Peter Lovenkrands proved to be the only body we managed to get on board before the summer transfer window slammed shut. Opinions of Lovenkrands are fairly high, ranging from those who think he’s canny squad player to others who think he will set The Championship alight. I’m at neither end of the spectrum but I suspect he will get more joy at this level than he did in The Premiership.
The problem is, that he represents what’s wrong with this football club, like they’re making it up as they go along. It seems both we and Lovenkrands flirted with the idea of a longer contract but could never agree and yet we had to go back, cap in hand because the situation was so dire that we had few other options. He’s a good option, no doubt, but it’s frightening that’s he so far the sum total of all our transfers-in activity. And how much has Hughton been kept in the loop as his public statements have cried out to the board to signal the arrival of new recruits while at least his pleas to stave off the sale of anymore of the current squad presumably were honoured. Who knows what ideas Hughton had and how many of the names mentioned in the public domain were on his wishlist?
Throughout the day, rumours abounded that a list of players were being mooted as potential targets. Everton’s James Vaughan and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale had apparently both been on our list for a number of days but added to that were Man Utd’s young Northern Irish centre half Craig Cathcart and his team-mate, midfielder Darron Gibson. It was also rumoured that we were in the running for Kilgallon from Sheff Utd and Marlon Harewood from Aston Villa. In the end, not one of those rumours transpired to be anything more than just that, rumours.
So where does that leave us exactly?
To be precise, I believe with the players that have gone and those that have come in to replace them minus those that have gone out on loan, we’re approximately ten or eleven men short of the squad we had last year and without tempting fate, are we so much more confident in our ability to keep that small squad of players fit when we couldn’t last year? Perhaps, the feeling is that these players want to play and there’s a good argument for that. Maybe also with that change in attitude we’re playing better as a unit.
Certainly I was impressed with the dogged determination and team spirit on display at St James’ last night. I was also relatively impressed with some tidy football in spells. However, a good start to the season and an apparently much-improved ethos at the club can’t detract from what is evidently a painfully thin squad. Yesterday, Hughton felt it necessary to get some fresh legs on to help us see out a 1-0 and in the process was forced to give three youngsters their league debuts. That’s after five league games and one cup outing. It promises to be a long, hard slog and already we’re without two of our recognised strikers (with the greatest of respect to both lads, it amuses me to take stock and remind myself that we’re talking about Shola and Andy Carroll here). And we’ve had to force Danny Simpson into a makeshift centre half.
According to the rules, we’re still officially allowed some ‘emergency loan’ players and quite frankly if any club can call on some favours in times of an emergency it should be us? But are we actually looking? It seems to me that the board and even some fans appear to think we have a good blend of youth and experience. I agree. We’d have a hell of a seven-a-side squad but this is an eleven side game in a physically demanding league. It may be a fair point that you can get players on loan after the window shuts but why wait? We need these players in now. Unless we have some loan deals up our sleeves I can see this tidy little start ending in tears.
Over the last twelve months, everyone has had their own ideas and own say on what they think Ashley is playing at but quite frankly with the sale of the club apparently stalling and a continuation of his tenure looking as likely as a sale, it beggars belief that we haven’t invested further in this window. I’m not sure I know exactly what his game is. I only hope he does and I also hope he’s looking to jack it in sooner rather than later. Nothing about this regime convinces me that our lofty position is anything other than a decent combination of good fortune, lesser opposition, good circumstance and some remarkable work by a worthy group of players and two men in Hughton and Calderwood who are achieving more than we ever gave them credit for.
For the moment, we have a team and two managers who we can be rightly proud of it and we can only hope and pray it stays that way. Despite uncertainty about their own future admist the takeover saga, those remaining have just got on with the job. I just hope in the way that they haven’t let the fans down, they have not been subsequently let down by the board to the extent that our season dovetails once the inevitable injuries begin to mount up.