January Transfer Window: An Assessment

January transfer window summary

Incomings: Liam Noble (Forest Green, free), Matty Virtue (Liverpool, loan), Noor Husin (Crystal Palace, free), Ben Hall (Brighton, loan), Mason Bennett (Derby, loan).

Outgoings: Ryan Yates (recalled from loan), Haydn Hollis (Forest Green, free), Pierce Bird (Alfreton, loan), Curtis Thompson (Wycombe, loan), Elliott Hodge (Alfreton, loan).

Whatever you may think of the January transfer window, it very rarely comes and goes quietly. Many hoped, given that we went into the month with stable ownership and management and in a very strong league position, that we may be in for a month of relative tranquility.

Forest’s decision to be utter bastards recall influential midfielder Ryan Yates early in the month quickly put paid to that. Though Liam Noble had already arrived and made his second debut for the club in Yates’ last appearance at Brentford, this departure put a cloud over the month that only really subsided in Saturday’s memorable FA Cup draw with Swansea.

Notts fans will now hope that the club can move on from Yates’ departure as, in recent years, the January window has proved that it has the ability to make or break a season for the Magpies. In 2014/15, the departure of influential loanees Stephen McLaughlin, Zeli Ismail, Louis Laing and Michael Petrasso and replacing them with untested youngsters was widely thought of as the main reason for the club’s plunge down the table and ultimate relegation, though it must be said that the rot had started to set in before then. Meanwhile, the less said about Jamie Fullarton/Guy Branston’s acquisitions of Jason Banton and Gary MacKenzie and decision to ostracise anyone with a non-British passport, the better.

The window took-on even more importance last season with the EFL’s decision to ban any non-emergency short-term loans outside of it and, after emerging from the transfer embargo last-minute, Nolan’s signings of Shola Ameobi, Jorge Grant and Marc Bola were vital in guiding the club to Football League survival, and should provide some hope for this time around.

So what can we expect from the final three months of the season, and has Kevin Nolan done enough to sustain this automatic promotion charge that few would’ve predicted in pre-season? Three Gerrit Forward contributors give their thoughts…

Rob Davies (@RobD97)

Has it been a good month?

There’s always a case of the tail wagging the dog with the January window; clubs at every level seem to feel the need to do something, particularly on Deadline Day itself and, for a multi-million pound industry, there doesn’t always seem a great deal of rational thought or long-term planning behind it. Just look at our neighbours over the Trent, for example.

I feel it’s been a massive distraction and the loss of Yates overblown. I would’ve preferred a more direct replacement for him, as opposed to signing three players and changing – for two games at least – the whole dynamic and style of the team to accomodate them, but I’m hoping that Saturday’s switch back to 4-4-2 will be a long-term move and one of Virtue, Husin and Noble can be moulded into Elliott Hewitt’s midfield partner for the remaining months of the season, assuming Rob Milsom and Michael O’Connor are no nearer a return from injury. Even in a much-improved display on Saturday, Sahin still regularly seemed behind play and this isn’t a side built for ball-players. Given the need for so much off-the-ball work from the two midfielders in a 4-4-2, the decision to pursue Noble makes no more sense to me than it did in the summer, which means a lot rests on the untested shoulders of Virtue. The 20-year-old looked more comfortable in a midfield two and did well in a ridiculously physical game in his EFL debut at Lincoln, so he looks the most likely of the three to establish his place in the immediate term.

Curtis Thompson’s surprising move to promotion rivals Wycombe, to me, proves he still has something to offer at this level and, given that he, like Hewitt and Yates, isn’t the most refined on the ball but runs all day and has been brought by Wycombe for his ball-winning qualities, it seems strange that he’s not really been given a chance under Nolan, considering he fits the bill of what he’d expect from a midfielder (on paper at least).

Defender Ben Hall looks a very good acquisition, having had first-team experience with Motherwell, which should mean that Hewitt can finally concentrate on just one position.

For all the noise, though, while five new players have arrived and five have departed (though at least two of these should return), only one of those who have left (Yates) has been a regular in the matchday squad this season. Oh, and we’ve kept hold of Jorge Grant too.

Best piece of business?

When Yates left, most felt Grant would follow him out the door so keeping him was huge. 17 goals from midfield is near-impossible to replace and he showed again against Swansea that he remains our biggest attacking threat.

Mason Bennett is one that could go either way, given he first rose to national prominence nearly seven years ago but is still just 21. He’s rarely had a run of starts in his career and is still highly-thought of at Derby, where the likes of Chris Martin and Darren Bent couldn’t even get a start this season; the fact that Jonathan Forte is still here to compete with him for places is also a welcome bonus.

Are we fully equipped for the run in?

As above, we need at least one of the three new midfielders to step-up. If they do, I believe we’re more-than equipped. We have three senior goalkeepers, two specialist full-backs with strong experience either side, three centre backs and plenty who can cover, three excellent wingers, seven centre midfielders and, now, six strikers. There will be some very good players who won’t even make the bench on Saturday.


Paul Smith (@PSmithyJourno)

Has it been a good month?

Our on-field form in January is mirrored by what has happened off the pitch with the club’s transfer activity. Chairman Alan Hardy promised we’d have a better squad come February 1st than we had on January 1st. In truth, we won’t know if that’s the case for sure until the new signings have had some more playing time. On first reflection, though, I’m not sure Hardy’s statement is true. The fact Kevin Nolan signed two midfielders seemingly to replace one in Ryan Yates says a lot about the Forest loanee and the duo brought in to vie for his shirt. He was arguably our Player of the Season up to the turn of the year and is a huge loss. It’s no surprise that our form has dipped since he left. Swansea City aside, it’s been a poor month for results, and I expected better of our transfer activity.

Best piece of business?

When the deal was first announced, I thought this might be the re-signing of Liam Noble. When speculation first surfaced of Nolan’s interest in the midfielder last summer, I argued in favour of Noble’s recapture in these pages and against my fellow contributor Rob Davies. Unfortunately, since making his playing return in January, Noble has lived up to Rob’s assessment rather than my own. He doesn’t appear fit enough to play in our preferred formation of 4-4-2, where our success has been built on having two hard-working box-to-box midfielders. And he isn’t a wideman. Further, on the ball he hasn’t been as dynamic or as threatening as expected. He must improve.

Therefore it has to be keeping hold of top scorer Jorge Grant, who has been a revelation since signing exactly a year ago. When Yates was recalled by Forest we feared the worst, so confirmation he’d be seeing the season through at Meadow Lane was a huge boost. A word too for finally getting rid of Haydn Hollis – long overdue.

Are we fully equipped for the run in?

We have to live with the fact that Yates is no longer with us, and hope that one of Noor Husin or Matty Virtue come to the fore as viable options to partner the increasingly important Elliot Hewitt. Or that Rob Milsom returns from injury. It’s vital that we go back to what made us a success in the first half of the campaign. Tactically if we do that, then the answer is yes. The wildcard is the addition of Mason Bennett. If he can recapture some of the stardust around him that brought so much hype when he was a teenager, to supplement the tried and tested Jonathan Stead-Shola Ameobi partnership, then we could be back in business. I still think we will have had a good season if we were to finish in the play-offs – and that increasingly looks our best bet given the form of the likes of Coventry City, Mansfield Town and Lincoln City.

Dane Vincent (@upDV)

Has it been a good month?

I think it’s too early to say. Personally, I’ve been frustrated by our midfield business as I don’t believe Ryan Yates has been sufficiently replaced by the three new arrivals, based on their performances so far. Saying that, both Matty Virtue and Noor Husin looked more comfortable alongside Elliott Hewitt in a two-man central midfield, so fingers crossed there’s a good, consistent partnership in there somewhere.

Despite my engine room reservations, I feel like Mason Bennett can be an exciting bit of business in attack with his pace and power. Ben Hall gives us some much-needed defensive depth and it’s encouraging to see he’s got a bit of senior football experience.

Best piece of business?

Retaining Jorge Grant. He’s been key to our success so far this season and losing him would have been huge blow.

Are we fully equipped for the run-in?

I think we will be when Rob Milsom and Michael O’Connor return. The duo were excellent at the end of last season and I’d like to think that if we do have midfield problems, they’ll feel like new signings.

For me, Hewitt has to be the first name on the teamsheet right now and without him in there, I think we’ll struggle defensively. Everywhere else, I think we’ve added depth to a strong base that will hopefully contribute to at least a Play-Off place.


What do you think about this January window? Give us your thoughts below or get involved in the discussion on Twitter @GerritForward.

Rob Davies

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