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Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round

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Editorial: The next 48 hours will show where our ambitions lie for this season

How does Ross Stewart’s injury change our approach to transfer deadline day?

Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

For all of the positives from Saturday’s game at Fulham – and there were plenty – it was overshadowed by another injury to Ross Stewart.

After sailing through last season with barely a knock, he’s now suffered two serious injuries this campaign, and if early reports are correct, we’ll not see him again this season.

So, where to from here? Does Stewart’s injury change our transfer plans? Possibly.

We gambled in the summer with going into the season with just two recognised strikers, and quickly paid the price. It’s no exaggeration to say that if Stewart and Simms had been fit all season, we’d likely be challenging the top two – and while I’m certainly very happy about how the season’s gone so far, there’s that nagging ‘what if?’ at the back of my mind.

Yes, we’ve signed the lad Gelhardt on loan from Leeds, but he’s a very different type of player to Stewart – someone who’d likely complement our talisman rather than replace him – and we’re again in desperate need of at least one, if not two, more strikers to come in over the next couple of days. For all of Gelhardt’s potential, he’s unproven.

While we’ve got a number of good attacking players, strikers are a different breed; they have a different skillset and add that cutting edge our often brilliant play deserves.

We saw evidence of that lack of cutting-edge on Saturday after Stewart went off, and it quickly reminded me of that run of games we had from mid-September.

Some of our play was stunningly good. We’ve talked a lot about Amad this season, but Roberts, Clarke, Neil, Michut, Hume and Dan Neil are all contributing so much to our style of play, however for all of the chances we created we only scored one.

With more clinical finishing, we could have – should have – put Fulham out of sight.

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Still, it was a good test to see where we’re at – and although we were facing a rotated Fulham side, we acquitted ourselves really well and the performance should give the players even more confidence in our ability to perform at a higher level.

The transformation in this squad in just three transfer windows has been unbelievable, and how we approach the next couple of days could determine what the outcome of this season is.

Do we go all out for promotion?

I think we have to.

The automatic places are sewn up, but the playoffs are perfectly achievable for us. Yes, there’s a credible school of thought that as a squad we’d be better off letting this team develop in the Championship, and there’s a huge part of me that would love to see that.

However, we can never pick and choose when to get promoted – football doesn’t work like that – and I think we need to go for it now while the chance is there.

So, what does that mean for the next 48 hours? Well, at least one striker is non-negotiable you’d think – two would be preferable. Could one of those be Simms?

Possibly, although the club won’t be banking on that. I’d like to see someone come in on a permanent deal, too – although of course that’s easier said than done.

In midfield, we’ve signed Pierre Ekwah and he looked good in his cameo appearance on Saturday – however that was his professional debut, so it’ll be asking a lot for him to come in and be a mainstay in the team. Dan Neil and Michut look as if they’ll be the midfield pair for now, but I would like to see a more direct replacement for Corry Evans to arrive.

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round
Ekwah’s appearance on Saturday was his first professional game
Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

The injuries to Stewart and Evans – and rumours of Bailey Wright’s impending departure –means we’re seriously depleted in terms of experience in the team. At present, it’s Danny Batth and only Danny Batth, and we might need to address that with over the next couple of days too.

If Wright does go, of course, that would leave us needing another centre back, while I’d also like to see an experienced keeper arrive. Anthony Patterson’s done well this season, and had another excellent game on Saturday, but goalkeeper’s a position that’s flown under the radar for me this season. With only Alex Bass in reserve, we’re one injury or illness away from a major problem – and we need a bit more strength in depth there.

So, what will the next 48 hours have in store? I’m not too sure, to be honest – although the reported fees involved in the Gelhardt deal hint that we do have at least one eye on the playoffs.

A couple of smart transfers in, to supplement the excellent business we’ve done so far, and we could have a very exciting second half of the season to look forward to.

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