With the latest transfer window having closed to keep the draught out as the snow gently falls outside my window, and with us fans having been crying out for additions and departures in certain areas, it’s time to look at the comings and goings of the last few weeks. As we changed manager/head coach a month or so ago, changes were inevitable as the new man sought to impose his style on the club and in doing so identified those inherited players unlikely to play a part in it, and those elsewhere who could fit in.
Let’s start with the outgoings, and, in situations like ours, they tend to include those summer arrivals who didn’t make their mark. First up is defender Morgan Feeney, who has thankfully managed to get a contract at Carlisle in the last week. He arrived with good references from Everton and appeared to have the attributes to make a positive difference to our defensive options, with height and a bit of pace on his side. He scored on his September debut in the 8-1 Papa John Trophy annihilation of Villa, but also managed to damage his hamstring, a repeat of his debut day injury when on loan at Tranmere. That brought his career statistics to four games, three of which were debuts and two of those debuts ended with the same injury. With that injury record, and the emergence of Bailey Wright as the main man, and with Willis, Flanagan, Sanderson, and McLaughlin ahead of him in the chase for one of two central defensive places following Johnson’s binning of the five-man defence, it was no real surprise that he was on his way.
Another summer arrival who didn’t make his mark was Danny Graham. Quite what Parky was hoping for from a 35-year-old striker who’d been anything but prolific is anyone’s guess, but Danny was free, available, and could stay at his mam’s in Gateshead rather than a hotel. He too scored against Villa, but thereafter spurned the handful of apparently un-missable chances that came his way in the League. Had he managed another eight goal-free league games, which looked likely, he’d have slipped behind Mart Poom in our goals-per-game list, having managed that solitary League strike (with his backside) at Goodison in his first spell. Being a decent lad and an honest pro is all well and good, but we’d have been better off with a pain in the backside who scores goals. A “mutual consent” departure is at least a fitting end to his second spell on Wearside as Hartlepool and Gateshead no doubt ask for his number.
Speaking of strikers not striking, we all know the Will Grigg story, at least the part on the pitch in our colours, as his five goals in 47 league games have shown. This season has been an extension of previous campaigns, where he’s never really looked comfortable when playing. It’s not his fault that our owner effectively bid against himself to up Grigg’s transfer fee, but there’s clearly been something playing on his mind when he’s out there. If a forward doesn’t score goals, doesn’t create goals, and generally looks a bit upset and depressed about something, he’s not going to get a game and there’s not much point him being here, especially with a new man picking the team. Which is where Grigg found himself, and a departure is the best option for all concerned. That it’s only a loan will upset some folks but shouldn’t come as a surprise as we struggle to recoup what we paid for him.
In midfield, George Dobson showed some box-to box promise in the early days following his signing, but with Scowen’s arrival last January and Carl Winchester’s this year, coupled with some less than impressive performances this season, he’s dropped down the pecking order and a temporary move away makes a lot of sense. I’d not be surprised to see a permanent move in the summer, either to his new home at Wimbledon or elsewhere.
One of those in the way of Dobson getting a game in the last couple of months has been Elliott Embleton, so I was a bit surprised when he took off to Blackpool on loan. His youthful promise and positive outlook were something that our midfield had been lacking, and the fact that he is genuinely two-footed was another positive. It seems like the injury problems which had dogged the last year or more are now sorted, so let’s hope that he plays the majority of the season beside the sea and comes back with that extra experience and puts it to good use with us.
...and on their way in are:
Carl Winchester, who arrived from Forest Green Rovers after a couple of hundred games for Oldham and Cheltenham, to bolster our midfield options. With many fans wondering why we’re buying players from Forest Green, it’s because they’re only a division below us these days, sadly. He’s also one of Lee Johnson’s old boys, having played under our gaffer at Oldham. Johnson knows of the favourable light the fans of Oldham and Forest Green see Winchester in because of his all-out movement, so the move should come as no surprise. In the three appearances for us we’ve seen fleeting glimpses of this, but anyone with useful movement in midfield will be a bonus. His arrival is probably the biggest reason behind Dobson’s departure.
Jake Vokins arrives from Southampton as a left-back with great promise, and as cover in that position. While he’s only played a handful of games for the Saints, he’s already scored and is another product of their very successful academy system. With Hume’s injury situation and McFadzean’s defensive limitations being obvious in recent games, I’d expect him to be in the side sooner rather than later. While I recognise our left-back situation isn’t perfect, it’s even less perfect on the other side and that’s where I’d have expected incoming – but I’m not doing the hiring and firing.
Further up the field, Jordan Jones has arrived for the rest of the season from Rangers. Born in Redcar (so there’s a potential language barrier), winger Jones started out at the Boro, and after a solitary appearance for them and loan spells at Hartlepool and Cambridge, moved north to Kilmarnock. After two and a bit seasons and over a hundred games, he joined the Gerrard revolution at Rangers. Mind, he upset the Killie fans by tweeting about signing a pre-contract agreement with Rangers, then upset Gerrard by breaking lockdown rules in November last. We’re light in the out-and-out winger department, so one with a bit of daftness about him, on loan? Why not. Let’s see how that plays out, but the lad has played eleven times for Norn Irn as that’s where his dad’s from, so he has experience on a big stage.
Ross Stewart is a forward. A forward with pace. 24-year-old Ross got his start in the professional ranks when his dad stumped up part of the transfer fee to take him from “junior” football – with the appropriately named Kilwinning Rangers - to Albion Rover. Fans paid the rest, and he repaid them with a dozen goals in 2016-17, which precipitated a move to St Mirren, at the same time as a goalkeeper by the name of Ross Stewart. Keep up at the back, there’ll be questions later. His two seasons there included a loan spell at Alloa Athletic, and returned a total of thirteen goals. At Ross County for the past two-and a-bit seasons, the first of which brought promotion to the Scottish Premier, he scored 28 goals and generated interest from south of the border. After a lot of haggling over a fee that wouldn’t have raised eyebrows as an agent’s percentage a couple of years back, he’s on Wearside, and based purely on photographic evidence, he looks a lively, smiley sort and of this window’s arrivals, his is the one that excites me the most because it’s not like-for-like, it’s something we’ve been missing for a while and we actually spent some money on him.