January Transfer Window: Striking Options For Danny Cowley To Consider

By Sam Stone

After it emerged Pompey were lining up a bid for Cheltenham Town’s Will Boyle – just hours after he was highlighted as an ideal candidate to ease Pompey’s central defensive woes, it’s fair to say that this series of transfer rumour articles have got off to a positive start.

This week, we look at the striking options that could be available to Danny Cowley in League One and Two. Pompey have had somewhat of a resurgence in the striker department with George Hirst’s recent form.

The Leicester man has begun to display the immense potential he possesses to become an excellent all-round striker. If he continues to display the attributes that a modern and dynamic striker requires then the goals will begin to flow more regularly.

Hirst should be the man for Cowley to persist with until adequate competition is acquired – hopefully in the early part of January. At present, the remainder of Pompey’s striking department is simply not at the level a League One Promotion chasing side should have.

Rotherham have Michael Smith, Wigan – Will Keane, Plymouth – Ryan Hardie and Luke Jephcott, Oxford – Matty Taylor, MK Dons – Max Watters and finally, Ipswich have Macauley Bonne. All of these players would walk straight into Pompey’s starting line-up.

Looking at League One, Cowley has to look at the bottom half of the League. Strikers performing at the top will be attracting Championship interest and will be financially unviable for Cowley. 

Yet again Accrington Stanley are the side where two of the most realistic targets lie. Accrington’s philosophy of picking gems up from non-league and then selling them on means they are a side that are often happy to do business with sides in the same League. Pompey have previously signed Callum Johnson and Cameron Burgess joined Ipswich Town in the summer.

Dion Charles is the first player that is going to be highlighted. Charles has previously been linked with Pompey in the past and if rumours emerged again this January, it wouldn’t be a shock. Surprisingly Charles won’t be linked to many sides due to the level of his performance this season but more due to his contract situation.

The frontman has been in a contract stand-off with John Coleman and has only featured ten times this season. According to the72 Charles is set to sign with Bolton Wanderers next month. His goal record last season was excellent for Accrington.

His troubles this season could be an ideal opportunity for Cowley to capitalise and get the best out of a player who can be one of the best in the division on his day.

Charles’ prolific striker partner Colby Bishop was close to joining Ipswich Town in the summer. However, after Paul Cook’s departure, it has unlikely that the Tractor Boys will come back in for the frontman.

This could represent a good opportunity for Cowley to test Accrington’s resolve considering that Bishop is out of contract in the summer, and Stanley would still be able to generate some significant revenue from the frontman.

Bishop has nine goals this season and wins more duels per 90 (39.55) Than any of Pompey’s strikers, with George Hirst closely behind with 32.61. Bishop also averages more ariel duels per 90 than any of Pompey’s strikers. Bishop is certainly more in the mould of a target man, having a higher % of received passes than any of Pompey’s strikers.

However, Hirst outperforms the Accrington man in terms of carrying the ball and overall expected goals. Bishop would be an expensive signing, but there is no denying that he is a proven League One goal scorer, in his prime years, that could provide much-needed competition for Hirst.

The final name in League One is not going to be a shock to anyone. Morecambe’s Cole ‘the goal’ Stockton has been a revelation this season. The front-man is dragging Morecambe to a potential League One berth next season. Stockton has taken it upon himself to practically shoot from anywhere to propel himself to the top of the League One golden boot standings.

At present, he is averaging a goal every other game, which cannot be matched by any other player in League One. However, there should be an err of caution with Stockton. Before joining Morecambe, he had a career total of 25 goals in the space of eight years. Half of his goals for the Shrimps in the last two years have come in the first half of this season.

Given the hype around the goals he is scoring and evident confidence he is playing with, his price will be about as high as you can get in League One right now, coupled with the fact that without Stockton, Morecambe will almost certainly go down.

For me, Stockton is a gamble, signing a player for an extortionate fee, based on one season of fine form in a nine-year EFL career is a rash move that Pompey should not take.

League Two is where the real value can be unearthed. Pompey won’t be paying ‘Cole Stockton-esque’ prices in the fourth tier, for players coming to the end of their deals.

At present, Forest Green Rovers are top of the League and looking like the best side in the division by a distance. Their promising start to the season has been spearheaded by one-time Pompey playoff menace Jamille Matt and 23-year-old Matt Stevens.

Matt is edging towards the twilight of his career, so a move up the divisions does seem unlikely, having struggled at League One level before.

However, Stevens looks like a player that could undoubtedly make the step up to League One. The former Peterborough youngster has 17 goals so far this term and an XG of 14.11. This is considerably more than any other striker on the list and 9.1 higher than Pompey’s current striker incumbent, George Hirst. Stevens’ high XG indicates that he has a knack for finding himself in excellent goalscoring positions regularly. Furthermore, he has a conversion rate of 26% which is the best in League Two and dwarfs Pompey’s current Striking department.

The pictures below represent the positions that Stevens operates in, with pretty much all his goals coming from inside the box. He has a knack for being in the right areas at the right time and being clinical, which is something Pompey desperately lack.

The young striker has scored goals with his left, right, and head this season despite not being the tallest. Stevens has a knack for scoring goals and that is ultimately a hard thing to find in young players in the modern game. Forest Green are well-backed so any deal would be hard to see happening, however, he is certainly a name Cowley should be considering.

The next player to consider is Newport County hotshot Dom Telford. Telford is the fourth tier’s top scorer thus far. His rich vein of form has helped County to sixth in the League. Telford much like Stevens has thrived off being alive in the penalty area for a large chunk of his goals, which is exemplified in two of his finishes below.

However, Telford has also created opportunities for himself out of very little. The strike against Plymouth and solo run against Carlisle are prime examples.

Telford has a goal conversion far better than any of Pompey’s current forwards and matches League Two rival Stevens in that department. Telford isn’t your classic modern-day, tall, physical front-man in the mould of George Hirst, but his smaller stature, dexterity, dribbling, and goalscoring ability make him an excellent option for Cowley to look at.

Telford’s contract comes to its conclusion in the summer and at the age of 25, he is coming into the prime years of his career. His form this season will certainly be attracting attention from higher up the pyramid and whether he wants to see out the prime years of his career in League Two remain to be seen. Like Stevens at Forest Green, Telford is currently pushing Newport towards a promotion push and it would take a sizeable fee to test their resolve.

Either of Telford or Stevens would be superb additions to the striking departments and yet again, my final two League Two selections come from the top half of League Two.

Firstly, Matt Jay from Exeter City, a player Pompey have been frequently linked with. Jay currently has 11 goals this term and would offer Pompey flexibility in the front four positions, as well as providing a clinical edge that the side has lacked. Jay can arrive in the box from slightly deeper positions and finish well first time, whilst also picking up slightly deeper positions on the edge of the box and finishing from range, as the bottom two images display.

As previously mentioned, Jay also can play slightly deeper and finds pockets of space in between defenders. The Exeter man could add the creative spark that is needed in the final third, with him averaging nine forward passes per 90, which is significantly more than any of the strikers I have previously mentioned.

One significant issue with Jay is the length of his current deal. The 25-year-old still has a year and a half left on his current deal, meaning it would take a significant sum of money to price him away from promotion-chasing Exeter. A move for the out-of-contract Steven or Telford could prove more financially viable.

The final player to briefly look at is Harrogate Town’s Luke Armstrong, the 25-year-old who has scored ten goals this season, including one against Pompey in the FA Cup. Armstrong comes more in the mould of George Hirst, winning significantly more duels than all of his League Two counterparts.

Furthermore, Armstrong has a high success rate when taking on opponents with a dribble success rate which is only just beaten by George Hirst’s 69%. However, Armstrong’s link-up play and passing ability are significantly lower than his counterparts such as Jay and Stevens.

His age (25) and length of his deal mean that, yet again, Pompey would have to spend a significant, perhaps inflated price to get him; money that could be more astutely spent elsewhere.

To conclude, it must be recognised that for any of these players to come in at Fratton Park then Pompey will need to shift the deadwood that has occupied their striking department for too long.

John Marquis has had enough chances to prove his ability, Ellis Harrison has been unfortunate with injuries but ultimately hasn’t performed in a blue shirt. Gassan Ahadme has been frozen out for the majority of the season.

The priority must be to move these underperforming, ageing, and underperforming players (Marquis, Harrison, and Downing) out, so Pompey have a hope of attaining players like Jay, Stevens, or Telford.

Screen shots: Wyscout

Featured photo: Below 2020 Media

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