The start of a new month always has me checking the previous month’s transfers to see the players released from clubs and potentially invite some for a trial so I can take a closer look. From the players released in January, I take on trial for a week (draws breath deeply): Chilean central midfielder Ivan Aguad, Chilean midfielder/attacking midfielder Angelo Gallardo, South Korean right back Yang Hyun-Joon, Serbian centre back Branislav Kovacevic, Norwegian centre back Bard Mork, Nigerian centre back Stanley Okocha, Icelandic goalkeeper Agust Baldvinsson, Spanish midfielder/attacking midfielder Juan Bernat, Dutch striker Thiemo Vanmaris, Spanish right back Manuel Raz, Colombian striker Leandro Montano, Bulgarian striker Emrah Pavor, Italian centre back Alessio Di Pinto, Honduran defensive midfielder/midfielder Deiby Mejia, Ghanaian defensive midfielder/midfielder George Salifu, Colombian right back Cesar Guzman, Colombian centre back Edgar Gomez, Scottish striker Gary Smith, Dutch defender Toine van Huizen, Tunisian midfielder Hamza Meddeb, Colombian right or left back Pedro Arias, Brazilian central midfielder Guilherme, Brazilian attacking midfielder/striker Batista, Brazilian attacking midfielder/striker Josue, Chilean defender Rafael Henriquez, Serbian centre back Stanko Brkic, Cameroonian left midfielder/striker Jean-Baptiste Wamba, Finnish centre back Sakari Virtanen, Burkinabe centre back/midfielder Ibrahim Sanou, Spanish left midfielder/attacking midfielder Gaspar, English striker Nile Ranger, English goalkeeper George Long, and Peruvian centre back/midfielder Bruno Duarte – phew! Sestao aren’t giving up on David Goikoetxea and offer to loan him again. I accept again and he rejects them again. As the January transfer window closes, it turns out that we’ve been the most active in the transfer market having made 18 signings.
Three days after our excellent Cup win, we welcome top of the table West Bromwich Albion to St James Park. We’re 3/1 underdogs and I make 3 changes, all to my attacking midfield line-up: Dacian Varga for Miltos Makris, Jonny Hayes for Niccolo Marchi and Ryan Mason for the injured Michel. Jonathan Bond and Bertin Matip impressed in the Cup victory and keep their places in my starting XI. After coming third in January’s Player of the Month, Gennaro Riccardi reaches a milestone as he makes his 25th career league appearance. We might be the underdogs, but we get off to a great start as Varga crosses from the left and Hayes slides in and scores his 11th goal of the season from 6 yards. The 31st minute sees Bolanos shoot from 18 yards, but Bond is equal to it and tips it wide. Six minutes later, Hayes crosses from the right and Marconi volleys in his 18th goal of the season from 8 yards to put us 2 up against the league leaders. In stoppage time, Bolanos hits the bar with a free kick from 25 yards and we’re able to clear. West Brom are top for a reason and they show why six minutes into the second half as Morrison crosses from the right and Coulibaly cuts the deficit from 12 yards. Seven minutes later, Coulibaly picks up a long ball, but can only shoot wide from 18 yards. A minute later, Bolanos takes a weak shot from 18 yards, but it somehow squirms through Bond and the scores are level. West Brom are definitely on top and in the 66th minute, Haynes beats the offside trap, but blazes over from 16 yards. Our first chance of the half comes in the 73rd minute when Federico Cenci crosses from the right and Matip heads over from 8 yards out – I can’t help but think it would have been different if it had been the other way around. On the plus side, it seems to give us some confidence and in the 77th minute, Varga crosses from the left and finds Cenci at the far post, but he can only head at the keeper from a tight angle. Varga is involved in the action again 2 minutes later when he crosses from the right; Bradley Johnson collects the ball off a deflection and shoots through a crowd of players for his 9th goal of the season from the penalty spot. We’re 3-2 up! In stoppage time, Coulibaly shoots at Bond from 18 yards and Bond is only able to parry it. Coulibaly picks up the rebound and… shoots wide! Surely that’s the victory. In the third minute of stoppage time, Haynes picks up a long ball from Bolanos, shoots from 10 yards and… scores from 10 yards. With the last kick of the game. Whilst the 8,714 in attendance may be disappointed that West Brom have snatched a point, they can’t have been disappointed with the excitement throughout. Bolanos is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8.6, a goal and an assist. We stay 4th and the match has also seen Manuel Gavilan make his 100th career league appearance.