Well, we’re really starting to gather up a head of steam now and promotion is well within our sights.
Yes, January was another month unbeaten in the league, and although we did drop out of the FA Cup a 1-0 defeat against Premiership Wolves is very respectable, especially since Adam Matthews was sent off two minutes into the game.
The only slight blemish on our form this month was a one-all draw against Charlton at the Valley – which was also the only goal conceded in the league.
The highlight was undoubtedly the comfortable two-nil win over league leaders Scunthorpe and played a huge part in out rise up the table into third place – just one point behind the aforementioned Scunny (who are now in second) and new league leaders Barnsley.
In the Checkatrade we are now into the Semi-Finals after beating local-ish rivals Carlisle 3-0 and Lincoln 3-2 (including a Charlie Wyke brace and Alim Ozturk free kick). League One leaders Barnsley are the only team standing between us and a trip to Wembley.
In the transfer window it was a mixed bag – let's start with the positives.
Lynden Gooch eventually signed a new contact, as he signed a deal until 2022. Ethan Robson also renewed – his deal lasting until 2020.
I was successful in getting two of my transfer targets – top target Brannagan costing £6.5 million, and Maddison just £1.2 million.
I made attempts to sign Lawrence Shankland at the end of his contract, but his demands were too high and negotiations failed – as did an audacious bid for Boyata from Celtic and a swap deal between Adam Matthews and Phil Bardsley.
Part of my January plans were to loan out some young players, and this was a mixed bag. Benji Kimpioka went to Hartlepool and Jake Hackett joined Luke Molyneux (who extended his deal) at Gateshead. Jack Bainbridge went to Aldershot, also until the end of the season.
However, I failed to secure temporary deals for Embleton (who rejected the opportunity to stay at Grimsby), Robson, Hume, Diamond, Stryjek and Nelson. Players not in my first team plans but in need of first team football.
JANUARY TRANSFER SPECIAL!!!
It proved to be a highly difficult window as my budget was just under £2m meaning I had to really look around for bargain buys, rather than obtaining my number one targets.
Dutch winger Halil Dervisoglu was bought as a long-term replacement for Aiden McGeady.
He has a very credible goal record and I believe he will fit perfectly in my system as an inside-forward. Due to myself allowing three centre halves to leave, I signed Felix Weber from the German second division to provide competition to the likes of Baldwin and Flanagan.
Teddy Bishop, a central midfielder from Ipswich, was available on a cut-price deal and I seen this as an opportunity to sign a young player who I could use going forward in both League One and the Championship.
Halil Dervisoglu (LW) from Sparta Rotterdam £1m plus Alim Ozturk
Felix Weber (CB) from 1860 Munich £600K
Teddy Bishop (CM) from Ipswich £425K
Sam Brotherton (CB) to Sheffield Utd £130K
Reece James (LB) to Bradford £75K
Connor Shields (ST) to Scunthorpe £55K
Max Stryjek (GK) to Scunthorpe £10K
Glenn Loovens (CB) to Jahn Regensburg £8K
In terms of results, January proved to be an inconsistent month as we slipped to 3rd in the League One table, three points behind leaders Portsmouth. The lads lost a crucial away tie to second placed Scunthorpe 1-0 but gained a pivotal away point in a 2-2 draw against Charlton.
On New Year’s Day we won 2-1 against a nine-man Blackpool side, with player of the month George Honeyman scoring a brace. New signing Haris Dervisoglu scored on his debut in a 3-1 home win over Gillingham. The team has also managed to get to the semi-finals of the EFL Trophy against Barnsley after beating both Notts County and Walsall.
Now that I have managed to slightly adjust the squad, I need solidify Sunderland’s place within the automatic promotion places. My goal from now until the end of the season is to win both League One and the EFL Trophy.
As much as I would love to start by telling you just how great the transfer window was, there were a number of high-profile stories the came out of the first month of 2019 that can’t be looked past.
So without further ado, I introduce you to my first crisis meeting with chairman Stewart Donald... After an absolutely horrific start to the month, including one draw and three losses, I was called into the chairman’s office where I pleaded to be given more time in the job. Thankfully, the Don agreed but expected a target of 10 points in the following 5 games to be met if I was to continue as gaffer.
That meeting was followed by four straight victories, although only two were league games. This now leaves me with the slightly easier target of 4 points from the next 3 games going into February.
Checkatrade Alert! The other two wins were over Burton Albion and Barnsley, respectively, although both were very tight games as I needed penalties to eventually progress to the Semi-Finals of a competition I hold in high regard. I’ve drawn Accrington Stanley at home so fingers crossed I can book my place at Wembley in simpler fashion then the last couple of rounds.
After a difficult month, I am still sat in third place behind Oxford, but if they win their game in hand, a five point gap will open up. Hopefully the new signings will be able to make a decent enough impact to close the gap over the coming months.
Aden Flint is the most high-profile of my signings this window, as he is joined by Grant Leadbitter, Ben Watson, Max Power and Tyler Blackett on permanent transfers, with Abdelhamid Sabiri arriving on loan from Premier League outfit Huddersfield.
I managed to shift Donald Love as he’s quite obviously not good enough, with Glenn Loovens and Lee Connelly departing on a permanent basis, while New Zealand international Sam Brotherton has left on loan. Alim Ozturk is likely to leave after the deadline as the Turkish window is still open.
Fingers crossed I’m still in my job to contribute to this post next month...
I LOVE January. Transfer-wise it was very interesting with a couple of players leaving but some ample replacements signed up. I managed to execute my plans by signing a player who is fluent at both centre half and left back as well as another centre back.
The players in question are Jack Whatmough of Portsmouth and Ben Davies from Preston. Whatmough set me back 3.5 million and Davies is a £2.7 million deal that will rise to £9 million (I used my favourite trick of offering the asking price in monthly installments, like buying a player on credit.) Both of those players are ball-playing centre backs (plus Davies can play left back) and are already my starting pairing, at ages 22 and 23 I expect them to be in the side for years to come.
I also signed young Cameron Dawson from Sheffield Wednesday for £500,000 to put pressure on McLaughlin and take his place long term as potential could carry him as far as the Premier League. My other signing was bring Emile Smith-Rowe in on loan from Arsenal, I wanted to sign somebody permanently but I couldn’t find the right player so Smith-Rowe will provide a quality (if short term) replacement for the major departure this window.
Also Elliot Embleton returned from loan and will be playing as many minutes as I can afford to give him without upsetting the trio of McGeouch, Power and Cattermole.
Duncan Watmore found the door in the form of a £4.6 million move to Premier League Cardiff which made me actually laugh out loud when they accepted my demands.
Watmore has been really good for us this season to be fair and his departure lead to a quick team meeting where I had to explain my reasons for selling him, we worked it out though and everybody is happy again. In other news big D-Love went for £1 million to Blackburn a few other youth squad players found new clubs.
On the pitch January was my best month to date. 100% wins, at least a thousand points clear at the top, through to the semis of the checkatrade and the next round of the FA Cup (where we drew Liverpool so it was fun while it lasted).
Goal difference is my favourite stat this month as it clocks in at a tasty 60.