AFTER all the transfer window hype and hoo-ha, it’s all over. Here, our expert Chris Dunlavy picks his top ten January signings. Could they make the difference?
Stefan Payne – Barnsley > Shrewsbury (Loan)
Who? It’s a legitimate question. Since joining the Tykes from Non-League Dover in May, Payne hasn’t started a single game.
Initially injured, then unable to dislodge Sam Winnall, he has not shown the qualities that yielded 43 goals in 85 games for the Whites. Shrews boss Paul Hurst, though, knew the striker inside out after facing him in the National League with Grimsby.
“He’s got a bit of everything to his game. He’s over six foot, a strong boy and also very quick. Most importantly, he gets goals,” said Hurst.
Chuba Akpom – Arsenal > Brighton (Loan)
Chris Hughton’s Seagulls are a fairly flawless outfit and, in Anthony Knockaert, possess arguably the division’s outstanding player.
Yet, if there’s one aspect lacking, it is genuine, defender-scaring pace up front. Glenn Murray and Sam Baldock are great technicians but neither exactly leaves scorch marks in the turf.
Akpom, a 21-year-old who can play right across the front line, certainly does. Chuck in the fact that he won promotion with Hull last year and you’ve got a player who perfectly ticks the box marked ‘run-in’.
Viv Solomon-Otabor – Birmingham > Bolton Loan
When Demarai Gray joined Leicester for £3.75m this time last year, Solomon-Otabor was seen as the next fleet-footed winger off the production line.
Such notions grew when the 21-year-old ran the length of the pitch to score against Fulham and pocketed the Blues’ young player of the year award. Even Gary Rowett spoke of the youngster’s “huge future”.
Yet the fact remains that Solomon-Otabor has made just four starts since his debut in 2015, and new Blues boss Gianfranco Zola has asked Phil Parkinson to play him as a striker in a bid to kick-start his development. If he shows anything like the kind of pace and power we’ve seen glimpses off, he will make a formidable forward.
Alex Mowatt – Leeds > Barnsley £500,000
Valued at £7m and monitored by Liverpool, Mowatt, just 19, looked set for superstardom in the summer of 2015.
It has been a peculiar fall from grace. Mowatt wasn’t injured or led astray. He simply had the misfortune to hit a trough bang in the middle of Massimo Cellino’s managerial mayhem.
Initially, he was played out of position. The penetrating runs and screaming strikes were replaced by over-eager toil and mistakes. Fearing the chairman’s trigger finger, no manager dared risk letting a struggling youngster play through his problems. Confidence evaporated. By the end, Mowatt regularly missed the matchday cut.
A red card on his Barnsley debut was further evidence he is still trying to force a return to form. Ultimately, though, we are talking about a 21-year-old kid, still lapsing and learning. Give him time, give him games and the fearless, swashbuckling performances of 2015 will return.
Jordan Rhodes – Middlesbrough > Sheff Wed (Loan)
Would you buy a Ferrari to plough a field? A tractor to race Le Mans? Of course not, so why did Boro put a striker who thrives on service in a team that doesn’t create chances?
Rhodes is a simple creature. Not quick, not strong, not much use at holding up play, but stick a ball in the box and he will invariably put it away. He’s done it 185 times so far in his career.
Under the ultra-defensive Aitor Karanka, Boro rarely put a ball in their opponents’ half, let alone the penalty area, so it’s hardly a surprise he hasn’t excelled on Teesside.
Match sharpness will take time to recover but Rhodes is a solid-gold cert at this level. Deployed in a 4-4-2 and aided by Fernando Forestieri, the 26-year-old will show Boro what they’re missing.
Charlie Wyke – Carlisle > Bradford £250k
According to Carlisle boss and ex-England midfielder Keith Curle, Wyke has the ability to score goals at any level.
League Two has certainly proved a doddle, with 18 in 34 games for the Cumbrians this season and a strike-rate of one every two matches since arriving from Middlesbrough in 2015.
He’s capable of playing as a lone striker, off the front man or out wide, and the Bantams may just be getting an upgrade on the departed James Hanson after meeting the £250,000 release clause in Wyke’s contract.
“He’s got everything you’d want from a centre-forward,” added Curle. “He’s mobile, brave, strong and has good technique and understanding of the game. He’ll go far.”
Mo Barrow – Swansea > Leeds (Loan)
Barrow is like a North Korean missile. Fast and deadly but nobody has any idea whether it will rain hellfire, head in the wrong direction or plummet harmlessly into the sea.
On his day, the Gambian is a breathtaking blur of speed and tricks. Just ask Nacho Monreal as the Arsenal full-back is still steaming from the roasting he was given at the Emirates in October.
“Mo is a match-winner, creative and quick,” said former Swansea striker Lee Trundle after that match. “He’s a player who gets fans off their seats and entertains people. He could be a real star.”
That, though, is pretty much the last anybody has heard about the 24-year-old, who remains too raw to perform consistently in the top flight. In the Championship, where pace and power rule, he should wreak havoc. Most of the time, anyway.
Helder Costa – Benfica > Wolves £13m
OK, so he was already there. But, after seeing Costa showcase his talents to a global audience at Anfield last weekend, Wolves gaffer Paul Lambert must be elated the winger’s loan from Benfica was made permanent.
Even at the height of Wolves’ struggles under Walter Zenga, Costa never stopped dribbling or creating. A bobbing, weaving beacon in a sea of dross.
Thirteen million quid, a club record, is steep. But, for a player with Premier League quality in his feet, it may yet turn out to be a bargain.
Eoin Doyle – Preston > Portsmouth (Loan)
It’s fair to say the Championship hasn’t been kind to Eoin Doyle. Terrific at Chesterfield, the striker has barely had a kick since joining Cardiff for £850,000 in January 2015.
He managed just 18 games for the Bluebirds, joined Preston and subsequently vanished all over again. Now 28, Doyle has started just six games all season, one of which infamously ended with a red card for scrapping with team-mate Jermaine Beckford.
Clearly, the Irishman has no future at Deepdale. Yet scrape away the rust and the player who scored 21 goals in 26 games for Chesterfield in 2014-15 remains. Even his Championship record of ten goals in 32 starts is not shoddy.
Match-fit and used regularly, Doyle has more than enough class to decimate League Two defences.
Conor Hourihane – Barnsley > Aston Villa £3m
Yes, Hourihane’s contract was up in the summer. And no, he’s never tested his mettle at a great club. But three million quid for a player of such demonstrable quality has to be THE deal of the window.
With six strikes and 11 assists, the Irishman’s productivity is unparalleled. No midfielder has been directly involved in more goals.
That’s treble the figures posted by Yanic Wildschut, Wigan’s Dutch winger, signed by Norwich for twice what Hourihane cost Villa. The 25-year-old is also a far more complete player, a set-piece specialist, no stranger to a bit of midfield donkey work.
How Steve Bruce will work his new signings – Hourihane, Henri Lansbury and Birkir Bjarnason – into one midfield remains to be seen, but to acquire all three for just £4m more than Villa recouped from the sale of Ashley Westwood is sensational business.
All three, along with £12m striker Scott Hogan, deserve a place on this list but, based on pure value, Hourihane noses it.
*All photos provided by Action Images unless otherwise stated.