Stuart McCall admitted that swinging the axe through the City squad was his toughest job as a manager.

Eddie Johnson headed a hit-list of 13 players released by McCall during a three-hour culling session at Valley Parade yesterday.

Darren Williams, Paul Evans, Tom Penford and Alex Rhodes have also gone along with Craig Bentham, Scott Phelan and youngsters David Brown, Damian Hopkins and Luke Morgan. All three contracted keepers - Donovan Ricketts, Ben Saynor and Jamie Waite - have been released.

Barry Conlon and Kyle Nix were the only remaining out-of-contract regulars to be offered new deals but McCall also hopes to keep Luke Medley, Luke O'Brien and Sean Taylforth.

McCall said there were some knife-edge calls on both sides, particularly with Johnson, who had made 71 City appearances since Colin Todd signed him instead of Luke Beckett in 2006.

"I've only been here a year but you get to build up a rapport with people and a close relationship," said McCall. "It is tough when you know a lot of the lads want to be here.

"It went right down to the wire with Eddie. He's got terrific energy, a good engine and has enjoyed himself at this club.

"It was touch and go with him in midfield at the start of the season but he had a stormer at Lincoln and was feeling his way into the position. Unfortunately he then got the disc problem and missed two months - and never came back the same player.

"If we hadn't had Lee Bullock already on the books as an attacking midfielder I might have offered Eddie something. He will make a living in the game because of his technical ability but he needs to nail down a position."

McCall intends to beef up the spine of the team for next term, targeting two goalkeepers, a central defender to succeed David Wetherall, a midfield "leader" and another striker. He will also be looking for a right back to replace Williams.

Nix has earned his deal after winning over McCall with his non-stop enthusiasm, as well as chipping in with eight goals from midfield.

McCall added: "Kyle is an infectious character on and off the pitch and sometimes he will lift training for us. He's got a great all-round attitude to succeed and has been one of the bright spots of the season."

Conlon has also been given the carrot of a fresh deal - but his manager wants to see the Irishman hit the net more often.

"You bring in strikers to score goals and it doesn't take a genius to see Baz hasn't produced enough. He will be the first to admit that.

"But he has given everything and does bring other things to the team. I've had Neil Shipperley at Sheffield United and he was at Crystal Palace when Andy Johnson was scoring for fun - sometimes you need a foil to play with.

"I know how highly Peter Thorne rates playing with him and he does take the burden off other strikers. Paul Ince was saying on Saturday how Baz had given his defence a really hard time.

"If Baz had chipped in with 15 goals, it would have been a no-brainer. If he accepts the deal, and it's not the greatest offer in the world, the bottom line is that I need him to score more."

  • Start or join a debate on this issue in our online forum - Click here