The January transfer window is notoriously difficult for clubs and managers. Can you keep hold of your best players? Can you ship out a few of the also ran’s and players who have passed their peak? Can you sign the players that you think will help you kick on in the second half of the season?
These are all questions that will be asked by Nigel Clough and the Blades hierarchy over the next three weeks. The worry of retaining the clubs biggest assets may not be too much of a concern but recruitment and the removal of players no longer in the managers plans will be paramount to how the rest of United’s season will pan out.
So far we have seen a number of departures both permanent and temporary as well as a single addition to date. Of the departures, I don’t think the release of Marlon King and Marcus Williams will have brought a tear to many a Blades fan’s eye and were expected for quite some time now. The loan departures of Sean McGinty and youngster Jahmal Smith make perfect sense to ensure the progression of their career and with neither threatening the first team, won’t have any impact on Nigel Clough’s short term plans.
The one piece of business that may have raised a few eyebrows is the decision to allow Lyle Taylor to join Partick Thistle on loan until the end of the season. Though Taylor hasn’t exactly set the division alight since signing on at the Lane, I do feel he offered something different and given a sustained run in the team I think he may have contributed a few goals. Clough clearly feels that a run of games North of the border will improve Taylor’s confidence and hopefully this will be the case. I hope we inserted a 24 hour recall into the agreement as should Taylor hit the ground running it would be stupid not to bring him back into the fold. You can never have too many in form strikers in your squad after all!
The one new recruit to date is the loan signing of Billy Paynter from Doncaster Rovers. The striker will spend the rest of the season at the Lane. Of all the frontmen that United have been linked with so far in the transfer window, Paynter represents the most underwhelming of the lot. He does have a good record at this level and has scored goals for teams in the past but his lack of mobility and shall we say, not so aerodynamic physique, don’t really endear him to me and a lot of fans.
My main concern is that Paynter appears to be desperately unfit and it may take weeks or even months to get him match fit. Should he return to the form which saw him score a lot of goals with Port Vale and Swindon Town then he could turn out to be an excellent replacement for the ever reliable, yet limited Chris Porter. If this is to be the only striking addition this month, it does appear to represent a little bit of a gamble given how quickly we need him to find his form and his fitness.
There have been many rumours doing the rounds in recent days and weeks about who else may be leaving Bramall Lane for pastures new. Jamie Murphy was a target for Terry Butcher at Hibs but given his recent upturn in form, it would appear the exit door is now shut and the Scotsman will form a key part of Clough’s side for the rest of the season. I have a lot of faith in Murphy and the way he plays the game and I think his recent performances have shown that whilst still remaining a little inconsistent, he undoubtedly has the potential and the ability to cause problems for any defence in this league.
Murphy will always drift in and out of games but this can be said for most wingers up and down the country. Wingers with pace and who aren’t frightened to run at defenders will always cause problems and we must have players like this in and around the team. That unpredictability and potential to change a game can never be underestimated.
This leads me nicely on to the curious case of Febian Brandy. Whilst his disciplinary record leaves a lot to be desired, you cannot dispute the ability he has. In my opinion, Brandy is comfortably our most dangerous player and should certainly be retained for the remainder of the season at least. He is unpredictable, quick, direct and has more skill on the ball than the rest of the squad put together.
Brandy has the ability to completely turn a game on its head and Jose Baxter aside, we really don’t have anyone else in the squad capable of this. I am therefore both baffled and devastated that Clough would appear to be willing to allow him to join another team on loan. Right now it is hard to drop either Jamie Murphy or Ryan Flynn from the starting XI which won’t help Brandy’s cause but I would very surprised if there is another impact player like him sat on any other bench in this division.
The recent defeat against Walsall to me underlines that there must be some sort of issue with Brandy and manager Clough. We created nothing from the minute we scored the opening goal. The game was clearly drifting away from us and we were crying out for that little spark. We were playing against Brandy’s former club, he had been heckled all game and he had a point to prove to both Walsall and to United yet he remained on the bench until the last five minutes. Surely the game was set up for him to come on and show what he could do? I am worried that Clough is letting his principles get the better of him on this one and he is cutting off his nose to spite his face.
It remains to be seen who could be the next player through the door in S2 but from what has been said, it would appear that defensive reinforcements are not top of the club’s priorities. This surprises me to some extent as we are clearly lacking cover in all departments at the back and we are still conceding far too many goals. Clough says he is happy to keep faith with Terry Kennedy as cover at centre-back which I applaud to an extent as I am all for giving youth its chance, however I can’t help thinking that the recruitment of an experienced and competent centre back might provide the completion and the kick up the backside that Neil Collins requires.
I am not a fan of Collins and I think he has been at fault for far too many goals already this season. I also think that for such an experienced player he offers little to no leadership of what is a very average and at times disorganised back four and goalkeeper. At present it is too easy for him and Maguire when they know irrespective of their form, they will play every week. I do also have my concerns over Tony McMahon as I think he has gone steadily backwards since we signed him but for now I can’t see him being replaced. McMahon could certainly learn a lot from the consistency and discipline of Matt Hill in the other full back position.
The one area of the pitch that I think needs addressing above all else is the centre of the park. The games against Oldham and Walsall in recent weeks highlighted our need to find a player who can put his foot on the ball and make the team tick. Since selling Kevin McDonald we have seen a number of players fill the position alongside Michael Doyle, none of whom have really excelled.
Stephen McGinn is a capable footballer and certainly has something to offer at this level but he has a tendency to give the ball away cheaply and lacks the ability to control and dictate a game. He is however the best option we have at the moment, especially given Nigel Clough’s reluctance to give Flo Cuvelier a chance to show what he can do. I can’t help but think that especially in home games, Cuvelier would be a much better option than McGinn.
As Cuvelier appears to be joining Febian Brandy in leaving the club on a temporary basis, we must sign someone who can stop us being out played in the middle of the park. We were passed to death by Sawyers and Chambers at Walsall on New Years Day and we must sign a player who is capable of doing this to other teams. Without a player capable of keeping the ball, we will continue to get over run and we will remain incapable of creating chances for the attacking players at our disposal.
Alan Judge would have been an ideal candidate but a move for the former Notts County playmaker failed to materialise. One player who does appear to be available and could make a difference is Luke Freeman at Stevenage who seems to tick all the boxes. He is young, creative and has a fantastic left foot. I haven’t seen a lot of him in recent months but from what I have seen in the past, I think he would certainly be worth a punt.
Whatever happens in the next few weeks, the proper rebuilding process under Nigel Clough will more than likely take place during the summer when players are available at a more reasonable price and business can be conducted over a much longer period of time. For me personally the jury is still out on Clough and the way he plays but I think it would be unfair to judge him fully until probably this time next year.
At present I find his tactics and mentality alarmingly negative but I am hoping this is purely down to our precarious league position and the players at his disposal. If we are still playing central midfielders as wingers and goal shy target men through the middle come January next year, I fear we may be in the same position we find ourselves in now.
Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger
Ian tweets at @ijparkes