Sheffield United may have done enough to appease Slavisa Jokanovic but Stoke had the best transfer window. Nottingham Forest made a mess of it.
Stoke City, capping the perfect window
There was little to no need for Stoke City to complete any more business on deadline day. Having spent the summer ridding themselves of the ghosts of seasons past – a plethora of reminders of failure who littered the bet365 corridors both physically and figuratively – positive steps were being taken just in the outgoings.
But a solid summer became a spectacular one as signing by signing, Stoke strengthened their squad, with additions that were each better thought out, better equipped and better for the reinvigorated Potters brand than the last. Addressing legitimate concerns in the squad with players of a calibre above the their station for the last half a decade, Michael O’Neill has put together one of the most balanced teams in the league, with a roster of players perfectly fitting what is expected of them.
The young, hungry, and frankly quite terrifying back three is far more dominating than the experienced, almost washed-up counterparts that largely played last season. Goalkeeping youth-academy graduate Joe Bursik has made the gloves his own, while Steven Fletcher has finally been given extra quality support up front. In the middle, Joe Allen and Sam Clucas are now aided by playmaker Romaine Sawyers and set-piece expert Mario Vrancic, both with Championship promotion experience.
Going into the final 24 hours, a little more firepower up front to add to the acquisition of Sam Surridge and some cover at right wing-back were two of very few rooms for improvement. And of course, Stoke being Stoke in 2021, they rectified that. Former Huddersfield right-back Demeaco Duhaney will provide former Terriers teammate Smith with competition and cover, while the loan acquisition of new Brighton wonderkid Abdallah Sima was exciting, with 23 goal involvements last season for Czech double winners Slavia Prague. That’s the cherry on a pretty perfect cake for a club who have been force-fed rations for the last few years.
Sheffield United, appeasing Jokanovic at last
Slavisa Jokanovic’s appointment at Sheffield United looked like an appeasement to Blades fans after the relationship with Chris Wilder went south as quickly as the Yorkshire side themselves last season. But like the best geniuses, Jokanovic has a volatile nature, able to flip and change his mind at an even quicker rate.
Having allegedly been made promises to improve the squad and bring in fresh faces to convince the Serbian manager to take the reins at Bramall Lane, a poor start to the season coupled with perennial stalling in the transfer window left Jokanovic’s short-term future with the club uncertain.
Adding to Ben Davies, one of the Championship’s best centre-backs before his move to Liverpool, with a trio of deadline-day signings in Roma goalkeeper Robin Olsen, promising midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White and Conor Hourihane on loan from Aston Villa rescued the summer. A more than capable back-up and competition to Jordan Pickford at Everton last season, a player who has lost his way at Wolves but is capable of great things at this level and someone with the proof and experience of doing great things will all be valuable.
They are still lacking in some areas; a lack of out-and-out wingers suggests they will be stuck playing 5-3-2 which has not brought about good results so far. But there is a big difference between a near-impossible perfect transfer window and a good one. That Sheffield United were having a pretty terrible one until the final weeks makes the last few days a relative triumph. It should be enough to keep Jokanovic around until the next transfer window at least.
Middlesbrough’s delve into the unknown
Before the season began, we wrote of how Neil Warnock was building a side in his own mould, Matt Crooks, Uche Ikpeazu and others representing predictable yet likely successful moves for all parties as Warnock launched another bid for promotion to add to his record-breaking CV.
But the latter days of the window saw Middlesbrough change tact and go abroad in their bid to bring Premier League football back to the Riverside Stadium. The unknown quantities in this league, Slovenian striker Andraz Sporar and French Cup-winning midfielder James Lea Siliki on loan, will flesh out the squad at the very least. But with their talent they should be key players in a promotion campaign.
Add to that Argentine playmaker Martin Payero and Boro are building a side reminiscent not just of Warnock’s heyday, but of their own. Juninho would be proud.
Bournemouth, fleshing out their attack
With a week of the window remaining, we examined one signing each Championship club needed to make. We’re not taking credit for Bournemouth’s acquisition of Jamal Lowe from Swansea City on deadline day but the cheque is presumably in the post.
Dominic Solanke has transitioned well from a Premier League flop to a successful, consistent, if not still too often wasteful Championship striker. Bournemouth did not need an out-and-out replacement to demote Solanke to the bench, but a forward to provide support was perfect to complement and accommodate for the former Chelsea and Liverpool striker’s weaknesses.
Jamal Lowe is not a pure striker but can operate in multiple positions across different formations – perfect for Scott Parker’s inability to decide on a solid tactical output – while offering enough of a goal threat to allow Solanke to continue at his current rate without costing Bournemouth more dropped points, as against Blackpool last month.
Throw in Celtic midfielder Ryan Christie for good measure and a dollop more chances for those forwards and Bournemouth could be onto a winner, figuratively and literally.
Not a deadline-day signing, but this capped off a solid transfer window for Birmingham and perhaps the only ending to Troy Deeney’s Watford career that wouldn’t seem anti-climactic. Any other destination would have been unlikely to tempt the bluenose from the Hornets’ bench, but this move made sense for all parties involved, most of all EFL icon Deeney, who will be looking to prove the difference on and off the pitch at St Andrew’s.
To say new Swansea City manager Russell Martin took an extreme leap of faith in swapping the comfy slippers of MK Dons for the ripped-up soles currently donning his feet in south Wales is an understatement. But the former Norwich City and Scotland centre-back is doing his best to get those creature comforts.
Keeping Matt Grimes around is beneficial in the short-term, but adding former Celtic star Olivier Ntcham to the ranks past the deadline was key for a manager who knows what he wants but had little in the way of players capable of delivering. Southampton striker Michael Obafemi will be a good option up front having impressed for the Saints in fleeting Premier League appearances while new loanee centre-back Rhys Williams is an upgrade on Joel Latibeaudiare and Ryan Bennett in offering defensive solidity and suiting Martin’s specialist brand of football. The goods have been delivered; now it is up to Martin to do the same.
Fulham, replacing class with class
Watford fans may disagree with calling Nathaniel Chalobah class, but on the pitch there is no denying his status and potential. Yet to reach his ceiling, the protracted move from Vicarage Road and into the clutches of Fulham has seen his stock amongst the Hornets’ faithful dip considerably.
But in replacing Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa – for the time being at least following the latter’s temporary switch to Napoli – Fulham have brought in a player who has regularly shone between multiple spells out saddled with injury. A consistent season of starts and playing in a good team with a manager who could get the best out of him in Marco Silva could prove to be one of the smartest signings of the summer. Throw in Domingos Quina on loan from Watford, too, for good measure and this Fulham team should be put up against the Trades Description Act for posing as a Championship side.
They kept Rob f***ing Dickie.
Nottingham Forest, paying the price for their past
In keeping Brennan Johnson, so heavily linked with Brentford over the course of the summer following an impressive season-long loan with League One Lincoln City, Nottingham Forest completed the best piece of business they could realistically hope to have done this summer.
When it comes to new signings, however, it is all something of a moot point. The deadline-day arrivals of Braian Ojeda, Mohamed Drager and Xande Silva, followed by Middlesbrough full-back Djed Spence the day after, could all be good, could all be bad, but will likely end up somewhere in the middle ground. And given Forest’s recent track record with recruitment, that is a generous assumption.
Like the plethora of managers before him, Chris Hughton is more likely than not to leave at some point this season, leaving behind a series of signings largely brought into placate his feelings and aid his vision for this Forest side. It is the wash, rinse and repeat cycle which has stunk out the City Ground corridors for far too long, yet Hughton was supposed to be the exception to the rule. Instead, Forest have proven to be the odd one out for him. If not now, then soon. If not soon, then later, and certainly before it gets better.
There are far bigger problems at Forest, but Hughton is patently no longer the solution. These signings – and we’ve been here before: the star player from Olympiacos, the untested Premier League ‘youngster’, the talent from a lesser league, and the loanee from a rival who could do so much better in new surroundings – are little more than a plaster on a cracking dam by the Trent.
Swansea City’s class of Steve Cooper
Graham Potter’s 12 months at Swansea City brought about hope and despair. After some tough times in the white and black corner of south Wales, Potter introduced unexpected bright times to the Swans before flying off to the Seagulls of Brighton and Hove Albion in double quick fashion after one of the best mid-table finishes experienced in the modern era.
But after bringing a year of light back to the Liberty Stadium, things could have gone one of two ways. Steve Cooper was a similarly left-field appointment with no guarantees of success but an offer of amazing opportunities if things went to plan. For two seasons running, so much went to plan, but Swansea unleashed their inner Icarus and flew too close to the sun.
Months after Cooper’s departure following two successive but ultimately unsuccessful play-off campaigns, much of the cornerstone behind that oh-so-near-yet-oh-so-far era has dissipated too. Talisman Andre Ayew left on a free almost as soon as the Swans were beaten in the play-off final, while Lowe travelled south to Bournemouth, Marc Guehi got a permanent move to Crystal Palace, goalkeeper Freddie Woodman was denied a third straight loan spell at the Liberty to be the temporary number one at Newcastle and Connor Roberts moved to the Premier League with Burnley. Matt Grimes was only denied a long-awaited move to Fulham as part of a failed domino push across the Championship and Premier League.
There are new, exciting players ready to take their places in a regime which could go one better, but it is a shame that a band of men who gave so much have disbanded so quickly without any lasting legacy.
Reading risk on experience
Reading have had a difficult summer, put into positions even a trained gymnast would be proud of, to be able to desperately bring aboard new recruits.
Given the ages and lack of recent game time their two deadline-day signings Danny Drinkwater and Scott Dann possess, gymnastic positions will not be their forte. On paper, Reading have pulled together a crop of excellent players – for five years ago. Add former starlet Alen Halilovic and Chelsea left-back Abdul Baba Rahman to the mix and you have a roster of players who would have looked prime for challenging for domestic honours not long ago rather than fighting against relegation to League One now.
But this is not five years ago, and in reality Dann has not been up to first-team standard at any level since the first lockdown, while Drinkwater’s decline began long before. Halilovic failed to light up the league at a slightly better Birmingham last season and Rahman has looked poor in almost every minute he has played in English football. If they all get a reprieve for showcasing their undoubted but hard to unlock talents a step lower, they had better get to it quickly before the level goes even further down.
Hull City, on delay
Looking at Hull City’s squad, it is difficult to see where they have improved from last season. Going into deadline day it seemed that Championship quality was required in every position across the pitch, but nothing came. Every summer signing would be perfectly adequate for a League One promotion push, but the expectation has changed. It feels like the Tigers are on delay and they will pay the price with more maulings unless this squad can come together to be more than the sum of their parts.
Former Exeter winger Randell Williams had a poor season compared to the standards he set himself in League Two, and a jump from the fourth tier to the Championship looks too big a bridge to gap. The same goes for defender Di’Shon Bernard, going from a Manchester United loan at Salford to a temporary switch by the Humber.
Tyler Smith, their last summer signing, scored seven goals in League One from just 23 appearances on loan at Swindon Town, but he is being given much more responsibility at Hull. It could be sink or swim for the former Sheffield United man. It is no different for his new club. Right now, the former looks more likely.
They couldn’t sign anyone else. On the window as a whole, they have done well but this is still an extremely small squad which will be tested to the limit. Should the EFL give a reprieve between now and January, free agents and veterans will be the way forward, as they largely have been so far. It is difficult to see that sustaining a survival challenge. Just as they did against Forest, Derby will likely wilt late on in the season and over the busy periods coming up between international breaks.
When he signed for Sheffield United, playmaker Luke Freeman was at the peak of his powers. With Chris Wilder having a settled midfield three ahead of Freeman in the Blades’ first campaign back in the Premier League, chances came at a premium and were rarely, if ever, taken.
In the second season, such was the poor form all round, the midfielder was given more minutes but struggled along with pretty much every single player in the middle of the park under Wilder, and then Paul Heckingbottom.
The third season, this campaign, brought Freeman back to the level in which he previously excelled. But having started the season in a team that has scored the fewest goals in the division, Freeman was failing to get back to form. The arrivals of Gibbs-White and Hourihane from the division above could represent the end of Freeman in the red and white corner of the Steel City. Three strikes and you’re out.