Friday, January 06, 2012

View from the Home End

As January is now upon us, it's time to cast a quick eye over the squad and what we might look for during the remaining 25 days of the transfer window.

Over the summer, we spent a lot of time fretting that our number 9 shirt remained vacant, and that remains the case. However, despite clearly acknowledging that we're still a striker light of the perfect balance, the recent collapse of our move for Modibo Maiga due to a failed medical and the fact that we currently appear to lack a back-up plan mean that, in all probability, the shirt will remain empty until the summer at least.

Fortunately, over the first half of the season Demba Ba has risen to the challenge of providing the goals we've needed. However, with the Senalgalese striker now heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations it's to be hoped that firstly he returns unscathed in due course and secondly that in his absence Big Lad, O'Best and HBA can fill the void, in much the same way as O'Best, Big Lad and Peter Lovenkrands did once Rocky departed last season.

What the last few weeks have demonstrated is that once you scratch the surface of our first-choice defence, the back-up options are decidedly limited. While the return of Mike Williamson is a welcome boost, with Saylor out for the rest of the season we're only one injury away from seeing James Perch restored to the first team. Enthusiastic though he may be, I don't think anyone can argue that he is a Premier League class centre-half and with Tamas Kadar evidently out of favour (presumably terminally) our top priority must be a centre-half.

As Ben highlighted the other day, we appear conscious of that shortcoming and names in the frame include James Tomkins of West Ham (reportedly subject of a £4million bid - even if The Two Unfortunates recently rated him as not ready for the top flight) or Liam Ridgewell of Birmingham City (maybe with the Lone Ranger going the other way). Certainly either would represent a step up from Perch and wouldn't demand massive wages or command huge transfer fees - which seems to fit within our general recruitment strategy. Sadly one player who doesn't seem to be in the mix is Nedum Onuoha, with QPR and Wolves fighting over a player I think would provide solid cover for our defence.

On the flanks, Danny Simpson, Raylor and Davide Santon all look solid enough and if necessary Perch at least looks marginally less exposed when deployed at full-back (albeit I don't think he's good enough to play there, or in midfield either and should be encouraged to find new employment as soon as we have cover in place). So I doubt we'll be adding a full-back unless a vacancy suddenly arises because we sell Simpson.

Illustrating that we're still heavily involved in France, and also willing to move if we spot potentially available talent, the club have also had a recent bid rejected for Benjamin Corgnet. Whether we go back in for the player later in the summer will be interesting to see, but presumably with Mr T away and Danny Guthrie injured, Dan Gosling and Mehdi Abeid will be given a chance to partner Dreamboat in central midfield over the next few weeks.

As last January demonstrated, this transfer window is not so much about who we can bring in (although if we don't sign defensive cover I think we could be running a very strong risk of throwing away our excellent start to the season), but more about who we can hang on to. Whispers of clubs sniffing around our squad are understandable given our strong form and obvious willingness to sell anyone if the price is right (even if the Rocky deal looks better and better with each game he plays for Liverpool).

As such, if we can keep hold of Messrs Krul, Dreamboat, Mr T, Sideshow Bob and Ba, I think we'll have done well. Perhaps a more likely departee would be Simpson, who we apparently nearly sold to Aston Villa in August, and whose contract negotiations are at an impasse. With Santon perhaps cover at right-back we could survive his loss, but I'd be sorry to see Simpson go without a replacement coming in.

One player we could afford to lose is Alan Smith, with the player continuing to kick his heels and pick up a hefty wage. Fraser Forster is, in all probability, likely to join Celtic either now or in the summer, so it wouldn't be a surprise if that move was finalised, and reports suggest we're about to allow Steve Harper another loan spell in the Championship. Given Rob Elliot's pretty terrible display away to Forest in the League Cup, it's to be hoped that if we have to turn to him again, should Krul be injured or sent off, he'll make a better fist of his opportunity.

Really, it's a simple message to the club: buy a centre-half and, if you have to sell anyone, let it be Alan Smith.

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