By Craig Simpkin
It’s common for a Premier League side to splash out on a big money signing in the winter transfer window: whether as a morale-boosting investment or a desperate roll of the dice.
But rather than looking abroad for their new faces, some top flight managers might be better off looking a bit closer to home: the Championship.
Here are just five players who could add fresh impetus and a boost in respective battles to a Premier League club in the second half of the season:
It’s amazing that a Premier League club has yet to sign Jordan Rhodes considering his prolific return in recent campaigns (he’s not gone below 20 goals in a season since 2010/11), and with eight in his last fourteen games the Scottish international has clearly not lost his eye for goal.
At the age of 25, Rhodes offers the perfect blend of experience and youthful vigour, and – as has been the case in the past – whether Blackburn Rovers price him out of a move or not will largely determine his final destination come the end of January. A rumoured transfer fee of £14 million was attached to his aborted move to Middlesbrough in the summer, and that might be too rich even for the blood of the Premier League elite.
But it’s not beyond the pale that Rhodes could head to a mid-table side that needs an injection of attacking firepower: a Stoke City or a West Brom (should Saido Berahino leave) for example.
In 2010 Andre Gray joined the now defunct Hinckley United in the Conference North, and after blasting 29 goals in 70 matches he took a step up a level and signed for Luton Town for a fee of £30,000.
Two years later, after bagging 52 goals in 97 appearances for the Hatters, Gray joined Brentford in a rumoured £400,000 deal. It was a two-division leap for the pacey frontman, but he took everything in his stride and notched a creditable 18 goals in 47 games.
In the summer of 2015, Burnley sold their lightning quick striker Danny Ings to Liverpool and needed a like-for-like replacement. Manager Sean Dyche looked high and low and eventually plumped for the signature of Gray for a fee believed to be £6 million – a Clarets record.
With ten goals in fourteen appearances, he is now the Championship’s top goalscorer; not bad for a player who was plying his trade in the sixth tier of English football just five seasons ago.
Could he make the step up to the Premier League? Only time will tell. But one thing that is clear is that Gray has an innate ability for finding the back of the net, and that is a priceless commodity.
Leeds United have an absolute gem on their hands in Alex Mowatt. The 20-year-old made his breakthrough last season during yet another tumultuous campaign at Elland Road, bagging nine goals from midfield in a series of eye-catching displays which showed a natural attacking instinct and a cool head in possession.
If any scouts tuned in to an otherwise uneventful Yorkshire derby on Saturday between Leeds and Huddersfield Town, they will have been blasted from their seats at the sight of Mowatt’s 30 yard thunderbolt flying into the top corner to seal a 3-0 win for his side. In truth, it was the icing on the cake of another mature performance from the left-footed midfield maestro.
A call up to the England Under 21 squad beckons, and perhaps a move to a Premier League side is on the horizon too. You only have to look at the recent successes of Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, two players with a lower league upbringing, to see the wisdom in that.
The England international’s season has been hampered by a hamstring injury, but prior to his enforced lay-off Austin had already notched seven goals in twelve Championship games as QPR tried to mount an early assault on promotion.
The player himself has said publically that he turned down a summer move to an unnamed Premier League club in order to help the Hoops return to the top flight at the first time of asking, but with the 26-year-old becoming a free agent at the end of the season it remains to be seen whether the QPR manager – whomever it might be sat in the very hot seat at Loftus Road at the time – decides to cash in during the transfer window or not.
At the age of 31 he might be nearer the grave than the cradle in football terms, but Michael Dawson still has a huge amount to offer a club who need a centre half that would be happy to run through a brick wall in order to win a header.
His current employers Hull City have conceded just eight goals in sixteen matches, and it’s no coincidence that Dawson has been ever present during that run. He may have lost the yard of pace that saw him capped by his country, but he still has the positional sense and desire to do a fantastic job.
For a club like Aston Villa or Bournemouth that is sure to be fighting for its Premier League life, the nous and experience of the former England international could come in very handy.