Hull City, as they often tend to do, left it late. On this occasion it was very, very late.
An hour before the summer transfer window closed came the announcement that Leonardo Da Silva Lopes had joined from Wigan for an undisclosed fee and 30 minutes after it was the turn of Matthew Pennington to be unveiled in a season-long loan from Everton.
Even then there was still time for another two deals to be signed off beyond the 5pm deadline. Josh Magennis’ move from Bolton Wanderers was pushed through before Callum Elder’s capture from Leicester dramatically took the summer deals into double figures.
Yet for all that City managed to get done in those breathless final hours of business, it is what they chose not to do that adds the gloss to Grant McCann’s summer overhaul.
To have kept Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki makes the window better than most dared imagine. A wide pairing that scored 31 goals and racked up 16 assists last season was irreplaceable on City’s tight budget. Even if cheques had been left bare McCann might have struggled to recruit better as a Championship head coach.
The sense of loss will not be the same once Markus Henriksen finally moves on this month. The Norway international has plenty to give but is unlikely to ever be considered a game-changer like Bowen and Grosicki.
And that is what City need now more than ever. Both Championship experience and the average age have fallen over this summer but McCann still has two players with a track record of turning games in their side’s favour. The value of retention, in this case, emphatically trumps that of recruitment.
Whether City are stronger for the passing of the summer, though, remains open for debate.
Nigel Adkins was able to call upon Fraizer Campbell, Marc Pugh, Evandro (when fit) and Chris Martin for variety in attack. McCann might have held on to the club’s most dangerous forwards – a victory in itself – but Tom Eaves, Josh Bowler and Magennis have been the only replacements to arrive up front.
McCann points to the availability of seven forwards, eight including rookie Keane Lewis-Potter, but there will be an awful lot riding on Eaves’ success between now and January. Magennis does not arrive with a record that promises goals.
The midfield ranks at least feel no weaker. George Honeyman and Lopes compensate for the seemingly inevitable departure of Henriksen and ensure McCann has plenty of depth in the middle of the park.
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The question marks in defence have also been answered by late business. Pennington and Elder arrived at the 11th to bolster numbers, joining Ryan Tafazolli in sharpening up the competition.
With Robbie McKenzie and the back four that started the season opener at Swansea last Saturday, that makes eight defenders McCann will feel he can now trust fully in the Championship.
Only George Long and Matt Ingram can provide reassurance that David Marshall will not be missed and in that sense, just like the rest of the squad, only time will tell us how well equipped City are for the tough season ahead.
The suspicion is that the Tigers have ultimately managed to stand still. If there is a difference in squad strength it is negligible.
Supporters would have loved more, just as they always do, but in these times of austerity and cost-cutting the greatest merit was in keeping the core of last season’s squad intact. Standing still, rather than falling backwards, is a victory in the circumstances.
The concern is whether City have enough to last the distance – or January, at least – with what they have at present. McCann has patiently assembled a senior group of 23 players and hopes that will be enough.
Like every Championship manager, though, he will need fortune on his side. Saturday’s visit of Reading will be the first of at least 25 league and cup games between now and the January window opening and the demands that schedule brings will inevitably lead to injuries and suspensions.
There are areas of City’s squad that are well prepared for that eventuality but a streamlined group is not blessed with a huge amount of nous at this level.
And nor was it going to be when recruiting on a tight budget. Two of City’s new boys are free transfers and another two are loans. The combined outlay for the rest is in the region of £1m.
That jars in a summer that has guaranteed sell-on fees of close to £10m for Harry Maguire and Dan James, not to mention a likely £2-3m more from Henriksen’s sale.
Yet that is where City are under the Allam family, who have publically stated that “Allam out means the chequebook is out.” Any ambitions for the new season are inhibited by that reality.
McCann knew what he was letting himself in for when taking the reins from Adkins in June and, as such, formulated a clear strategy in the transfer market.
There could be no energy wasted chasing established Championship performers with miles on the clock. Instead he went for those with points to prove at the KCOM Stadium.
“I want to turn them into assets for the football club,” said McCann just like week. “That’s what I’m all about and I have been like that for the last two and a half, three years as a manager. It’ll be no different here.”
The players signed by McCann are 25, 27, 27, 20, 22, 24, 20, 24, 28 and 24. Even the targets that got away, such as Ben Whiteman and Mallik Wilks, were young. It is hard, in fact, to even recall a single player linked with the Tigers over the age of 30.
That is a brave approach but McCann, who has promised to play on the front foot, will not be afraid to roll the dice as City’s head coach.
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