-12 Football League season gets underway on Saturday.
Rotherham entertain Oxford, Barnsley travel to Nottingham Forest and Doncsater Rovers have the honour of being the first visitors to Brighton’s new stadium.
Rotherham’s squad reconstruction continued this week as Tom Pope was allowed to leave on a free transfer, returning to Port Vale where he enjoyed a successful loan spell last season.
The Millers have undergone root-and-branch reconstruction since Andy Scott took over, with new recruits in all areas of the park.
With Adam Le Fondre attracting interest from higher divisions, and unlikely to remain at the Don Valley Stadium beyond the transfer window, Scott raided former club Brentford for striker Lewis Grabban and made eight other signings in a busy close season.
Barnsley’s latest batch of signings came when Keith Hill made a double swoop on Rochdale for 23-year-old midfielder Matt Done and 25-year-old defender Scott Wiseman, having also secured the signature of Brighton left-back Jimmy McNulty for a five-figure fee and utility man Miles Addison, who joins on loan from Derby County.
And target man Craig Davies, who made the switch to Oakwell from near neighbours Chesterfield, made an impressive case for a place in the starting 11, scoring a brace as the Reds beat Scunthorpe 5-0 in their penultimate friendly match on Saturday.
After that match, Hill said: “The real season starts at Nottingham Forest and we are excited about it.
“The balance is good, but there has to be a bravery from the players and there has got to be a patience from the supporters and from myself and those connected with the football club for the type of style I am searching for and expect the lads to play in.
“I’m after this possession football with an end product and we are getting that.
“It’s working well at the moment, but the real test won’t be Nottingham Forest, it will be the next 46 games.”
Doncaster Rovers are among the bookies’ favourites to be relegated from a strong division, but Sean O’Driscoll will be quietly confident of bucking that expectation after managing to keep hold of his most prized players and add new faces in key areas – most recently versatile Spurs youngster Ryan Mason who joined this week on a season-long loan.
The 20 year-old former England Under-19 international impressed the Rovers’ management in the closing weeks of the season after they elected to start with him in their battle against relegation.
“Hopefully I can get a few more opportunities this season,” said the London-based player.
“The gaffer and Richard O’Kelly were keen to get me back and they showed a lot of interest so it was a no brainer to come back up here.
“I enjoyed it last season; it was a good experience. I like the way the team play and I’m hoping to get as much game time as possible.”
Mason made his seasonal debut for Rovers in Friday’s final warm-up, a 3-0 win against Grimsby at Blundell Park, and it was as if he’d never been away.
“I thought I fitted in quite well,” he said, “I knew most of the lads from last season so it wasn’t a problem at all.
“There were also quite a few new players and I was very impressed with them. I think the club needed to add to their squad and hopefully improve the competition for places.”
Meanwhile midfielder Dean Shiels has been allowed to leave the Keepmoat on loan, joining Scottish Premier League outfit Kilmarnock – managed by his dad Kenny – until January.
n See Page 43 for starts and previews for all Saturday’s matches.