The transfer window is always hectic. Players coming in along with players leaving, rumours and speculation nobody knows the reliability of. All this amongst the self centred hope that your clubs star player doesn’t leave, while hoping to poach the star player of another club whose fans are praying for the same thing. That’s football. Now that the window slammed shut, we can look at the Staggies window and think about how it leaves us moving into the latter stage of the season.
Here are the players who have come in between the beginning of January and today.
In: Jason Naismith (on a free after being released)
He was announced before January, but his impact is undeniable. Signed by Stuart Kettlewell, Naismith has quickly made the right back spot his own in his second spell at the club. This is partly due to Connor Randall’s injury woes, with Keith Watson having to play out of position, but the former Peterborough man hasn’t had a bad game yet. Since returning from his injury, Randall has been limited to appearances on the left, which shows how Naismith has made himself a staple in this County side. He has offered an extra option going forward with his bombing runs down the right hand side and his crossing is incredibly threatening. The right back registered his first assist against Hamilton, finding Jordan White who poked the ball in. His one on one defending in particular has been excellent, and I rarely feel concerned about an opposing winger running at him. Positioning has been a slight concern, particularly against Motherwell, but it’s one slight weakness among many, many positives he’s brought back to the Staggies.
In: Tony Andreu (on a free after being released)
Andreu has been limited to appearances off the bench (barring one start away to Hamilton) since signing at the start of January. He usually comes on for Iain Vigurs, taking that role of dropping deep and taking the ball off the centre backs. The Frenchman hasn’t really made an impact in the time he’s had, his only real moment of note striking the Accies post with a header. when he should have at least tested him. However, this is understandable with the little time he’s had to settle. He’s added a touch of quality to every team he’s been in given a run of games. I think in due time Andreu will hit his stride and challenge for a midfield place.
In: Mohamed Maouche (on a free after being released)
Maouche has yet to play for the Staggies due to having to complete several periods of self isolation. He has been described by John Hughes as having “that bit of flair about him that can spark special moments in games” and given my tendency to trust the manager, I’m excited to see what the French-Algerian can do. He adds to already high numbers in the middle of the park, so he may have to show versatility in other positions to solidify a starting spot. He most recently spent three years with Oldham Athletic, where he was a regular in the side making 80 appearances. Here’s hoping Maouche can make the step up from League One to the Premiership!
In: Leo Hjelde (on loan from Celtic)
Seventeen-year-old Hjelde has played every minute of the three games played since he joined County on the 22nd of January, and he’s been nothing short of brilliant. Being comfortable playing at both centre back and left back, he seems unfazed by the adult opposition he’s playing against and is incredibly comfortable on the ball. The Norweigan looks nailed on to be the starting left back for the remainder of the season. His ball forward for Jermaine Hylton, against Motherwell, to race through on goal shows nerves for only a second senior appearance aren’t a problem for him. Like Naismith, his main weakness so far has proven to be his defensive positioning, but at his age the only way is up. His composure, along with Iain Vigurs newly found cool head and improved decision making, has made County’s transition from defence to attack so much smoother.
In: Joe Hilton (on loan from Blackburn)
After Ross Doohan was recalled from his loan by Celtic, it was clear that Ross County needed a back up keeper. This could have been Ross Munro, who John Hughes says has a huge future; but felt it was too early for the academy lad. In comes Hilton, who recently returned to parent club Blackburn Rovers after a loan spell at Fleetwood Town. The 21-year-old Englishman has yet to appear for the Staggies, but it’s clear Hughes rates him highly, saying he has “all the attributes to be successful”.
The main thing Hilton is here to do is compete with Ross Laidlaw for the number 1 spot. Laidlaw has always performed at his best when there is a highly rated keeper also at the club (Baxter, Doohan and now Hilton) and the keeper providing the competition has always improved as well. Despite coming in as a number two I’m hoping Hilton will get the chance to start some Premiership matches.
In: Jordan White (on a free after being released)
With the club preparing for the departure of Ross Stewart (which was finalised a few days after White came in) , it was obvious we needed another target man. Despite scoring no goals in 20 appearances for Motherwell, he’s scored goals consistently at other clubs and it’s clear John Hughes has taken a liking to him. The Staggies gaffer has hinted at playing him up front with Oli Shaw, with White playing the role of knocking the ball down for the free-scoring Shaw to get shots on goal. However, White’s debut came while Shaw wasn’t on the pitch- the big striker got off the mark with his equaliser against Hamilton, and went on to assist Billy McKay’s winner. It was a dream debut, and his confidence will be high going forward.
Fans hope and pray that key players don’t leave during the middle of the season, and sadly, two Ross County favourites headed south before the window came to a close.
Out: Josh Reid (undisclosed fee)
I’ve already gone into detail on Reid’s departure here, but another issue is that there’s no long term option to replace him. Leo Hjelde is more than up to the task, but he’ll go back to Celtic in the summer on the end of his loan. This means that County will soon need to sign a left back on a long term deal to have a settled, consistent back four. From a sentimental side of things, it’s gutting to see Reid leave as he is a Staggies academy graduate and has been brilliant. It’s sad that he’s gone after only six months in the first team, but nobody can begrudge him the chance to go where he wants to develop his game further.
Out: Ross Stewart (undisclosed fee)
I’ve also gone into detail on Stewart’s transfer here, but I think it’s only just started to sink in that County’s best player from the past few years is gone. On current form, he wouldn’t have been the difference between staying up and going down. This doesn’t mean he won’t be missed sorely. He was instrumental in County’s promotion back from the Championship and will always be seen in a positive light for it. Jordan White has big shoes to fill, and I hope he’s relishing the challenge. Stewart was out of contract at the end of the season, so it was an ultimatum of having him leave in January, and getting money for the transfer, or keeping him until the end of the season and letting him go for free. It’ll have been highly deliberated, but I think it was the correct decision. Sunderland have their man, and he’ll be a true threat to all other clubs in League One.
Race against time
Despite two key players leaving, it can’t be an excuse. Games are running out and I think the window has left the squad in a healthy state despite the losses. Now, Ross County look forward to the fight on their hands to stay in the Premiership. I think if they do so, John Hughes and the current set of players are capable of building something special. Before they think about that however, I know their full focus will be on the last games running up to the split, and the crucial split itself.