January's best buys
Our Nick Hext has picked out the best of the deals from the January transfer window in the top four divisions of English football.
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There were plenty of moves in the January window but only some players look like making a major impact for their new club both in the long and short-term.
Here are my best four from the Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two with a few who just failed to make the cut listed below.
It has already been a strong start to life at Anfield for the 23-year-old with four goals in six games since his move at the start of the transfer window. The super strike in Sunday's 2-2 draw at Manchester City is still fresh in the mind and the forward can only improve as he's given a run of games from the start. Him linking up with Luis Suarez is already making the Reds a greater attacking threat - the duo have bagged eight of the club's 14 goals since Sturridge's arrival - and that is key if Brendan Rodgers' dreams of a revival are to come true.
Stoke fans won't get to watch Butland in action until the start of next season but there is plenty to look forward to with a move that "ticked all the boxes" for the 19-year-old goalkeeper. The England international stays between the posts for Birmingham until the end of the campaign - definitely a good thing with Asmir Begovic very solid as Potters number one - and that extra experience at St Andrew's will only help him. Gary Neville highlighted this as the pick of the January transfers and it's hard to disagree that the former Cheltenham loanee has a huge future at the top level. It will certainly be interesting in the summer if Butland's arrival signals a move to a side in the Champions League for Begovic.
The midfielder has already proved his worth to the Magpies with two goals in the weekend's 3-2 victory over Chelsea. Five players made the move from France's Ligue 1 to St James' Park during January and it's Sissoko who's made the quickest impact, although Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran have also been given early chances to impress. Newcastle's two wins in a row have given their bid to avoid relegation a massive boost and Alan Pardew must hope more of the same from the former Toulouse man will continue the upturn in form. It's very much early days in England for the 23-year-old but you can't argue with how things have gone so far.
Hopefully this selection will prove to be better than last January when I extolled the virtues of QPR's signings of Bobby Zamora and Nedum Onuoha. This is certainly a deal that pushed the boat out for QPR but something had to be done with a very weak defence even weaker after Ryan Nelsen's decision to up sticks for the MLS. Julio Cesar can't be expected to keep the Loftus Road outfit up by himself - despite his best efforts so far - and the club-record acquisition of Samba does given the survival bid a real boost. It's still a big ask with a six-point gap to safety but - in Harry's Redknapp's words - having a centre-half who's "great in the air, quick, a leader, strong, fantastic in both boxes" can only help.
By far the easiest of the top picks from any of the divisions. Wood has already scored seven goals for the Foxes with a double on his debut in the 6-1 victory over Huddersfield on New Year's Day continuing straight on from a fabulous loan spell at Millwall. The striker bagged 11 goals during his time at the Lions for the first half of the season and that was more than enough to persuade Nigel Pearson to add the New Zealand international to his squad. Expect the 21-year-old to carry on finding the back of the net for the rest of the campaign and that should be enough to take Leicester to promotion and more than justify an outlay of around £1million to West Brom for the 21-year-old.
This loan return is an unexpected boost for Wednesday after boss Dave Jones was resigned to the midfielder making a permanent switch to Watford. That deal didn't happen and the Owls refused to wait as the Frenchman arrived back at Hillsborough before the end of the transfer window. Helan impressed during his 16 appearances in his initial spell in Yorkshire and can do more as he bids to help the club avoid relegation to League One.
Wilfried Zaha attracted plenty of headlines during January before his deal to join Manchester United at the end of the season was agreed but could an old timer be the man to fire the Eagles to the Premier League? Phillips said "maybe I'll have another year in the Premier League" after arriving at Selhurst Park and Ian Holloway is certainly the man to get the best out of the 39-year-old after the pair enjoyed plenty of success together at Blackpool. The former England international has only scored two goals during the current campaign but his goal threat remains and that will be crucial for Palace at the business end of the season.
Remember back to the last World Cup when England were knocked out in the last 16 with a convincing 4-1 defeat against Germany? Nine of England's starting XI that day find themselves still playing for Liverpool (Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard), Chelsea (Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard), Manchester City (Gareth Barry and James Milner), Manchester United (Wayne Rooney) and Tottenham (Jermain Defoe), while 42-year-old goalkeeper David James is now in what must be the final stages of his career at Bournemouth. The missing man is Matthew Upson, who scored the Three Lions' goal in the Bloemfontein defeat, and he now finds himself at Brighton after just two appearances for Stoke this season. Seagulls boss Gus Poyet says the chance to sign players of the 33-year-old's quality doesn't "come along very often" in the Championship and it's now up to Upson to prove a point following a period out of the spotlight.
- League One
Ritchie was the best player in League Two last year and his reputation as a star performer in League One has already been made. Bournemouth were told to pay £2million for the winger in 2012 so it can't be argued that signing him for £500,000 as Swindon restructure their finances is an absolutely cracking bit of business. The deal certainly hasn't pleased Robins boss Paolo Di Canio but Bournemouth, already in scintillating shape since manager Eddie Howe's return to the club, will feel the benefits and promotion to the Championship looks likely.
It's fair to say Madden is finding life much more to his liking at Yeovil than he ever did at Carlisle. The Irishman managed just a couple of goals during his couple of seasons at Brunton Park but his loan spell in Somerset reinvigorated him and now a permanent deal should ensure the good times continue. The striker has been bang in form recently, seven goals in his last four games more than proves that, and he's spoken recently of the Glovers' bid to finish in the play-offs. That is still possible and so is the 22-year-old's bid to finish the campaign as League One's top goalscorer.
Ajose topped my list as the top signing in League One last January but it's fair to say that selection didn't work out - his time at Chesterfield saw the forward make 12 appearances with the return of just one goal. Now he's left Peterborough on loan again, following time with Crawley earlier this term, and already has a terrific reputation at Bury. The 21-year-old scored 13 goals to help the Shakers win promotion to League Two in the 2010/11 campaign and he's already up and running during this spell with a strike in Saturday's 2-0 win over promotion contenders Doncaster. Bury need him to shine as there is a long way to go in the battle to avoid the drop.
Stevenage boss Gary Smith has done a very canny bit of business to add Chorley to the centre of his defence. The 30-year-old has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal at Broadhall Way and his vast Football League experience will be a big plus for The Boro during that time. Leyton Orient are sure to miss the former Tranmere and MK Dons man and it will be interesting to see whether his new or old employers enjoy the better end to the season in the third tier.
A bit like Ajose, McDonald is a player back at a club where he has plenty of good memories. The 26-year-old scored 26 goals in 41 games for Gillingham during the 2010/11 season and that helped persuade Coventry to sign him from Norwich. His time at the Ricoh Arena hasn't quite gone to plan, although not much has for the Sky Blues in recent years, but returning to Priestfield should see the goal-getter prove his qualities once again. Two goals in his first two games back in Kent proved his quality in League Two and the race for the title remains very much on despite Monday night's surprise 1-0 defeat against Wycombe.
- League Two
Bristol Rovers are in much better shape following three wins on the spin and there's no doubt Brunt's arrival has played a key part in the revival. Arriving after the 3-0 victory over Fleetwood, the striker has already made a big impact with the winner in last Friday's 2-1 win against fellow strugglers Barnet. Three points at Rotherham on the 19-year-old's debut sandwiched those two games and boss John Ward will be hoping his "old-fashioned centre forward" can pull the Pirates further clear of relegation danger.
A fee of around £300,000 is a heck of an outlay for a club in League Two but I fully expect Fleetwood to recoup that money and a little bit more when Matt eventually moves on. A break between February and November because of work-permit issues certainly didn't seem to affect the striker when he returned to action with eight goals in eight league games for Kidderminster. The Conference club will be better off for the fee they received but his goals will be missed in the battle for promotion to the Football League. It will now be interesting to see if he makes the difference in what could be a battle to finish third in League Two behind Port Vale and Gillingham.
Hussey, like Cody McDonald, is another player making a return to a former employer in League Two after time with Coventry. The full-back made 31 appearances for the Sky Blues in the Championship last season but hadn't been a first-choice this term since Mark Robins' arrival at the club. The 24-year-old enjoyed success during his initial time at AFC Wimbledon in the Conference and his return can only be a good thing in what is a very tight battle to avoid relegation.