Goals get you out of the Championship. That’s a fact. A good defence helps too and most of the sides going for promotion this season are pretty tidy at the back but the ability to nick games and shade tight matches is usually the difference in the end.
Leeds United don’t have a regular goalscorer, or not at this moment. That’s not to say that they don’t have players who could possibly chip in with 10, 15 or 20 in a particularly exceptional year but when Neil Redfearn says that the club needs to look for that signing in the transfer market this summer, he’s absolutely right.
Of the players who are already at Elland Road, my honest view is that Souleymane Doukara is a long way from being a 20-goal striker. I’d fancy Steve Morison to score as part of a front two, rather than on his own up front, but I’m not sure I’d back him to be prolific. And Edgar Cani, to be quite frank, I know absolutely nothing about.
Billy Sharp and Mirco Antenucci are probably the two most natural finishers amongst the group but Sharp’s on five goals for the season and Antenucci’s got nine. There’s an argument to say that both could do better but you’d be taking a gamble by assuming that potent performances are going to come from either of them next season.
The reality is that Leeds must invest in that area of their team. They’re going to have to invest if they want a serious chance of winning promotion in 12 months’ time. Recruiting a quality centre-forward would actually be a wise use of money. Redfearn’s team are one of the lowest-scoring in the Championship but they could still finish top 10. Think of the difference a reliable striker would make. Needless to say, finding one sounds simple in theory; go out and pay the money for a top-class frontman.
Sadly it’s not that simple. For a start, proven goalscorers cost a fortune. They’ve always been sold at a premium, going back years and years, and any club with ambition will fight tooth and nail to keep hold of them.
To use an example, Troy Deeney is a forward I like. I’d estimate his price tag at about £10m so we can forget about him. In any case, Watford might well be going up. There’s Odion Ighalo at Watford too, Chris Martin at Derby County, Callum Wilson at Bournemouth and Jordan Rhodes at Blackburn.
These players would make a difference to Leeds but, realistically, what chance is there of Leeds prising them away? And could they even afford the cost when Financial Fair Play rules are influencing everything? Even if money isn’t too much of an issue, persuading any of those clubs to give up those players would be virtually impossible. If the clubs miss out on promotion this season – and some of them will – then they’ll want to go for it again next season.
On the back of a decent campaign, it’s never too difficult to convince players that they’re better off sitting tight, unless a Premier League side comes calling. The trick in these circumstances is to have a good scouting network. If you look at a lot of the leading scorers in the Championship, you’ll see a trend amongst them. Most of them were picked up at a fairly low cost or at a time when they were out of favour elsewhere.
Deeney cost Watford about £500,000 when he signed from Walsall, an absolutely brilliant deal. Ipswich’s Daryl Murphy wasn’t making much impact at Celtic when he moved on and he’s going close to 30 goals this term. Martin was similar. Norwich City were loaning him out all over the place and eventually let him join Derby on a free. On paper these didn’t look like massive signings but in reality they’ve been so effective.
Leeds need to employ a similar sort of strategy this summer. They need to look close to home and try to uncover targets that no-one else is thinking about. Targets which aren’t immediately obvious.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that a goalscorer will score at any level no matter what – in the Championship, you’re up against better players than you face in League One or Two and you get fewer chances – but there might well be options in the lower league.
Yes, it’s a punt but you can minimise the risk.
Scout players repeatedly and look for the signs of extra potential.
Use your knowledge of the game to spot a striker with much more to offer and scope to improve. It’s unpredictable and everyone else is at it. But it can be done.