As the Iron creep closer to safety (two more wins should do it) the attention of supporters and the club start to turn to preparations for next season. A key area for the club to strengthen will be the striker role. Despite having a plethora of strikers on the books this season, quality and fully fit options at Neil Cox’s disposal have been very limited.
Ryan Loft’s place in the squad for 2021/22 is assured with him being under contract and the pick of strikers this season, albeit as the club and supporters know he is far from the finished article in terms of consistency and quality. Kevin van Veen, Olufela Olomola and Kelsey Mooney will all be out of contract in June with the prospect of renewals for each of them looking doubtful. Cult-hero Van Veen has struggled for fitness and form this term, accordingly, there is a strong case to be made that it is time to part ways and re-allocate his high wage across the squad. Barring a purple patch in the next month, a renewal for Olomola sadly looks hard to justify given his injury troubles and the need to spend a tight budget wisely. Kelsey Mooney should already have cleared out his locker at the Sands Venue Stadium after failing to make any kind of impression at the club.
Other curious Summer 2020 signings, Kenan Dunnwald-Turan and Aaron Jarvis both have one more year on their deals. However, the German, Dunnwald-Turan, is clearly surplus to requirements and will likely be moved on somehow. Jarvis has made more of an impact but has not shown enough to inspire confidence that he will serve up 10-20 goals next season. Perhaps a loan spell in the National League would suit all parties?
On the assumption that Loft plus one of the other strikers currently at the club are still on the books next season, it’s clear that the Iron will need to be in the market for at least two new strikers over the summer. With finances no doubt again at a premium here are five options for the Swann and Swann (SAS) scouting duo to consider alongside manager Neil Cox. These candidates are all under 25 and have scope for improvement in their games to become an asset to the club should they prove successful.
THE PROLIFIC IN NON-LEAGUE OPTION – Kabongo Tshimanaga, 23, Boreham Wood
An obvious pick to those who keep an eye on the scoring charts in the National League and will likely have a queue of suitors when his contract expires in the summer. Tshimanga failed to make the grade at MK Dons (2014-17) but found his feet at Boston United and Oxford City in non-league, plundering 24 goals in 42 League appearances for City.
Tshimanga joined ‘The Wood’ in 2019 and has since fired 31 goals in 70 League appearances. Average in height, but with a powerful build, the forward is mobile enough to cause problems without being electric in pace. A good all rounder, he has developed his hold up and link up play in the last 18 months and acts as a focal point for the team to good effect. An excellent finisher when 1v1 with the goalkeeper and adept at finding the net given space on the edge of box. More than just a poacher.
A good age and has fire in his belly to get back in the Football League and prove himself. Flexible enough to play as a lone striker or in a two with Loft.
THE OUT OF FAVOUR OPTION – Luke Armstrong, 24, Salford City (on loan at Hartlepool United)
An ex Middlesbrough youth, Armstrong had impressive loan spells at Gateshead (10 goals in 18 games) and Accrington Stanley in League 1 which earned him a permanent move to League 2 big spenders Salford City in 2019. At Salford his career has stalled and in December 2020 he was loaned back to his native north-east with Hartlepool United in the National League. At Victoria Park, Armstrong has re-discovered his confidence and his form in front of goal, netting 11 times in 21 appearances.
A mobile and high energy striker, Armstrong combines goals with hustle and bustle to win the ball and unsettle the opposition. A decent height and has presence, but not a long ball target man merchant. Armstrong gets his goals in the penalty area with his poaching prowess and subtle movement. Has shown versatility to play in wide areas, but at his best paired with a striker through the middle.
Under contract at Salford until 2022, he would likely command a fee, but could be prized away given the number of forwards on their books and the lofty ambitions of the owners.
THE OUT OF CONTRACT OPTION – Josh March, 24, Forest Green Rovers
A prolific goal scorer in the non-league with Alvechurch and Leamington, March earned a move to Football League with Forest Green in January 2020. Having struggled to break into the FGR team this term, March signed on loan at Harrogate Town for the remainder of the season in January 2021. March has impressed finding the net 5 times in 10 starts. Mobile with the ability to run at a defense or get in behind. A strong finisher from close range, but disappointing when competing in the air. Put in a bright performance at the Sands Venue Stadium in February, winning a controversial penalty and then converting it with aplomb. Like Armstrong, March brings confidence, goal threat and energy to a forward line and would play well in a two-up top.
A big caveat with March is a current knee injury which has cut short his loan stint at Harrogate. According to reports, surgery on his knee is not required, but his injury does bring an element of risk to any deal for the forward who is out of contract this summer.
THE UNTAPPED POTENTIAL OPTION – Harvey Knibbs, 21, Cambridge United
A relative unknown to even keen League 2 fans, the mention of Knibbs in this article may raise eyebrows. Knibbs turned professional at Aston Villa before signing at Cambridge in 2019/20. In his first season at The Abbey, Knibbs grabbed six goals in 24 appearances, (12 of these appearances were starts) and was promptly given a new three-year deal.
Despite having a lengthy new deal in his back pocket, the 2020/21 campaign has followed in a similar vein for Knibbs with him being largely restricted to appearances from the bench due to the excellent form of Joe Ironside and the red-hot Paul Mullin. With Cambridge seemingly destined for promotion this term, will Knibbs have a future at The Abbey next season?
A mobile forward, decent with either foot, Knibbs seems to get all his goals inside the six-yard box. Lacks a bit of bulk and strength 1v1 – but has a good frame and long stride to suggest some power could be added to his game in the future. Knibbs is raw and not without his faults, but his goals record and age demonstrate clear potential which is currently going largely untapped.
THE LOAN OPTION – Isaac Olaofe, 21, Millwall (on loan at Sutton United)
In the midst of a successful loan spell at highflying Sutton United, Olaofe is a raw and pacey option to monitor in the closing weeks of the season. After a nondescript loan spell at St Johnstone at the start of this season, Olaofe moved to Sutton in October where he has since notched 10 times in 27 appearances.
A powerful and direct runner, he can stretch play on the break and get in behind a defense. Sharp in the penalty box to sniff out loose balls and has the desire in his play to work a defence when out of possession. Work to do on his touch and decision making in open play but could fit the bill with his pace and impact in the final third.
Yet to make an appearance for his parent club Millwall having signed an undisclosed length contract extension in Summer 2020. A cheap out of contract or loan option to consider for the 2021/22 campaign. An impact sub type punt.