In itself, the loss of Ashley Westwood doesn't fill me with dread. In context, though, it's a worry.
Westwood is sound, but not irreplaceable. I thought he finished the season playing as well as he ever did for us, but the fact is he's a solid Conference centre back in his mid-thirties, so hardly impossible to replace.
However, when you factor in the number of other defenders we've lost over the Summer, you start to worry. A back four of Spann, Westwood, Assoumani and Taylor in front of Sam Russell is, to a great extent what earned us a club record for least league goals conceded last season, and now they're all gone.
Of those still with us, only Chris Maxwell would be likely to disrupt that line-up, with Curtis Obeng still learning and Frank Sinclair unavailable too often. Hopefully Aaron Brown will decide to stay and lend some stability and continuity to the only part of the side which actually worked last season. It all makes the decision to release Mike Williams look even more ill-advised.
Westwood seemed a contradictory character. His intensity was central to his personality and performance, and could be both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand he was a highly-driven character, whom Saunders singled out at the end of his first season as the only player with a winning mentality. Certainly he had a close relationship with his manager; when injured he'd scout for him and there were rumours from plausible sources after Terry Darracott's departure that Westwood would be installed as his assistant.
However, his will-to-win could spill over in an ugly way. His involvement in the fracas against Barrow at the start of the season didn't look too clever. Admittedly the evidence was circumstantial, but it seemed fairly damning; after an altercation from a corner the Barrow players react furiously, as does their boss, Dave Bayliss, when one of their players loses a tooth. The claim was that Westwood punched him, and the fact that he immediately had to have a gash in his hand bandaged seems to support that claim.
An incident which there was certainly evidence for came during another bout of fisticuffs, following Lamine Sakho's disgraceful behaviour against Hayes and Yeading. The TV footage is damning; as attention was focussed on Sakho following his headbutt, Westwood runs into the crowd, then disappears out of shot, only to return from a different direction, sneaking up behind an opponent to punch him in the back of the head and retreat hurriedly.
It was hardly the actions of a captain, and he was lucky the incident took place in The Conference, where recourse to video evidence is highly unlikely. These weren't isolated instances of indiscipline, and neither was his constant dissent following a yellow card at Luton for complaining to a referee who did him a huge favour by not delivering a second yellow.
So Westwood was prone to errors of judgement, and would make mistakes in his play sometimes, seeming to suffer from lapses of concentration. Yet with so many other effective defenders gone, his loss could be costly. I wouldn't want to mark him when Kettering get a corner against us either!