A centre-forward eluded Garry Monk and in that respect the winter transfer window fell short of perfection at Leeds United.
The onus is on Chris Wood for goals, as it has been all season, but the events of the last 24 hours should ease the agitation which Monk was feeling on Sunday.
There was, evidently, a question in his head about whether Leeds would serve up anything in the final two days of January but by yesterday’s deadline he had his winger and an extra one besides. The window did not alter the balance of his squad or tackle the matter of what happens if Wood’s form or body gives up on him but Monk exits January with more pace and attacking choice than he had when he entered it. Where wingers are concerned, he is almost spoiled.
That scenario suits Monk insofar as he has taken to rotating wide players throughout the season. Wingers he will chop and change but Wood is a fixture; not so much part of the furniture are the furniture itself. At a club where Leeds operate with one established centre-forward, it would not have helped Monk to recruit Leonardo Ulloa or Jordan Rhodes; players already disillusioned by how little they were playing for their existing clubs. What he needed was cover for an automatic pick.
AS IT HAPPENED: Leeds United's transfer deadline day
Put in those terms - the offer to come and wait for injury or mediocrity to affect Wood, neither of which Leeds want hear about - a move to Elland Road was a hard sell to a narrow field of options. There is an element of tempting fate in leaving Souleymane Doukara as the only conceivable alternative as a lone striker but the same could have been said about recruiting a proven player who entered the dressing room with the quiet hope that Wood was about to lose his way.
It was that fine balance which attracted Leeds to Ashley Fletcher. Fletcher would have come on loan and would have happily served as understudy to Wood for four months. At 21, he is young enough to benefit from that experience but able enough to chip in here and there. As it turned out, West Ham United’s search for strikers was as barren as Leeds’ and Fletcher was off the market by lunchtime yesterday.
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With Alfonso Pedraza and Modou Barrow there was more success. And there needed to be. In the first transfer window since Andrea Radrizzani’s investment and in the first January window for six years where Leeds had promotion to go at, Monk deserved assistance. Radrizzani said himself that the targets put forward by United’s head coach were “to be honest, not too difficult.” There was a hint in Monk’s comments last week of a boss who felt the club were making hard work of it and an element of surprise that the first transfer (excluding the conversion of Pablo Hernandez’s loan to a permanent contract) was the £600,000 sale of Alex Mowatt to Barnsley but the deals for Pedraza and Barrow will placate him. It does not take much to keep Monk happy.
Mowatt’s exit provoked pointed questions but the signing of Pedraza and Barrow gave it context. Mowatt has been a fringe player under Monk and a times not even that. Monk needed him in a game like Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Sutton but with Pedraza and Barrow eligible this weekend, it is doubtful where Mowatt would have made the 18 at Huddersfield. There is ample potential in him still but the past year-and-a-half made him look like little more than a 20-yard, left-footed finish. A fresh start might not do him harm.
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Charlie Taylor’s situation was more of a concern but Leeds promised to keep him and did, with very little difficulty. Much as the left-back is minded to move on in the summer, Taylor seemed as happy as the club to sit tight in January. Hernandez remained in the building too. Pontus Jansson is still on loan and £3.5m is still to be spent on him but Leeds have deals in place with both Torino and the centre-back and will, according to sources at Elland Road, tie him down before the option to sign him permanently expires in June. There are shades of on-the-never-never about Monk’s squad but over 28 league games the strategy has worked.
In all, January saw Mowatt, Toumani Diagouraga and Luke Murphy head out and Pedraza and Barrow come in, on top of a new terms for Hernandez. Leeds were not guilty of blowing their budget apart what the window reiterated was the quality of Monk’s performance on a negligible net-spend, certainly in comparison to other clubs in the Championship. Money did not stop Aston Villa getting walloped at Brentford last night but statistically it helps and statistically it pays. Monk is beating the numbers. No club is asking for or getting more value for money from the man in the dug-out.
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