When the transfer window initially came into view, it brought a tantalising whiff of promise: potential new signings to plug obvious holes in the squad, the chance to shore up defence, bolster the attack and add creativity to midfield as the march towards lofty goals continued.
But the transfer window can be a fickle fiend, motivated by panic buying and inflated transfer fees. What was required might not tally with what was acquired. Now that the window has closed (you mean Slammed Shut" - Ed), ESPN's army of writers assesses the success of January's recruitment drive for the clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League.
- Transfer window - Premier League top 10
- Transfer window - Europe's big guns
11. Sunderland - Pete Sixsmith
Sunderland required a second forward to play alongside, or instead of, Steven Fletcher. Connor Wickham clearly does not press Martin O'Neill's buttons, and the prospect of Fletcher suffering a serious injury is enough to give one the vapours. The club also required a proper right-back as Phil Bardsley is struggling and fill-in Craig Gardner is a midfield player. A creative midfielder would be nice, but where do you find those? Answers on a postcard to Martin O'Neill.
What Sunderland got was a midfielder from Turkey, a central defender from Saudi Arabia and a centre-forward from Swansea who should help the club through the rest of the season. Alfred N'Diaye looks a promising young(ish) midfield player who can do box to box and who can tackle when he gets the opportunity. Meanwhile, we have not yet seen loanee Kader Mangane but he looks a big one.
Danny Graham could be a very good signing. He is a player who has done well at whichever club he has been at and is a proven goalscorer. His support of Le Mags should have no impact on his performances - he is a pro who is (very) well paid to do the business. No panic buys as in the past (I still have twitches about Rada Prica) and a satisfying window as players have come and gone.
12. Fulham - Phil Mison
At the height of Fulham's dreadful run (before the West Ham win), I suggested the club needed five new players. Well, that is what the Cottagers got. The five are low-risk loans or cheap deals and four with a Dutch connection, which is where Martin Jol's team tend to do most of their scouting. Having been short of midfielders after September's activity, they now seem to be heavily overloaded in that area. Urby Emanuelson from AC Milan seems the pick of the five, but the financial outlay has been minimal, and the board have prudently resisted spending big in a seller's market. Nobody crucial to the side departed.
What Fulham needed was to strengthen the spine of the side in the way Harry Redknapp attempted to do at QPR. Despite strong rumours, goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg did not arrive from Roma. The club did not move for a centre-half, though did manage to hang on to Brede Hangeland. Harry's enquiry was firmly rebuffed, so Rangers turned to Chris Samba. The Cottagers could have done with a winger - Jamie Mackie might have worked out had Rangers got Peter Odemwingie - as for a genuine centre forward, with Fulham not wanting to spend big money, nothing happened on that front either. To think Jol was talking about Darren Bent in November...
It's a holding pattern for the Whites; the loanees at least offer up fresh faces and some alternatives, but don't expect the club to start challenging the top seven. Five in is better than fans were led to expect.
13. West Ham United - Peter Thorne
As with all teams gaining promotion, squad strength was always going to be the Hammers' prime concern. In fact, thanks to the munificence of the owners during the club's one season in the Championship, West Ham returned to the top table in a better state than when they'd been relegated and it all looked quite healthy until the annual injury curse wreaked havoc.
At least one full-back, preferably a utility player who could double up in central defence, a decent striker, and a midfield player with a bit of craft and guile were required. Other requirements really depended on what happened if any of the players linked with a move away from the Boleyn actually left.
What the Hammers got was... well, Joe Cole, really. The return of the former wunderkind on a free transfer from Liverpool looked like good business even if only for the "this is my home and where my heart is" type headlines which always warm up a cold winter's day. The signing of Marouane Chamakh on loan about four years after I first saw his name linked to the club was also encouraging, although there are early signs that the Boleyn's 'goal drought fever' has hit the Arsenal player too and currently West Ham's best striker seems to be whoever is brought on from the bench after an hour. Sam Allardyce made a late attempt to shore up the leaky defence with another loan -- this time Austrian Emanuel Pogatetz -- but it was a shame that Stephen Warnock elected to go to Leeds rather than London as the full-back issue still hasn't been resolved. And, with Brazilian Wellington also joining on loan, this has been a window of steady if unspectacular business.
Apart from Cole, I didn't think there was anything much in the transfer window to excite the fans or current players but, hopefully, one or other of them might prove useful - as Ilan did in 2010 - and the lack of major activity might show that Sam is reluctant to spend heavily if he feels there is no need. Ironically, the major news for the transfer window might be the Hammers' successful attempt to hang onto Mohamed Diame, and this alone might be seen to be the best bit of business.
14. Norwich City - Paddy Davitt
Norwich's striker search verged on a crusade for Chris Hughton. Bids for Swansea's Danny Graham and Celtic's highly rated Gary Hooper were lodged early in the January window. Interest was confirmed in Kansas City's Kei Kamara and Sporting Lisbon's Ricky van Wolfswinkel. All designed to pep up a threadbare attacking department where Grant Holt is the club's top scorer on four goals. There was also the flirtation with Birmingham's centre-back Curtis Davies in the closing days of the transfer madness to add some squad depth to a defensive area too over-reliant on Sebastien Bassong.
However, City were left to rue the one that got away after finally being forced to admit defeat in their protracted pursuit of Hooper. Norwich lodged four separate bids over the course of the transfer window, but the Bhoys' resolve to hold on to their top scorer remained strong. Norwich can console themselves with the addition of Leeds 19-goal hitman Luciano Becchio, who arrived on deadline day in a swap deal for Steve Morison, with City also paying an additional cash sum to Leeds. Becchio looks the real deal. The only two imponderables are the time it will take him to settle in and whether he can make a seamless transition from the Football League.
Muscular Sporting Kansas City attacker Kamara also arrived on an initial loan deal which could become a permanent move in the summer if the Sierra Leone international impresses Hughton. Kamara adds much needed depth to a threadbare part of the squad. Experienced keeper Lee Camp was the only other new addition in January; arriving on a free transfer to provide genuine competition to Mark Bunn in the injury absence of John Ruddy. City also crucially held onto all their key players. Hughton and Norwich's fans should be pleased overall at the fresh injection of new blood - but Hooper's signing would have been a major signal of intent regarding the fight to retain their Premier League status.
15. Newcastle United - Marc Duffy
Newcastle needed players in most positions. An upgrade in the right-back position, cover for over-played Davide Santon at left-back, a willing central midfielder and a replacement for Demba Ba, who left soon after the window opened. Most importantly of all, a high-quality centre-half was a must.
Unbelievably Mike Ashley delivered most of these with five first-team players brought in from Ligue 1. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will provide the quality and leadership Newcastle have been missing alongside Fabricio Coloccini, and Moussa Sissoko looked absolutely dominant against Aston Villa. Mathieu Debuchy, Yoan Gouffran and Massadio Haidara will also play big parts as this season reaches its conclusion. The only down side to the window has been no replacement for Ba. An injury to Papiss Cisse could be disastrous.
The fact that Coloccini will be staying until at least the end of the season could be as important as all of the new signings. Worries about his mind being somewhere other than on matters on the pitch during games were proved to be unfounded in an excellent performance in the win at Villa.
The final piece of transfer activity involving Newcastle came right at the end of the window with the announcement that Xisco was leaving the club after his contract was terminated. Xisco will go down as one of the most expensive flops in Newcastle's history, but his team-mates will remember him as a nice guy who was very popular.
16. Southampton - Chris Rann
It was pretty clear to Saints fans that the side needed strengthening at the back, with Jos Hooiveld a little off the pace, and the other back-up options looking weak. Many would have liked to have seen a new goalkeeper too, but Artur Boruc's recent form has seen that suggestion die a little. Some movement to strengthen the often poor-looking bench would also have made the fans a little more comfortable with the prospect of the rest of the season.
In the end, Saints fans will be both happy and a little concerned with the club's dealings in the January window. Saints beat Liverpool, Everton and several other clubs to the signing of highly rated centre-back Vegard Forren to help tighten up the defence, but that was the end of their incoming business. With five fringe players going out on loan, many are worried that it has left the team a little short of cover in the wide positions, but now we will see just how keen Mauricio Pochettino is to integrate the Academy players.
17. Reading - Jon Keen
Despite cynics in December saying that Reading's best hope of Premier League survival would require January dealings which replaced the manager and virtually the entire squad, there were really only three key positions which were absolute priorities. These were a dependable right-back who could plug a constant vulnerability for the Royals; a defensive midfielder, since Mikele Leigertwood had frequently looked out of his depth at this level; and a striker who was able to play on his own up front in a 4-5-1 with confidence, since the jury was out on Pavel Pogrebnyak's effectiveness when playing as a lone striker.
In the end, despite talk of a failed deadline day attempt to make a record signing, their business was completed well before the sound of the window slamming shut. With four signings in all, Reading have potentially filled two of their three main wants. At right-back, Stephen Kelly has arrived from Fulham and has settled into the team immediately; after just two matches, he looks as though he's been there for years. Quietly and undramatically efficient, he looks everything the team require in that position.
Daniel Carrico, signed from Sporting Lisbon as the window opened, has the potential to be a masterstroke signing if he can fill the defensive midfield void, although his only 45 minutes so far were less than impressive. However, his mere presence in the squad seems to have raised the performances of Leigertwood, so Carrico's arrival has improved the team whether he plays or not.
The other two signings are also gambles, albeit relatively small ones. Strangely, both signings are from the two clubs Reading have beaten in FA Cup games this season. Hope Akpan arrived from Crawley on the recommendation of Reading svengali Steve Coppell, and although many expected this combative midfielder to be mainly a squad player, in his two substitute appearances so far he has three assists, all for late Adam Le Fondre goals. Finally, Nick Blackman, who signed from Sheffield United, is unlikely to displace Pogrebnyak or Le Fondre as first-choice strikers, but he will offer some alternatives up front from the bench.
18. Wigan - Ned Brown
Although Roberto Martinez started the season with arguably the deepest squad in the club's history, a rash of defensive injuries led to a poor run of form, so a centre-back became the priority. Mauro Boselli's loan departure and Arouna Kone's duties at the African Cup of Nations meant Franco Di Santo was the only recognized centre-forward at the club come January, and the right wingback position has been a long-term priority for some time.
Roger Espinoza arrived on a free transfer and looks a positive, lively presence in midfield. Paul Scharner's return on loan covers the defensive needs and made perfect sense for both parties, and youngsters Angelo Henriquez and Joel Robles joined on loan to help with the cup effort and keep the starters on their toes.
19. Aston Villa - Kevin Hughes
With injuries to Ron Vlaar and Richard Dunne limiting defensive options and highlighting a tendency to concede soft goals, particularly from set-pieces, Villa were crying out for a central defender with experience and leadership. A strong, dynamic midfielder (or two) was also a priority - Villa have been consistently outplayed in this area, with Barry Bannan, Fabian Delph, Stephen Ireland and Karim El Ahmadi falling short all too often.
Yacouba Sylla, a 22-year-old defensive midfielder, cost £2 million from French club Clermont Foot, and Simon Dawkins agreed to a late loan deal from Spurs. Sylla might bring strength to Villa's midfield, though he'll need to step up swiftly from France's second division to the Premier League, and Dawkins was a real surprise. The 25-year-old has never played for parent club Tottenham; he impressed during a spell in the MLS with San Jose. It's difficult to predict either player making the significant immediate impact required to drive Villa out of the bottom three.
20. Queens Park Rangers - Sean Smith
For Mark Hughes' entire career as QPR manager, the club screamed out for a quality centre-back after John Terry broke the one Neil Warnock bought and the others just weren't up to much. Other than that, well, a striker would be a must, and perhaps a small curtailing of the midfielder fetish would not go amiss, either. To Hughes' credit, he went after the impossibly perfect monster centre-back - the one we all would have been happy with. And failed miserably. He bought in Ryan Nelsen as cover - and for that we must be eternally grateful.
But on Thursday, current manager Harry Redknapp and owner Tony Fernandes achieved the impossible and bought Chis Samba from the rich Russians - for it is he that Hughes chased so desperately back in the day - smashing the transfer record he had slaughtered with the arrival of talented French striker Loic Remy.
If QPR just got that, and if we could just put aside the future financial implications for a while, that makes the Rangers fans very happy bunnies indeed. Suddenly, the club are heavyweight up front and monster-sized at the back. But wait, no, there's more: Andros Townsend on loan from Spurs - who threw in Jermaine Jenas as a condition - so, plenty more pace. And one for the future: Suk-Young Yun, at 22, looks one for the long term who also might make a contribution in the present. Excellent work, Mr Fernandes!