As the January transfer window slides to a close, the debate about its future existence riles on. For the teams from the Championship, the winter window becomes a make-or-break moment in their season.
The opening of the window allowed Nigel Pearson a chance to strengthen the squad of his league leaders, Leicester City, by bringing in seasoned-veteran Kevin Phillips.
The 40-year-old striker, already promoted to the Premier League four times, joined the Foxes from Crystal Palace and has already made an impact. In his first substitute appearance for the club, he assisted the only goal of the game. 3 points. An 8-point gap. One step closer to the Premier League.
Whilst the window provides the opportunity for promotion, it also gives the clubs at the foot of the table the chance to turn their fortunes around. Barnsley and Yeovil Town sit at the bottom of the table with League One football looming over their shoulders. Both clubs have taken advantage of the open window by signing three players each. Barnsley brought in the experienced Liam Lawrence, Liverpool youngster Ryan McLaughlin and Stoke City’s Brek Shea, on loan. Gary Johnson signed Liverpool’s Adam Morgan, Oldham’s Matteo Lanzoni and Everton’s Shane Duffy for Yeovil.
The additions have paid dividends for both clubs; Lanzoni and Duffy played a part in the Glovers 2-0 victory away to Birmingham and all three of Danny Wilson’s signings helped the Tykes to a 2-0 win over Blackpool. Yet some clubs are desperate for the clock to strike midnight on January 31st. Oscar Garcia’s Brighton and Hove Albion are one of them. Their instability in this window becomes rather reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s country-and-western plea to Jolene, ‘Please don’t take my man, even though you can’.
After a slow start to the season, with a string of first-team players on the sidelines with injuries, the Seagulls now sit 8th in the table, flirting with the prospect of the playoffs.
The Spaniard’s promotion push has now been threatened by the open window, turning the heads of a number of his top players. Ashley Barnes’ move to Burnley weakened the squad, but with Leonardo Ulloa returning from injury and Jonathan Obika joining on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, the loss can be dealt with. Sunderland’s persistence in luring Liam Bridcutt away from the Amex, however, is another story.
The 24-year-old is Oscar Garcia’s insurance policy. He sits in front of the back four as the core of the team, breaking up possession and giving license to the likes of Kazenga LuaLua and Andrew Crofts to get forward. But now Brighton fear the loss of Bridcutt’s services as former manager, Gus Poyet, comes calling for the midfielder.
In the past, Bridcutt has spoken openly about his desire to play in the Premier League; the interest from Sunderland led him to handing in a formal transfer request, subsequently rejected by Brighton. The Scotland international certainly has the ability to play in the Premier League, but Garcia will hope that he achieves that with Albion, through promotion. Brighton’s desperation to hold onto Bridcutt is just one example of how the winter window can affect promotion contenders.
Last January, Manchester United signed Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace but loaned him back to Selhurst Park for the remainder of the season. Zaha almost single-handedly dragged the Eagles into the Premier League through the play-offs. He scored the only two goals against Brighton in the semi-final legs and won the penalty at Wembley, securing promotion for Ian Holloway’s side.
It bodes the question: Would Palace have been promoted had United not loaned Zaha back?
Sir Alex Ferguson presented the Crystal Palace board with an offer they could not refuse – £15 million for a Championship side is irresistible. For Brighton, the potential of keeping Bridcutt at the Amex to support their promotion push has more financial advantages than the £2 million offered from Sunderland.
Oscar Garcia will be counting the minutes until the transfer window is slammed shut and will have to hope that when they visit Vicarage Road on February 2nd, Bridcutt is still playing in blue and white stripes rather than red and white. With another bid expected from the North East before Friday, it will be dependent on the financial resolve of the Brighton board as to whether Garcia keeps his man.
Written by Tom Roddy