Friday, 20 November 2009

Shuffling the pack

Having spent years throwing cash about with wild abandon, these are new and austere times at Boro. Gordon Strachan doesn’t seem too keen on the squad he’s been left with (with good reason, it should be added) and has already made attempts to spruce things up. Unfortunately, with the transfer window shut and funds sparse, the only option is to rummage through football’s equivalent of the reduced items shelf in the supermarket in the hope that, hidden behind a dubious looking slab of beef or a dented can of Stella, there may be a shop-soiled Dave Kitson lying about.

There’s always a suspicion about players clubs are willing to lend, something planted during my formative years. For every Uwe Fuchs, there was a Rab Shannon, a David Winnie and an Anthony Barness. And then there was John Gannon. Signed in late 1993, with the Lawrence era now firmly enveloped by a gentle but terminal haplessness, he only stayed for seven games but left horrible memories.

Boro now have five loan signings on their books, meaning Strachan only has a few weeks left to decide who has a future and who will be out on their arse quicker than John Eustace (Boro career: one two minute substitute appearance, one yellow card).

Sean St. Ledger seems to have the most secure future. Its unlikely that Preston would have agreed to release one of their key players without a guarantee there would be hard cash to come in January. It’s hard to gauge how good an idea this is without confirmation of the true cost. On the one hand, with Joe Bennett seemingly out on the naughty step already, St. Ledger is the only defender left who looks happy carrying and passing the ball. However, the partnership with David Wheater hasn’t been convincing, even if St. Ledger has increasingly looked the more composed of the pair.

The remaining quartet may be less permanent figures. Caleb Folan (remember him?) has so far made the least contribution of all the strikers signed by Gareth Southgate. Half man, half ball repellent, Folan twanged his hamstring almost as soon as he’d removed himself from Jonas Olsson’s pocket. Still, at least he said some mean things about Phil Brown, so he’s not all bad.

The speed with which Strachan has moved for alternative options up front and in midfield doesn’t bode well for the previous incumbents. It’s too early to judge Isaiah Osbourne, Marcus Bent or Dave Kitson but they all now have eight games to make an impression before the transfer window opens. It doesn’t seem too long ago that Kitson was scoring on a regular basis for Reading in the top flight. Unless Stoke are prepared to write most of the £5.5m they spent on signing him last summer though, it’s probably best not to get too attached.

The new manager seems to be left with something of a dilemma come January. There seems to be a realisation that the current squad of permanently contracted staff isn’t going to be good enough to get the club back into the top flight. With a million or two seemingly set aside for the St. Ledger deal, there isn’t going to be a fortune left for other deals. The manager will have to choose between trying to inject much needed quality on a budget or sacrifice his left winger, best player and most valuable asset. Now where have we heard that one before...

From tomorrow's Fly Me To The Moon

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