How was your window? In Hull we tend not to expect much, with recent years bringing wild goose chases, plenty of talk – Michael Owen? Alvaro Negredo? – and very little action beyond the £5 million signing of the resource-draining Jimmy Bullard.
But the window which has just closed was Hull City’s busiest. Time will tell whether the rush of deals done by Steve Bruce will be enough to re-ignite the campaign for automatic promotion.
Other clubs at the top have spent heavily, but such is the nature of the Championship that the biggest dangers may lurk more against the likes of Barnsley and Bristol City than Cardiff and Palace.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the level of backing from Assem Allam, an owner who had previously indicated an unwillingness to throw more money at the club.
Some reports suggested he dipped into his transfer budget for the summer to pay £2 million to Manchester United for Robbie Brady and £1.5 million to Sunderland for David Meyler, but wherever the money came from the investment is a clear sign that Allam is backing the manager.
The spending didn’t end there and it may not be over yet. David Stockdale returned on loan to bring some stability between the sticks and Ahmed Elmohamady came back to provide the Tigers with a potent threat from right wing-back until the end of the season.
What happens next will depend on the capabilities of Allam’s newly-signed compatriots. Little is known about Fathi and Gedo, but along with Elmo they are regulars in Egypt’s national side and there were reports that confirmation of their loans boosted City’s Facebook fan presence by more than 10,000 Al Ahly supporters.
City fans will hope the Egyptians deliver the free-scoring impact made by Amr Zaki when Bruce unveiled him at Wigan Athletic rather than the plodding performances by the same player during a Premier League loan spell at the KC Stadium.
If the goals don’t come then it’s entirely possible that Bruce will be given funds to exploit the loan market. Various names have been suggested by the Tigers Twitterati, but speculation is pointless given the fact that Fathi and Gedo only emerged as targets during the last week of January.
On the field, the extremes this season have been the demolition of some opponents and the loss of other matches through defensive disasters.
At the KC Stadium, Bolton were battered and Millwall were mauled. And those Leeds United fans who stayed until the final whistle to berate their club’s management were under no illusions: 2–0 could easily have been six.
But howlers at the back brought home defeats against the previously pointless Peterborough United, against Blackpool and against Sheffield Wednesday. Missed chances led to a home defeat against Burnley and to the dropping of points against promotion rivals Palace and Leicester.
The pundits who go to every game find little to separate the Tigers from Cardiff and Leicester, and it is clear that goals are the difference.
Nick Proschwitz, a £2.6 million summer signing from SC Paderborn, has shown touches of class but not often enough.
Sone Aluko, picked up following the collapse of Rangers, is a potential match-winner, but one who is a few weeks away from fitness and who often plays too deep, showing bursts of pace and illuminating a game with his tricks but all too far away from goal.
Jay Simpson is full of pace, strength and effort but misses more chances than he takes. Aaron Mclean is a livewire who has chipped in with a couple of crucial goals, including one for loan club Ipswich Town in Saturday’s 4–0 hammering of Middlesbrough.
Bruce has built the team around Elmo and Brady as wing-backs, with any three central defenders from Paul McShane, James Chester, Jack Hobbs, Abdoulaye Faye and Alex Bruce, son of the manager and subject of ridiculous nepotism suggestions from some fans until he proved himself to be one of the signings of the season.
The formation offers solidity – apart from those occasional lapses – as well as support for a lively midfield which buzzes with the movement of Corry Evans, Robert Koren and Stephen Quinn and which improved physically with the arrival of Meyler, who has also scored in four vital victories.
Apart from goals the other big question mark is depth. Liam Rosenior is a good option from the bench but midfielders Tom Cairney and Seyi Olofinjana lack mobility. Brady’s initial arrival on loan was prompted in part by a long-term injury to Joe Dudgeon, and the lack of goals might have been rectified by the presence of Matty Fryatt, restricted by injury to a sole Capitol One Cup appearance before the League season started.
Stockdale’s understudy, Eldin Jakupovic, displayed his credentials in dramatic fashion in the TV defeat against Wednesday – a terrific keeper capable of some stunning saves, and at the same time an accident waiting to happen.
All of which leaves us with a good keeper, solid(ish) defence, plenty of pace and penetration and a new, Egyptian striker, untested in English football and now charged with scoring the goals that will take Hull City into the Premier League.