1. A Rollercoaster Weekend for Leeds
It would be a crime not to begin this week’s article with the quite unbelievable sequence of events at Leeds United, beginning on Friday evening and still currently ongoing.
Having had captain Ross McCormack pledge his loyalty to the club and manager McDermott following Premier League interest, I don’t know anyone who could justify the decision of prospective new owner Massimo Cellino to sack McDermott on Transfer Deadline Day. His actions only served to immediately throw the future of Leeds’ star man back into doubt, and left fans without any clue who would be taking charge of The Whites’ derby game at home to Huddersfield on Saturday.
The match itself, of course, ended in an emphatic 5-1 victory to chaotic United, with a hat-trick from McCormack, and assistant manager Nigel Gibbs’ admitting ignorance to the whole situation in the post-match interview showed the level of uncertainty at Elland Road.
Most bizarrely, the club has since issued a statement saying that McDermott was never in fact sacked, and that he remains Leeds United manager. Whether that will remain the case if and when Cellino completes his takeover is another matter. Rumours abound that McDermott’s ‘reinstatement’ (if he indeed ever left??) is only due to legal reasons, with Cellino rumoured to want former Middlebrough defender Gianluca Festa at the helm. Saturday was an excellent result amid all the commotion, but something tells me this weekend is only the beginning of more uncertainty at Leeds United.
2. R’s New Boys Must Make an Impact
QPR’s 3-3 draw at home to fellow promotion chasers Burnley was an entertaining contest throughout, and was R’s manager Harry Redknapp’s first glimpse at his January signings in action.
Having completed loan deals for strikers Kevin Doyle and Modibo Maiga on Friday, QPR fans must have been delighted to see both get on the scoresheet as their side kept up the pace on leaders Leicester. Doyle had a lively first half, heading in a Niko Kranjcar corner while Maiga came off the bench to tap in QPR’s equaliser eleven minutes from time.
The goals will be equally welcomed by Doyle and Maiga themselves. Wexford man Doyle stalled at Wolves after a promising start, and had only netted on three occasions so far in their League 1 season prior to his move. Maiga, similarly, had scored just once for West Ham United, struggling to adapt to the intensity of the Premier League. These loan moves will, I feel, be good for both players, with Doyle having the chance to force himself back into the Irish team and Malian Maiga having the opportunity to establish himself in the English game.
With prolific target man Charlie Austin set to miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, attacking reinforcements are exactly what QPR needed, and Redknapp has also bolstered his options with two further loan signings, Will Keane from Manchester United and Guilherme Dellatorre from Desportivo Brazil. Austin will be a huge miss, and all these players will have to step up to the plate in order to help QPR achieve promotion at the end of the season.
3. Busy Blackpool Need Belief
I spoke in last week’s article about Blackpool’s need for rejuvenation following Paul Ince’s sacking, so it was a welcome sight to see The Seasiders add four players to their squad on Deadline Day.
Midfielder Faris Mayoun has signed following his release from Middlesbrough, defender Tony McMahon has signed from Sheffield United, while strike pairing Andy Keogh and Stephen Dobbie have signed on loan from Millwall and Crystal Palace respectively.
While Mayoun and McMahon won’t strike many as groundbreaking signings, I’m sure they will add depth to a Blackpool squad who have just lost Tom Ince, and also show the willingness of the club to move forward after a dismal end to Ince’s regime. Irishman Keogh has had an up-and-down career, but had a decent scoring record at Millwall, and his experience will no doubt prove useful to interim-manager Barry Ferguson. Personally, I think Stephen Dobbie will add the most to Blackpool between now and the end of the season. Having played on four separate occasions for The Seasiders, Dobbie knows the club well, especially having played in two of their most recent Playoff finals. He has the know-how at Championship level, having helped Palace hugely in their promotion to the Premier League last season, and has already scored twice during his spell at Blackpool earlier this season.
I said last week that Blackpool had a job on their hands to get back on track this season, and I still don’t think they can make the Playoffs, but signings like these show good intentions from Barry Ferguson, and what Blackpool really need now, regardless of their end league position, is positivity and belief in themselves.
4. Clever Clark
Another club who can be happy with their transfer dealing in the January window is Birmingham City. The Blues added to their squad on Deadline Day with the loan signings of three Manchester United youngsters; defenders Tyler Blackett and Tom Thorpe, as well as striker Federico Macheda, have all joined Lee Clark’s blossoming City side.
Birmingham have been struggling so far in 2014, with their last win coming against Blackburn on December 29th, so to see Clark go out and add to his options must be a blessing for fans. The former Fulham player has also been busy at the other side of Manchester, securing the services of Man City duo Emyr Huws and Albert Rusnak. Up front, the free signing of Brian Howard will give Clark options in attack and help ease the burden on top scorer Lee Novak.
The defensive issues for City have been there for all to see, especially following the return of on-loan duo Dan Burn and Kyle Bartley to their parent clubs, so signing Aaron Martin as a free agent will no doubt also prove a shrewd move by Clark.
Seven of the new players featured on Saturday, and with such a first team overhaul it was unsurprising to see Birmingham concede three goals, with their defence at times looking unsure of their respective positions. There was joy to be had though, as Howard and Macheda both netted to earn Clark’s side a 3-3 draw against a fine Derby County side. I don’t see Birmingham troubling the Playoffs this year, but I feel Clark has made some intelligent signings in order to give the squad depth and make sure they survive this season in preparation for next.
5. Things will be Tight at the Top
Going into the weekend’s Championship action, the clash between second-placed Queens Park Rangers and third-placed Burnley would have almost certainly been the one to catch everyone’s eye. The magnificent 3-3 draw kept Harry Redknapp’s side three points ahead in the automatic promotion spots, leaving Sean Dyche’s Burnley frustrated at not being able to make up points on their rivals.
The draw arguably did hurt Burnley more than QPR. Having been 3-2 up in the second half, the Clarets will be disappointed at conceding such a soft goal from Maiga, despite the continuing good form of strikers Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, who both scored on Saturday. The result was Burnley’s fourth draw in their last six matches, with QPR managing four wins during the same period.
Despite their stalemate, the sides had comparatively different Deadline Days. While QPR brought in four players before Friday’s 11pm deadline (see above), Burnley had a quieter time, letting fringe players leave on loan, with their only addition, Ashley Barnes from Brighton, coming nearly three weeks ago.
I do feel QPR have more to offer in midfield than Burnley, with Niko Kranjcar, Joey Barton and Matt Phillips showing real glimpses of quality this season, but the partnership of Ings and Vokes could even things out for Dyche’s team, especially given the long-term injury suffered by QPR’s former Clarets goalscorer Charlie Austin. It remains to be seen how it will pan out, but with Leicester starting to run away with top spot, I feel second place could be a really exciting contest.
Pundit Arena, Ryan O’ Neill.