KEITH Lowe believes his former Cheltenham Town team-mates Russell Penn and Luke Summerfield can re-establish themselves as SkyBet League Two’s best midfield partnership.
The York City centre-back played behind Penn and Summerfield during the 2011/12 season when Cheltenham were only denied promotion after being beaten in the play-off final by Crewe.
Two years on, the shaven-haired duo have been reunited at Bootham Crescent and Lowe is looking forward to the possibility of the pair lining up alongside each other again.
He said: “I don’t want to curse anything but I think you would go a long way to find any better two central midfielders in our league and, having played with them before, I am really excited to see what they can do in this league again.”
Lowe is less familiar with new full-backs Marvin McCoy and Femi Ilesanmi but, on first impressions reckons, they are equipped to replace departed stalwarts Lanre Oyebanjo and Ben Davies.
City supporters’ Player of the Year Oyebanjo will kick off next season at Crawley, while Young Player of the Year Davies is now hoping to break through at parent club Preston but, on the summer’s back-four additions, Lowe reasoned: “They have big boots to fill because Ben and Banj did unbelievably well last season but they have both done well themselves during the first two pre-season games and have gelled with everyone in training.
“They are big, strong and quick and have that ability to put the ball in behind defences. They are also taking on board all the information the gaffer is giving to them and putting it into practice.”
Lowe is happy, too, to play in front of whoever City boss Nigel Worthington picks in goal next season with Michael Ingham and Jason Mooney both vying for the gloves.
On that contest, the 28-year-old defender ventured: “I don’t envy the gaffer having to pick between Jason and Inghy. I’m happy to leave that one to him and I will have full confidence in whoever the gaffer picks.”
Nor does Lowe believe his own place is assured despite lifting The Press Player of the Year award last term after forging a terrific central-defensive partnership with John McCombe during the second half of the campaign.
Dave Winfield has since been drafted in from Shrewsbury and, having lined up alongside him for the first hour of Tuesday’s 4-0 friendly win against Raith, Lowe was suitably impressed, adding: “He’s a good player and that’s why he’s been brought to the club.
“He’s very strong and good in the air. Me and John are not taking anything for granted because, with Dan (Parslow) as well, we have got four decent centre halves who can all play in the team.
“That means everyone has got to put everything into pre-season to try and get their shirts for August 9.”
Lowe also played the whole 90 minutes of City’s opening pre-season match – a 2-0 home reverse against Sheffield Wednesday – so was pleased with the progress shown during the first game of the club’s Scotland tour.
“I think we are growing into the pre-season,” he reasoned. “The second game was a lot better albeit, with all due respect, against lesser opposition, but we showed what we are all about and squeezed the life out of Raith really.”
Lowe now feels the squad are reaping the rewards from a demanding approach to pre-season training that led him to post on his Twitter account that one particular double session represented his “hardest day in football”.
“That was a really tough Monday,” he recalled. “But all the lads came back from the summer really fit and the scores and times from the running tests have been unbelievable. It’s been a good start to what will, hopefully, be a very good season.”
Lowe also believes this week’s seven-day training camp in Scotland has helped avoid monotony and bed in the new signings, explaining: “Everybody has been in close contact and that has helped everyone get to know the new lads.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s nice to have a change of scenery and get away. It can be a tough pre-season, otherwise, being in the same place working hard for four or five weeks.
“The pitches we are training and playing on have been great and the hotel is really nice. I’ve certainly been to a lot worse places as a player.”
Lowe went on to express his admiration, too, for the 70 City fans who made the midweek trek to Raith, admitting: “I was surprised by that but I shouldn’t have been after the away support we had last season.
“To come all that way, though, and sing their hearts out throughout the game and be louder than the home fans was great.
“I was just glad we got a good result to send them home happy. Any kind of support is really appreciated but, when fans travel that far and spend that kind of money, you want to do your best for them.”
That best, after three failed play-off tilts in as many years for Lowe, would be automatic promotion but the ex-QPR and Wolves defender wants what happened to his old club Cheltenham last season to serve as a word of caution.
The Robins followed up two consecutive top-seven campaigns with a poor start to 2013/14 and then never recovered, finishing in a disappointing 17th place after Lowe left in mid-November.
Commenting on his hopes for 2014/15, the 6ft 2in defender said: “We want to get promoted.
“The only worry I would have is that expectation is going to be high and I have seen that happen before and not quite work out. There are some massive clubs in this league next season and I think it could be very tight again.
“We have brought in eight new players and every other club will have done something similar so, each season should be treated totally separate to the last one but, hopefully, we can carry our winning mentality and momentum from last season into the new one.”