The words “Sheffield United” and “January Transfer Window” just don’t seem to get on. In the eyes of the supporters at least. Fans calling up local radio or posting on message boards seem to go through the same process every year. As the window approaches there is excited discussion of who the Blades could bring in and as the year changes the talk turns to unsubstantiated rumors from people “In the know” of certain players being seen at Bramall Lane ready to sign on the dotted line. By the end of the window the panic sets in as the dreams of signing that reserve centre half from Fulham seem to be diminishing. By the time the window closes the anger and accusations of why this or that player were not brought in are well under way. Is it like this at every club or just at United?
It seems there will always be a large number of people unhappy about the outcome of the transfer window. In the past United have even managed to compound the misery of not bringing in the players that were seen by “Joeblade96” on twitter having a chip butty with Kevin McCabe at Devonshire Chippy by selling a fans favourite. All in all few blades have good memories of the January transfer window.
In this article I take a look how United have performed in the January transfer windows since their relegation to League One.
The Blades brought in 4 players at the last transfer window. Kieron Freeman, Paul Coutts, Matt Done and, most excitingly of all, John Brayford were signed permanently by Nigel Clough. Whilst many Blades questioned why we had added two right backs to the squad when what we seemed to need most of all was a centre half and a big centre forward, most were delighted with the capture of Brayford. A massive success during his loan spell the year before, Brayford was given a heroes welcome on his first start as a permanent Blade at home to Swindon. As it turned out and quite ironically given the fans fears, a lot of Brayfords season would be spent filling in at centre half. Even now back playing in his natural position Brayford still hasn’t quite hit the heights of his original loan spell. Most Blades are happy he is here but at the same time most Blades question whether spending so much money (believed to be around £1.5m) on a right back was the sensible thing to do when other areas of the team were in much more desperate attention. Of the other 3 it was Matt Done, labeled by some as a “panic buy”, that gained the most plaudits. He got off to a flying start with 3 goals in his first 4 games and now holds a record of 11 goals in 24 appearances at United. This season he has been blighted by injuries but he was definitely a bright spark for United last term and soon became a favourite of the fans. Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman were both brought in from Derby and it was Freeman who enjoyed the better time of things initially despite not holding down a first team place. His performances on the whole for United have been decent but the question still remains why he was brought in at all when United had Craig Alcock and now John Brayford as specialised right backs. Add to that the good form at the time of Ryan Flynn playing in that position and his signing is certainly a head scratcher. Coutts had a torrid time of things for most of last season. He seemed woefully slow and unfit adding next to nothing to the United midfield. Things have improved for him this season though and at times he looks a real quality player but the jury is still very much out .
Despite the fanfare Brayford received on his arrival and the success of Done, the failure to bring in players in positions United actually needed ultimately proved their downfall. Steve Davis was brought in on loan after the window closed but didn’t pull up many trees and the centre half situation was never addressed. United failed to get promotion and didn’t look any better after the window had closed
United were sat in 18th position by the time the January transfer window opened in 2014. The blades had gone on a mini run that had seen them pull away from the bottom 4 but they were still deep in the relegation mix. In this window new manager Nigel Clough brought in Stefan Scougall and Bob Harris on permanent deals with Billy Paynter and John Brayford coming in loan. Whilst Paynter struggled throughout his spell at United, failing to score a single goal, Scougall, Harris and Brayford excelled. All three were a huge part of United’s surge up the table and their run to the FA Cup Semi Final. Scougall even got a goal at Wembley in that semi final whilst fans on the same day were seen wearing masks of Brayford such was the impact he had made since his arrival. Scougall has since struggled for any sort of form and these days can’t even make the match day squad whilst Harris has constantly struggled with injuries. Brayford signed permanently the January after whilst Paynter is now at League 2 Hartlepool.
There is no doubt that United improved hugely after the window. The Blades ended up just a place outside the play-offs and were 45 minutes away from their first Cup final since 1935. 3 of Clough’s 4 signings were integral parts in United’s revival with one becoming a cult hero almost immediately.
The biggest deal regarding United in this transfer window was the sale of top scorer Nick Blackman to Reading. Coming off the back of a long term injury to other first choice striker Shaun Miller this decision left many United fans angry at what was happening at their club. Whilst not in the same class, losing their two best strikers in the same month did definitely have echoes of the day Brian Deane and Jan Aage Fjortoft were sold. To compensate for these losses United brought in 3 permanent signings and two loanees. The three permanents were Danny Higginbotham, Barry Robson and Jamie Murphy. None of these signings impressed initially though Murphy did show glimpses of what was to come. Higginbotham in particular was a dreadful purchase and was soon consigned to the reserves after a series of awful displays. Robson showed some of his former class at certain times but looked what he was: A player well past his best. The players brought in on loan to replace Blackman and Miller were Domonic Poleon and former Blades academy graduate Jonathan Forte. Between them they scored one goal in 19 appearances.
The worst transfer window of recent times. The sale of Blackman was one thing but the players brought into replace him just added to the fury of the fans. Jamie Murphy would prove to be an excellent signing and United would end up selling him for much more than they paid for him just as they had with Blackman. Unfortunately both sales left the side in a much weaker position and all but ended any serious hopes of automatic promotion.
This window was more about trying to keep players than buy them. Matt Lowton, Harry Maguire, Stephen Quinn and Ched Evans were all constantly linked with other clubs in the papers but for once United didn’t blink and kept hold of their prized assets. Whether they actually received any bids for Ched Evans is debatable given his upcoming court case but United didn’t sabotage their promotion hopes by cashing in on any of their wanted players. Manager Danny Wilson brought in a few players too. Marcus Williams joined from Reading but left most Blades wondering just whilst Matt Hill also came to the club and after a difficult start endeared himself to United fans with his committed performances. Brought in on loan were strikers Micheal o’Hallaron from Bolton and Will Hoskins from Brighton. Both were signed with an eye on the Evans court case and should we lose our start striker these two were seen as the people to replace him in the final promotion push. As it happened Hoskins could never stay fit and o’Hallaron was completely ineffectual everytime he played. James Beattie was later brought in for a second spell at the club but ended up getting sent off twice as many times as he found the net.
Hard to judge as United did well to hold on to their best players but failed miserably in their bid to find an able back up to Evans. When Evans was eventually sent down, United’s promotion bid totally evaporated and we failed to win a single league game with him not in the side. I think I would class the window as a failure as we didn’t get the one thing right that we needed to but it would be harsh to blame the board on this occasion. They pretty much did all they could but were let down by the players Danny Wilson and his staff brought in.