It’s clear the recruitment team were tasked with bringing in young, hungry players to improve an older, ponderous squad. It began in the summer with players such as Doyle, Cirkin, and Dajaku arriving, everyone under 20.
Once more, the identification of young players was key.
First came Trai Hume, a much needed right back. Said to be strong in the tackle but, like all modern full-backs, a threat going forward, he sounds exactly what we need to free up Carl Winchester to move back into midfield. Taking time to settle from his move from Ireland, it is hoped the teenager will make an impact as we close out this season.
Ahead of Hume, we have signed Patrick Roberts from Man City. A player with creativity, skill, and perhaps yet untapped potential, he arrives with a point to prove. Now 24, this is a move that will hopefully work in the favour of both club and player as we seek a collective goal of moving back through the footballing pyramid.
Jack Clarke has been much talked about as a young 21-year-old with a big future in the game. Explosive, game-changer, creative - all words mentioned as we look to replace McGeady’s influence from the left wing.
Central midfield was a concern in the summer when Evans was signed, but injuries and the lack of a physical presence meant the club have looked again.
20-year-old Jay Matete arrives with an impressive reputation already, having gained experience at Fleetwood and Grimsby. A more physical presence than Evans, Matete can still play his way through the middle and will, hopefully, provide great foil for our own standout youngster this year, Dan Neil.
The team also noted the need for a strong centre half and a proven striker. Sometimes experience proves invaluable in these positions. Enter Danny Batth, a solid, no-nonsense, centre half from Stoke. His first game against Pompey was almost Varga-esque, whilst his away debut was more Vergini. Hopefully, he’ll recover, like the rest of the squad, from that Bolton debacle and prove his worth in shoring up a defence in the games to come.
The return of Bailey Wright alongside him and Doyle may yet carry us over the line. Letting Flanagan leave may be a risk, but then it always felt a risk when he was relied on. Allowing Ollie Younger leave may have been the one deal leaving us short in defensive options, but then he was hardly pushing the door to get a game.
Other youngsters have left, of course - Denver Hume making the switch to Portsmouth, Hawkes making his loan to Tranmere a permanent move, and Diamond returning to his own loan spell at Harrogate. It’s good to let young lads develop or progress elsewhere and we hope Diamond continues to offer us options upon his return.
Of course, the big story was our number ten. Out went Aiden O’Brien joined Hume on the south coast, relinquishing his shirt just 24 hours after ‘liking’ Sunderland’s Twitter announcement of Lee Johnson’s own departure. A player who divided the fan base, his final act (like one Jozy Altidore before him) opened the door for Jermain Defoe.
The hero returns, announced in the early hours, not by any Sky Sports or local journalist hanging around the AoL, but by Wee Phillie knocking on a car window! The signing of a proven, experienced goalscorer is taken to a whole other nostalgic level with the signing of Defoe, but one that surely signals KLD’s intent to replace Johnson and get out of League One.
We await the fireworks on Saturday!