The best summer signings of the EFL so far this season

We’re eight games into the EFL season – here’s our round-up of the top 10 best signing of the season so far.

  1. David Forde – Goalkeeper – Cambridge United

There were stages at Portsmouth last season where it looked like David Forde’s age might have been catching up with him. He lost some of his agile reflexes, evidenced by a slow attempt to save a free-kick at Barnet and his performance at Doncaster, not helped by a minor hip injury. Since he has joined Cambridge United though, he has looked like a goalkeeper that has played in the Championship within the last three years. He has helped the U’s keep four clean sheets in their first seven games and put in a man of the match performance on Saturday in the 2-1 win over Coventry, which saw him let in just one of nine shots on target. This is Forde’s 18th season in professional football, but his displays at the Abbey prove there’s life in the old dog yet.

Farrend Rawson – Centre-back – Accrington Stanley

Had Farrend Rawson been in Derby’s squad during the era of Nigel Clough, who habitually promoted youth there, he might have had some game time. Instead, the academy graduate became available at a time when the Rams were targeting promotion to the Premier League, with less scope for experimentation. His career has therefore suffered with a series of brief loan moves, but half a season or more of regular football in League Two offers him an opportunity to re-build his career. He could not be guided by a better manager at that level than John Coleman, who continually finds good replacements for key players. Accrington Stanley lost their best centre-back, Omar Beckles, but Rawson’s performances means he hasn’t been missed.

  1. Rory McArdle -Centre-back – Scunthorpe United

There’s not many teams that can have just four shots in 90 minutes and still win the game, but that list includes any side managed by Graham Alexander. His Scunthorpe outfit did so in a 1-0 win at Doncaster on Sunday, meaning that since he took charge, they haveconceded just 61 goals in 63 games. This season specifically, it’s only three in eight, with opposing sides managing on average three shots on target per game.

Those statistics speak volumes for an Iron defence, which has benefited from tactical consistency. Three of the back-four that kept Donny out were also in South Yorkshire 18 months ago for a 0-0 draw at Barnsley, in Alexander’s first match in charge. The only real change in that time has been the departure of centre-back David Mirfin, who has been replaced by the outstanding Rory McArdle.

Throughout his career, McArdle has always benefited from playing alongside an excellent centre-back. From Andrew Davies, Reece Burke and Nat Knight-Percival respectively in each of the last three years at Bradford, to Murray Wallace now at Glanford Park. Wallace himself was a model of consistency last term and if the defensive duo can stay fit, not many teams will get past them.

Michael Doyle – Midfielder – Coventry City

The arrival of Michael Doyle epitomized the changes that Mark Robins made to his Coventry City squad this summer. We saw budding technicians like Gael Bigirimana and Ruben Lameiras leave while Ben Stevenson has played just 30 minutes of League Two action. Instead, Robins wanted experienced, battle-hardened professionals capable of handling the physical aspect of League Two, giving his side a base from which to build.

Along with Liam Kelly, the one stand-out performer in Leyton Orient’s relegated side last year, Doyle ticks all those boxes. He captained Sheffield United to the League One play-offs, Portsmouth to the League Two title and already has an affinity with the fans due to his eight-year tenure at the club previously.

The veteran provides excellent protection for a young defence and is one of the main reasons why the Sky Blues have conceded just five goals in eight games.

  1. Darren Randolph – Goalkeeper – Middlesbrough

There were many West Ham fans who felt early last season that Darren Randolph had deserved a run of games, given Adrian San Miguel’s shaky form. He got his chance between November and April, putting in a man-of-the-match performance at Manchester United and keeping clean sheets against Swansea, Crystal Palace, Hull and Burnley. He has played in the Europa League, in the European Championships with Ireland and at 30, is the perfect age for a goalkeeper.

Randolph has proved his pedigree, keeping Aston Villa at bay when they had a man advantage for 60 minutes. He also performed well at home to Preston, when the outfield players didn’t feel comfortable with the three-at-the-back system that was being tried for the first time. Those clean sheets are two of five that he has kept in eight games and his capacity to make key saves means Boro take the odd point when they play badly. Early indications are that there is room for improvement on the attacking side of their game, but Randolph’s performances buys them extra time to get things right.

  1. Jimmy Ryan – Midfielder – Blackpool

Long regarded as one of the best passers of a ball in League One, Jimmy Ryan’s arrival represented a coup for Blackpool.

The Seasiders only secured their play-off place in the division below on the final day last season, then won promotion after two touch-and-go encounters with Luton and Exeter. They deserved to go up, but they did it with a system that didn’t necessarily lend itself to a deep-lying playmaker. With a 3-5-2 in the second half of the season, they would get the ball out to their wing-backs or to Brad Potts and play early passes into their front men, attacking in the transitional phases.

This season, the Seasiders have had more possession than their opponents in four of their last five games, which shows that the ex-Chesterfield midfielder has added some composure to the team’s play. Not only that, he scored a 20-yard drive at Plymouth on Tuesday, capping an excellent start to the campaign. Blackpool are evolving and Ryan has been key.

  1. Jon Nolan – Midfielder – Shrewsbury Town

Last season, Paul Hurst signed Aristote Nsiala, who had recently struggled at Hartlepool in the division below. However, Hurst had already built up a relationship with Nsiala previously at Grimsby and the centre-back played with a lot more confidence under his new boss, as Shrewsbury Town avoided relegation.

This season, the ex-Mariners manager is getting the best out of another former player, Jon Nolan. The midfielder had struggled at bottom-of-the-table Chesterfield the year before, not helped by injuries and a few disciplinary issues. However, Hurst showed enough confidence in him to give him a three year deal this summer and his faith has been repaid. The midfielder has consistently run the show with his impressive technical ability for Salop, who have been transformed from relegation struggles to top six contenders. Nolan’s performances says as much about Hurst’s man management as it does about the player himself.

  1. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing – Winger – Cardiff City

The winger’s ability has always been visible, going back to his Championship days with Peterborough United, but a combination of problems including injuries saw him fall out of favour.

Thanks to the excellent man management of Keith Hill however, Mendez-Laing re-built his career with some excellent performances for Rochdale. The 24-year-old’s speed and physicality struck fear into most third tier full-backs, due to his confidence in knocking the ball beyond his opponent and getting to the other side in a flash. That talent not only helped create openings but also forced opposing sides back, thus creating space for other midfielders.

Those qualities were missing last season at Cardiff, who had scored the Championship’s sixth-fewest goals from open play. So far this year, they have scored the fourth-most, with only Forest and Middlesbrough having made more dribbles per game than their 11.8. Neil Warnock’s side have also had the joint-most shots on target per game with six, refuting any pre-season fears of defensive football.

The pace of Mendez-Laing, fellow wide-man Junior Hoilett and striker Kenneth Zahore means Cardiff are second with the third lowest possession. Full-backs, watch out.

  1. Jack Marriott – Striker – Peterborough United

Speak to Luton Town fans and they will say that Jack Marriott would not necessarily have been first choice going into this campaign. His sale was a makeweight for the signing of James Collins and there is reason to think the Hatters could have kept him had they been committed to making him first choice.

The striker’s form in the division above therefore is quite surprising. He has scored six goals in 605 minutes of football for Peterborough United – that’s one every 101 minutes – but he brings more to the table than just goals. Marriott looks like he has been let off the leash, epitomizing the freedom with which Posh now play. He uses his speed and tenacity to hassle defenders and break into goalscoring positions or create space for other players.

He has been helped by the strength, clever movement and impressive link-up play of strike-partner Junior Morias. The ex-St Albans striker would have added to his two-goal tally by scoring the winner at Walsall on Saturday, were it not for an incorrect offside decision. The duo have found form partly due to the performances of Marcus Maddison, who has often been man-marked, creating space for other attacking players. Marriott though has made the most of the creativity around him.

  1. Diogo Jota – Forward – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves signed 17 new players this summer thanks to Jorge Mendes – another super-agent, Jon Smith, discusses the difficulties of football transfer business in an ever changing market. The headlines this summer were dominated by Ruben Neves, the star bound 22-year-old who signed from Champions League side Porto in the summer due to JMendes’ influence.

Neves has been excellent in midfield with some wonderfully graceful passes into wide areas, but a lower-profile addition of Diogo Jota has been equally impressive. Against Millwall, he scored a wonderful solo goal and showed plenty of skill and flair which caught the imagination of the home faithful. The Atletico Madrid loanee now has five goals in eight Championship games, making him the joint-second top scorer in the division. That is especially impressive considering that he has never played as an out-and-out striker and offers much more to his game than goals. He has completed the fourth most successful dribbles in the league (22) and can pick out clever through balls.