So it’s a welcome back for Macauley Bonne and a plain welcome for Todd Kane, plus goodbye and thanks to Craig MacGillivray. The two arrivals are indeed timely in that without them we would be halfway through the transfer window month, two decent players out the door, giving rise to some concern that planned deals are not coming off; and with some tired limbs after Old Trafford they could provide a lift for the Barnsley game, which really is a must-win if we are to harbour thoughts of a run for the play-offs. Only thing is – and this is not a negative in any way related to the two coming in, who obviously I hope will be blinding successes – is that the additions tell us nothing about the bigger picture. We will have to wait for further changes, and of course developments on the takeover/investment front, before drawing any conclusions about the ambitions for the rest of the season and hopes for beyond it.
Reading between the lines as usual, Thomas Sandgaard’s decent statement after Old Trafford was muted on the expectations front, concluding that “hopefully we can use that togetherness to build on to a strong second half of the season”. That smacks of we want to improve - and let’s face it with occasional notable exceptions and the boost from two consecutive wins the season to date has been horrible – but not to the extent of suggesting more, ie a serious drive to try to make the play-offs. In that context, Bonne on a deal to the end of the season and a loan signing undoubtably strengthen us, but cannot, at least not yet, be said to be pieces in a plan. That awaits more comings and probably goings. After all, among the Addicks I know confirmation of Bonne coming in sparked discussion over whether this heralded the departure of Stockley or Leaburn. In itself there’s no reason for this to be the case, even with Bonne and including Aneke we have four forwards, not especially overloaded in that area (and compare with Ipswich, who have signed a striker from Everton and one on loan from Leicester).
When trying to assess where we can offload without damage and where we need to strengthen, a key starting point for me is whether Palace recall Rak-Sakyi (to send him back out somewhere else). I have no idea if this is still a risk – and to be fair, a few weeks ago with us in disarray I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had taken him out, for his own good. Hopefully the improvement in fortunes, plus the lift from Old Trafford, will see him stay with us. I think he’s crucial in that without him, unless we brought in someone to play in the same position and similar style, we would have to abandon the 4-3-3 set-up which is currently working well (as long as the opposition doesn’t park the bus and deny space and the main components are able to last a full game). We do have wide players other than him and Blackett-Taylor (Kirk and Jaiyesimi), but not ones able to play in a front three.
Given that, I think the club should be pressing Palace for a commitment to leave Rak-Sakyi where his is – if this has not already been delivered of course. With the 4-3-3 the pieces are already pretty much in place as regards a starting line-up, with Leaburn, Stockley and Bonne, plus hopefully at some point Aneke and Kanu, effectively competing for a starting birth and one or two places on the bench. But again there’s no back-up for CBT and Rak-Sakyi. If we wish to play this formation a back-up option for them would, in my view, be very desirable.
By the same token, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Kirk and DJ are surplus to requirements, as things stand, or at least available if a decent offer comes in for either. Their staying is fine too, as Kirk can take the number 10 role, as he did at Burton (scoring twice), and play in a 4-4-2, if we ever used that option. As an outright wide man and crosser of the ball. Similarly DJ and Campbell could have roles to play as outright wingers in a 4-4-2, but under Dean Holden Plan B seems to be a 3-5-2 with wing-backs, and neither of them are suited to that role.
One thing we haven’t been able to manage well to date I think is the switch during a game from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2. This has in my view been partly down to asking full-backs (Sessegnon and Clare) in the later stages of a game to switch from being full-backs to wing-backs, expecting them to have the energy to storm up and down in the channels and get balls into a forward pairing. It is asking a lot. Ideally with the switch you bring on a pair of wing-backs with fresh legs. With Kane now providing a fresh option on that front, perhaps we will improve at it. Of course, with Kane Holden may decide that wing-backs are Plan A, but that doesn’t fit with playing to the strengths of Blackett-Taylor and Rak-Sakyi.
So in the outright forward area as things stand we have to assume we are covered, as a fifth/sixth option would surely only be embraced on the expectation of one or two leaving. In the wide positions I’d say if Kirk or Jaiyesimi want to head for pastures new and a decent offers come in, so be it, especially if that cleared up space for a back-up for CBT and Rak-Sakyi.
In central midfield, Dobson is obviously the anchor, now captain to boot. If he gets injured I’d imagine Clare would be the replacement, or Henry, as the role doesn’t suit Morgan – and we have yet to find what role might suit MacGrandles. If he were to depart we would wish him well, but more than likely Addicks will be asking quiz questions about his Charlton career, which has not (yet) begun and perhaps never will. Fraser is making himself the key player we hoped he would be, contributing goals in support of a single central striker. Payne is effectively his replacement, with Morgan completing the picture. I would have thought that one quality addition in this area would be highly desirable, to provide real competition for places, but it would be not unreasonable to assume that any such move would require one or two moving on.
With O’Connell back in the fold, Kane in effectively for Egbo, and Inniss having managed to escape the retrospective red card and likely five-game ban we feared for the incident against Oxford, and having put in disciplined performances in the last few games, and Ness having really come from nowhere to move above Elerewe and Mitchell in the pecking order (and having so far grabbed his opportunity), we have numbers for the central defence position. Of course there are still doubts about how many consecutive games some can manage, most obviously Inniss, and the threat of suspension (ditto), but with Clare another option it would be surprising to see another come in, or anyone exiting.
To complete the picture, with MacGillivray moving on and presumably Wallacott not far off a return, the only question would seem to be whether Maynard-Brewer or Wallacott become number one when the latter returns from injury.
Really so far the ‘easy’ transfer window changes have been made. MacGillivray and Forster-Caskey were always set to move on, having been out of favour under both Garner and Holden, while the world and his dog knew we needed at least one more forward and Bonne was an obvious - if not yet universally acclaimed – option. Further changes are if anything likely to be more dramatic, if bids come in for Stockley, Leaburn, Kirk, Jaiyesimi or anyone else, if Rak-Sakyi is recalled, and if Sandgaard or a new owner want to make a statement signing. I just hope this isn’t unsettling through the rest of this month, as we do still – however crazily and on the back of just two wins – still harbour thoughts of the play-offs. At least I still do. It’s all about momentum.