Sheffield United: The type of player being lined-up for a January move to Bramall Lane
Two months ago, when most of us were still recovering from the breathless build-up to August's transfer deadline, Chris Wilder sat down with his closest confidants and began drafting his shopping list for the January sales.
A centre-forward and, if the budget stretched far enough, another attacking midfielder featured at the top of the Sheffield United manager's wish-list. Eight weeks later, the notes he scribbled down before filing away in a diary remain untouched and unamended. Indeed, recent performances have only reinforced his belief that more firepower is required to give this United squad the best possible chance of realising its promotion potential.
What has changed, however, is our understanding of how Wilder will attempt to operate in a market populated by teams with equally lofty ambitions but much deeper pockets. The answer, after it was reported Jermaine Defoe and Shane Long are viewed as potential acquisitions, is by focusing on Premier League strikers currently struggling for game-time with their parent clubs.
Although Defoe and Long are persons of interest, it would be a mistake to portray them as being concrete targets. Instead, it has since emerged, the decision to monitor their respective situations at AFC Bournemouth and Southampton reveals more about the kind of player Wilder believes can be lured to South Yorkshire rather than their actual identities.
Defoe and Long, who have started eight matches between them so far this term, are proven performers with peripheral roles at top flight level. The same can be said for Burnley's Ashley Barnes and Matej Vydra; half of the Czech's eight appearances for Sean Dyche's side have come from the bench. Like Long and Defoe, neither is likely to be sold on a permanent basis and, even if they were, fees and wages would put them beyond United's reach. But top-flight teams looking to give their squad members some game-time could view Bramall Lane as the perfect place to temporarily park them. And with Wilder searching for more attacking options, a move to United would therefore suit all parties concerned.
Fourth in the table and only three points behind leaders Norwich City, the 51-year-old's decision to prioritise another goalscorer does not reflect badly on Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick, Leon Clarke and Conor Washington. Rather, as Wilder has explained in recent weeks, it represents an attempt to maximise the options already at his disposal. With three of their frontline strikers aged 30 or over, bringing in a fresh face would equip United with the ability to rest and rotate during the second half of the season. Plus, if they are still challenging for a top six finish, an injection of experience could prove invaluable.
Wilder could discover more about the type of deals he will be able to pursue later this week when directors are scheduled to hold one of their regular conference calls. Custom and practice among football managers means they are unlikely to be presented with any individual names. But, after sanctioning a series of improved contracts for key members of his side, they will almost certainly be asked to confirm how much money is available for strengthening. Only then can the process of approaching rival clubs and agents to explore the possibilities begin in earnest.
Sharp, who has scored 11 goals in only 16 outings so far this term, is expected to spearhead United's frontline when they return to action at Rotherham this weekend. Despite missing a penalty during the derby against Sheffield Wednesday, McGoldrick appears in pole position to partner United's captain although Washington is understood to have impressed in training during the international break.