The January transfer window, seemingly dreaded by most people involved, drew to a relatively quiet close in Yorkshire last night. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
AS anniversaries go, this year’s January transfer window was not exactly one marked with fireworks across Yorkshire.
There was, for instance, no breaking of club transfer records as Hull City did four years ago when signing Jimmy Bullard. Nor was there the type of ‘everything must go’ fire sale that rocked Elland Road during the very first New Year window in 2003 when Robbie Fowler and Jonathan Woodgate were shunted through the exit door by a board belatedly waking up to the financial trouble Leeds United were in.
Instead, the past 31 days have seen the majority of our clubs involved in a flurry of deals that, with the best will in the world, are more steady than spectacular.
Middlesbrough, admittedly, tried their best yesterday morning with an unsuccessful £5m bid for Swansea City’s Danny Graham but, otherwise, only Hull City – with an outlay of £3.5m on Robbie Brady and David Meyler – can seriously be considered to have flashed the cash in January.
What the county’s Championship clubs have done, however, through their transfer dealings is give themselves a fighting chance during the rest of the season.
Certainly, looking at the ins and outs of our six second tier clubs, it is hard to argue against the assertion that they start February with squads that are stronger – or at least equal – to those that ended 2012.
Okay, there are a few notable gaps such as a renowned targetman at Sheffield Wednesday or some pace out wide for Leeds. But, overall, January 2013 can, on paper, be marked down as a decent month of wheeling and dealing.
The big winners seem to be Hull with owners, Assem and Ehab Allam, having clearly decided that the club’s promising league position should be capitalised upon.
That much was clear when the funds were found in the first few days of the month to bring in Meyler from Sunderland and Manchester United wideman Brady.
It is not only City’s biggest outlay in a window since the £5m that brought Bullard north in 2009 but also Yorkshire’s, a statistic that underlines just how badly the coffers of the county’s clubs need a return to the Premier League.
Steve Bruce’s transfer dealings ahead of last night’s closing of the window have certainly given the Tigers a fighting chance of ending the White Rose’s three-year absence from the elite.
The fees paid for Brady and Meyler may be the most eye-catching but it is this correspondent’s view that yesterday’s return of Ahmed Elmohamady on loan from Sunderland could be the most important of all the deals done in Yorkshire over the past month.
In his fourth months at the KC, the Egyptian was a revelation with his attacking intent down the right flank allowing Bruce to switch to a 3-5-2 formation that proved far too hot for most Championship defences to handle.
Elmohamady may have found the net just once – in September’s 3-2 win at Elland Road – but he created countless chances for others. Since his recall midway through last month, City have looked a pale shadow of the side that powered into the automatic promotion places in the final few weeks of 2012.
Bruce also completed loan deals for Elmohamady’s fellow Egyptian internationals, Ahmed Fathi and Gedo, during a busy final day. Gedo – a former winner of the golden boot in the African Cup of Nations – is a striker, while Fathi, who once had a short spell with Sheffield United, can play in either defence or midfield.
While Tigers fans can be pleased with their club’s work during the window, the same can surely be said of Barnsley and Wednesday.
The Reds, revitalised under David Flitcroft, yesterday added their second striker in a few days when Chris O’Grady moved to Oakwell from Hillsborough.
His partnership with fellow new arrival Jason Scotland – who made a scoring start in Tuesday night’s win over Millwall – is an exciting one and ensures the early window departure of Craig Davies to Bolton has surely been forgotten.
At O’Grady’s parent club, the capture of Leroy Lita has already paid dividends while the return of Jeremy Helan, in the face of competition from promotion chasing Watford, is also another positive move by Dave Jones. As is the signing of Danny Pugh, with the Leeds loanee able to bring useful versatility to the squad.
The Owls could still do with another frontman, particularly with Mamady Sidibe back to Stoke City and Rodri’s disappointing stay at Hillsborough having come to an end. But, even so, the team’s recent upturn in form plus the January additions bode well for the next few months.
Elsewhere in the county, Huddersfield Town and Middlesbrough have made just one addition with Neil Danns arriving at the John Smith’s Stadium and Keiron Dyer at the Riverside.
Danns underlined in Wednesday night’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace his worth to the Terriers, while Dyer–- if he can stay fit – would improve any team in the Championship and it will be fascinating to see how the one-time Newcastle man does on Teesside.
Completing the half-dozen White Rose representatives in the Championship are Leeds United, a team whose fans have in recent years come to dread a transfer window almost as much as getting trapped in a lift with a Manchester United fan.
Jermaine Beckford, Bradley Johnson, Neil Kilkenny, Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass are just some of the star names to have headed through the exit door since the club won promotion from League One in 2010.
Any hopes that the exodus was over following the recent takeover by GFH Capital were dashed by Luciano Becchio’s departure yesterday to Norwich.
In this instance, however, it is difficult to see what United could have done differently with a lucrative new three-and-a-half year contract having been offered to a player who was already the top earner at Elland Road.
Unlike the other high-profile departures, Becchio’s has also been sweetened by Steve Morison – a proven performer at Championship level with Millwall – heading in the other direction.
With Morison every bit as good a striker as the Argentinian, United’s squad does not seem to have been weakened by the loss of someone who recently broke into the club’s top 10 of all-time goalscorers.
Whether Leeds have the quality to make a concerted push up the table is open to debate but, again, the arrival last night of Stephen Warnock means left-back – a position the West Yorkshire club have singularly failed to fill with any kind of conviction for the best part of a decade – suddenly looks a lot more solid.
All in all, therefore, a month that Yorkshire’s Championship clubs can look back on with a sense of satisfaction.
The same goes for Sheffield United, the busiest of our teams below the second tier yesterday as Barry Robson and Jonathan Forte arrived in the wake of top scorer Nick Blackman joining Reading earlier in the week in a £2.1m deal.
In League Two, Rotherham United’s capture of Jordan Slew is an exciting one, while Bradford City can also be pleased to see the window closed with in-demand striker Nahki Wells still firmly part of Phil Parkinson’s plans.