Interviewed after the Wigan defeat, Sir John Madejski gave the all-important confirmation that money will be available to Nigel Adkins. How much, we don’t know. But there was a definite expectation regarding arrivals into the dressing room, culminating towards a hopeful promotion.
Admittedly that’s all very abstract, especially on recent results and remembering how last transfer deadline day went; we know not to get too excited. But if we’re going to be certain about anything, let’s at least analyse where in the squad we need recruits? There’s also the awkward subject of departures, an area so foreboding it’s hard to sidestep. Especially considering the potential boost it would give to club accounts or transfer kitties.
Nice a complexity it is, there are amazingly seven keepers on RFC’s roster this season! Granted the majority are youths or loaned out, most clubs economically manage with just three, including the obligatory youngster. Present quality and quantity here deduces an arrival unlikely, yet given we can’t play them all, ending January without a notable departure would be surprising.
Alex McCarthy, having recently experienced high plaudits and International duty, is surely at a career crossroad? Nearly all his England rivals are under varying pressures too. Thus a top flight switch with guaranteed starts almost makes a seat to Brazil his to lose. He was a huge factor as to why we avoided thrashings last season and has probably earned more points this campaign, than the goals we’ve scored! However December’s miserable run may thankfully have scared off suitors… for now.
Adam Federici has an established claim to represent Australia, having deputised at South Africa 2010. But firstly he needs playing to stand a chance; especially now Mark Schwarzer has retired as Socceroos stalwart. Fedders was a key component in the great League and Cup runs under Brian McDermott, undeniably placing him amongst this league’s best. Unsurprising he’s therefore rumoured as one of the club’s top earners. We all know high wages and bench warming doesn’t last for long.
Though sad if either left, we’d likely bank a big windfall, with the bonus that Adkins’ options aren’t detrimentally weakened either. News of any Premier League or wealthy Championship club in the market for a new Goalkeeper will surely make Nicky Hammond’s ears burn?
Initially we look healthy with four full-backs vying for starting spots. But where few would drop Chris Gunter from Right-back, many have lamented the absence through injury of our only natural and influential Left-back Wayne Bridge.
Although Shaun Cummings and Stephen Kelly can adequately challenge Gunter’s spot, neither has proved a worthy deputy covering Bridge. Apparent through starting line-ups often tinkering the pair. Cummings’ substitution at halftime against Wigan, only for Adkins to overlook the obvious replacement in Kelly serves as case and point.
Full-backs or better termed, Wing-backs have been a key feature to our style in recent years. But three players more suited to the right-side with a depreciated presence on the left, indicates a need for better coverage at the expense of losing someone. Should it be youthful Cummings or experienced Kelly?
Hopefully Sean Morrison’s recent contract extension won’t be our only defensive signing this winter? For as good as Kaspars Gorkss and Alex Pearce were over the 2011/12 campaign, their minimal contribution last season is probable root for their comparatively poor showings now. Prior to injury, Morrison’s command of the defence factored towards Reading tasting league defeat only three times between August and November. Without him, eleven goals have been conceded in nine games, brining four more defeats. Youngster Michael Hector could be an option, having impressed on loan in the SPL, but as for any academy debutant, it would be a big ask.
The figures say it all: No Morrison, no solidity. Gorkss’ suspension for Forest’s visit also left Pearce as lone centre back. Only having three was always risky.
With often changing permutations and regularly highlight performances, few have complained about the six used wingers/attack-midfielders thus far into the season. Competitively, RFC’s strongest squad contingent. Something other clubs have likely noted and pointedly Garath McCleary, who even Adkins’ singled out for praise. Tipped to exit last summer, we may need to anticipate this eventuality again, especially make-weighting any newcomers considering there’s alternatives abound.
The quality abundant out wide is sadly lacking through the middle. However Danny Guthrie’s transformation from outcast to main attacking orchestrator has been massive. So much, that his absence on or off the pitch hampers tactics, thus we seek someone capable to both alleviate and challenge his selection.
As good Guthrie’s forward play can be, Chris Baird often matched him covering battleground duties for the injured Jem Karacan. With Baird also side-lined, Danny Williams’ has tried to step up, who being new to English football would be harsh to write-off having shown signs of promise. Injuries can’t be helped, but not extending Baird’s stay beyond January or seeking other avenues could prove costly, especially if too much is pinned on current resources.
But before anyone joins our beleaguered midfield, some RFC careers need either resuscitation or termination. Adkins’ reluctance to play Hope Akpan indicates his days are numbered, whereas albeit injured, Mikele Leigertwood seems forgotten altogether. Then there’s Daniel Carrico who’s still a Royal by contract!? Finally, where Jordan Obita slowly rose to prominence, Lawson D’Ath and Jake Taylor seemingly haven’t in comparison. If their time isn’t imminent, when is it?
Having reached the season’s halfway point, our goal tally stands at a meagre 31. With Adkins’ bombastic target of 100 goals, considering we scored 80 en route to Wembley in 2011, it would be monumental to just get nearer the latter over 2014! Our current forecasted total looks more befitting of a mid-table finish and that’s hoping the amount conceded is plugged?!
Firstly is Adam Le Fondre likely to fire us back into the Premier League? A shockingly wide gap of three goals since mid-October and a lowly running total suggests not. His focal within the team was significantly enhanced earlier this campaign and yet he somewhat regressed. With Nick Blackman now apparently more favoured to Adkins, things seem telling. Le Fondre confirming as much, interviewed after Forest’s visit.
However ALF’s reign as top scorer showcases the bigger issue. Last scoring against Bournemouth in early December and considering his general lack of deployment, this demonstrates just how generally woeful affairs are upfront.
Reportedly costing over a million, Nick Blackman’s impact has nulled against some fans expectations. However his credits often attribute from duties out wide, a position somewhat already crowded. Depending on perception, that’s Adkins technically a striker down.
As for Jason Roberts returning, the odds are probably similar of Anton Zingarevich doing the same.
Pavel Pogrebnyak’s transformation from white elephant to terrace sweetheart, like Guthrie, has also been pivotal. Although not far behind ALF’s scoring tally, Pog has earned potentially wider plaudits for his work rate. But as good the big Russian is, who’s challenging his starting place? Secondly, is his return really value for money? RFC’s apparent top earner, the boardroom could say otherwise.
Billy Sharp is now a Southampton player again. With fitness issues considered, two goals in ten was hardly a consistent loan spell, but neither were RFC’s starting line-ups. He does however possess a record and relationship with Adkins that indicates he never found form. Whether we’d see history successfully repeat itself bringing him back, is very “chicken or egg?” But given all the above I’d argue our hopes shouldn’t rely solely on him or anyone alone.
It’s hardly Hawking’s theory that goals win games. But promotion contending sides should possess strikers (Note the plural.) that habitually score regardless of deployment. Nobody currently at RFC fits that mould.
Potentially a busy window. Whether I’m right or wrong, please share your thoughts…