September 1, 2011
Ok so the title could use a bit of work, but the fact is that the 2011 summer transfer window has 'slammed shut' and we're left with the players who will be expected to take the team forward at least over the next four months.... or are we?
Unlike our Premier League counterparts, Football League sides have the option to loan players on an 'emergency' basis as well as sign players on youth loans throughout the next couple of months and as we saw last season with the addidtion of Mikele Leigertwood, one of those loans could be crucial to our season.
Still, below the jump I'll be looking back at our summer activity and trying to figure out if we should be worried, or encouraged at the wheelings and dealings of our manager and director of football.
None in and one out in this department, as the club sold Academy graduate Ben Hamer to Charlton for a fee believed to be around £250,000. The move was good for both club and player as Hamer was stuck behind three other goalkeepers in the pecking order, while £250k represents a decent return on the clubs investment in Ben from a young age.
There were rumours throughout the window that Adam Federici might be sold, while Alex McCarthy was linked with a loan move to Celtic but in the end both they and Danish U21 stopper Mikkel Andersen remained at the Madejski Stadium and while one of McCarthy and Andersen could leave the club on loan in the next few weeks, for now we have a very strong goalkeeping department that is only getting better with age and experience. On that basis alone I'm saying we've come out STRONGER after this window.
A situation that started badly, got worse, got even worse then got a bit better as the summer wore on. Within weeks of our Wembley defeat we'd lost two experienced International defenders in Zurab Khizanishvili and Ivar Ingimarrsson, both at the end of their contracts. Given how quickly his move elsewhere was wrapped up it seems Zurab was already destined to sign elsewhere, while Ivar's injury history and declining form meant he was unlikely to force his way into the starting XI.
Those losses were offset by the addition back in January of young centre back Sean Morrison who joined from Swindon, as well as handing a new one-year deal to veteran utility man Brynjar Gunnarsson who had kept Carlos Tevez quiet playing centre back in an FA Cup Quarter Final just a few weeks beforehand.
However, the situation took a fairly unexpected turn for the worse when Matt Mills turned down a new contract in favour of a move to fellow Championship side Leicester City. Reading managed to negotiate a fee of around £4-5m for our club captain but it still left a hole at the heart of the defence that couldn't be filled from within.
Various replacements were mooted, from free agents Anthony Gardner to Colchester's Magnus Okuonghae and Hull's Paul McShane , the club even gave a trial and offered a deal to Ibrahima Sonko, but ultimately manager Brian McDermott elected for a loan signing in the guise of South African International Bongani Khumalo on a 12 month loan from Tottenham.
However, early season results forced the club into further activity and before the Hull game last week the club announced the capture of Latvian captain Kaspars Gorkss from QPR for just under a million pounds.
Full-back wise not a lot changed. With Kelly gone Reading entered the season with Ian Harte and Andy Griffin being backed up by Marcus Williams and Shaun Cummings. While both Harte and Griffin had performed reasonably well throughout the 2010/11 campaign there was a nagging feeling that the lack of pace from the veteran duo was a key weakness in the defence and that at least Cummings would be coming into the side to help offset that. There were also hopes that Marcus Williams might have the sort of transformation that Cummings had had and push Harte for his place but sadly that hasn't yet happened and Williams has now handed in a transfer request.
After some poor performances in the first few games of the season Brian McDermott has signed Joseph Mills from Southampton to back up Harte and Matt Mills' brother has already made two substitute appearances since his signing.
It's difficult at this stage to say whether we're stronger or weaker then we were in May. Losing Mills was a blow but I'd never been fully convinced by the former Doncaster man and to get around £5 million for him is a great deal for the club. Gorkss was part of a defence which was the best in the league last season and his experience will help the younger players at the club significantly. The loss of Ingimarsson and Khizanishvili will perhaps be harder to replace in the short term. Ivar had been there and done it and was a very capable fill in when he was fit and his dressing room presence will be missed around the club. Khizanishvili, Wembley aside, was also a key part in our post Christmas revival and you don't replace a man with Premier League, European and International experience easily. Khumalo has shown signs of promise but also naivety and being paired with another fairly inexperienced defender in Alex Pearce simply hasn't worked so far. For the Hull game McDermott selected Pearce to partner Gorkss and it'll be interesting to see if that's the combination going forward or whether Khumalo is brought back into the starting XI as on paper he should be the better defender right now. But is the group of Gorkss, Pearce, Khumalo, Morrison, Gunnarsson better then Mills, Khizanishvili, Pearce, Ingimarsson, Morrison? I'm going to say no not right now.
Full back wise we've gotten slightly better with the addition of Mills and the growing experience of Cummings but those gains have been offset by the declining form of Harte and Griffin coupled with Marcus Williams' inability to make an impact on the first team picture. Throw in the loss of Julian Kelly who had always been a decent back-up in the Coppell era and as I write this today I think we're very slightly weaker full-back wise.
So overall I think we're a little weaker as it stands. Losing three defenders with the quality and experience of Mills, Khizanishvili and Ingimarsson was never going to be easy and while I'm pleased with Gorkss and Khumalo they've still got to prove themselves at the club, especially Khumalo. The full-backs are still a big worry as well and I don't think it'll be long before Cummings and Mills are installed as first choice.
The one area that saw very little movement over the summer was the midfield. The same four men who lined up at Wembley have featured in all of our games this season and that looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. Leigertwood agreed a permanent move before the play-offs were over and it was great to tie down a player who had played such a big role in our return to form in 10/11. The club also held onto Jimmy Kebe despite speculation linking him with a return to France or a Premier League move.
However so far this season form wise the results haven't been quite what we would have liked, with new captain Jobi McAnuff looking out of form and Jimmy Kebe struggling to recreate the magic of the last 18 months. Leigertwood and Karacan have both been OK but there's not been quite the drive of the back end of last season but that's something I'm sure will return.
Brian Howard, Jay Tabb and Brynjar Gunnarsson are all still at the club as backup and while Tabb and Howard didn't cover themselves in glory during our Carling Cup exit to Charlton, both have significant experience at this level and are good to have around the club.
While we didn't sign anyone in the summer the continuing improvements of younger players like Hal Robson-Kanu and Jordan Obita has been very encouraging and on that basis, coupled with the permanent capture of Leigertwood I think we're a little bit stronger this season.
As soon as the final whistle went at Wembley fans knew that Shane Long would be on his way out of the club and so it transpired to be in August when the Republic of Ireland striker departed for West Brom for around £4 million.
Adam Le Fondre was signed just before the deadline from Rotherham for £350k and the League Two hot-shot will be expected to hit the ground running to help the Royals turn around a disappointing run of form.
Nobody can directly replace a player of Long's quality but the group of strikers we have left at the club can help bridge the gap by all improving their own games. Manset has already shown signs of improvement, with good performances against Millwall and Leicester, while Noel Hunt if he stays fit will always help get you goals. Hal Robson-Kanu has also shown he can do a job up front but Simon Church still seems mired in the poor form of last season.
I won't spend too long on this because as I said you can't replace Long's quality overnight, but we do have 4 strikers under the age of 25 who combined could well see us in a far better position in 12 months time.
So have all of those comings and going made us stronger or weaker?
On the surface we're weaker certainly. You can't lose players the quality of Zurab, Mills and Long and expect to be stronger in this division. However, the clubs sensible signings of Joseph Mills, Adam Le Fondre and Kaspars Gorkss as well as tying down Mikele Leigertwood have ensured we still have a strong spine to the side and one that with the right coaching and development should still be able to compete in this division.
I think it's just as important to look at how we perceived the squad at the end of the window last season as much as looking at it compared to last May and in that regard I think we're closer to a par. This time last year we'd lost Glyfi and had to find a whole new way of playing. Zurab had come in as had Harte but we had no idea if the former Leeds man could cut it at this level while Andy Griffin had no obvious cover at right-back. Having Joseph Mills and a rejuvenated Shaun Cummings puts us in a better place, backing up the still usefull first choice pair of Griffin and Harte.
Midfield wise we had no Leigertwood this time last year and that shows how a loan signing made outside the window can be just as important as those inked before August 31. Even up front Noel Hunt was still trying to come back from an injury, Long and Church were out of form and we had no Manset either. Few people 12 months ago expected the Shane Long or Matt Mills we had by May and there's no reason to think players in this group can't go on to make such stride in the next few weeks and months.
Add all that to the fact we've still got solid Championship cover across the squad and I'd argue that we're actually in better shape today then we were on August 31 last year. We may not be in quite the shape we were in May but give Brian a few months and that could change very very quickly.
But what do you think? We'd love to hear your thoughts below or on twitter, just tweet us @thetilehurstend or even send us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org