City boss Glenn Roeder this morning rummaged through his bag of loan tricks and offered one alternative to Jamie Cureton and his now departed appendix – Kieran Gibbs.
The 18-year-old Arsenal starlet – from from his England Under-19 outing against Croatia on Tuesday night alongside fellow loanees James Henry and Ryan Bertrand – looks nigh-on certain to be involved in some shape or form against Cardiff City tomorrow.
After all, it was he and Reading centre-half Alex Pearce who drew the short straws last week and were the two to miss out against Preston North End as Roeder continues to perm any five from his magnificent seven into his 16-strong final squad.
But with Cureton now out for the “the next few games” following Monday's appendix op, the City boss has clearly been pondering his options. And while 38-year-old Dion Dublin and 19-year-old Ched Evans look certain to start against the Bluebirds, the next question is whether Gibbs nicks ahead of Chris Martin for that second striker role.
“We're all OK – other than Jamie. He'll be a few games,” confirmed Roeder, his eye firmly on the Leicester City game in terms of a Cureton return. “As soon as poss, but hopefully, yes, Leicester. That's what we're hoping, but no longer than the game after Leicester.”
It was, he admitted, Sod's Law that Cureton's appendix would flare 24 hours after the window shut – and all after seeing his chase for Martin Paterson and Grzegorz Rasiak come to nought.
“The couple of strikers that we tried to buy, we couldn't because the offers were turned down – and they were good offers,” added the City chief, not wholly ruling out a final dip in the loan market – but only, you suspect, when all other alternatives are exhausted.
“And we have seven loans here already, so there is two of the seven sat in the stand every game which isn't ideal. So if we have to take an eighth loan we will do, but I don't especially want to. We just have to get through these next couple of games with Dion, Ched – it gives Chris Martin, maybe, an opportunity. And I'm also told that young Kieran can put in a shift as a second striker if he has to. So we're OK – we're fine.”
That particular piece of information came courtesy of the Arsenal chief scout. It could be worth a million dollars if the Arsenal starlet proves he can do more than 'put a shift in…'
“Kieran has got a good reputation – like all the Arsenal lads have. And he did well like the other two lads did playing for the England Under-19s on Tuesday night,” said Roeder, as he ran through the teenager's list of positions.
“I think if you asked him, he'd probably say his preferred position is left-back, but like Ryan Bertrand – who has been absolutely wonderful for us – he can play anywhere down the left-side for us.
“And the chief scout at Arsenal, who I know very well, says he can put in a shift as a second striker if he has to. And like all good players, they're versatile.”
The one immovable force in his forward line is, of course, Dion Dublin who with the Hull City game looming in mid-week faces the prospect of three heavy-weight clashes in the space of seven, sapping days.
“He's played three games before in a week this season and done more than well,” said Roeder, acutely aware that Dublin's in the midst of a glorious Indian spring as his 20-year professional career draws to a close.
“He's at the top of his form at the moment. And we need him. We need him whether Cureton's fit or not.”
As welcome as all the new faces are in terms of keeping everyone else on their toes, you can easily find yourself with one too many options up your sleeve. Three too many in certain cases and positions – for example, Darren Huckerby's hopes of reclaiming his left-side berth with both Bertrand and Gibbs ahead of him. And, indeed, potentially, Matty Pattison.
“It's a much better situation to be in when the 11 pick themselves,” said Roeder. “As Jon Otsemobor saw on Saturday, Matthew Bates came on and looked outstanding immediately. So where Jon had a free run at right-back, he's got to fight for his shirt now. And so have all the other players.”
At which point, Roeder offered one dark horse in the race to win one of those coveted five loan starts – Alex Pearce. He, unlike the other four teenagers, has not been away on international duty this week and hence Roeder and his management team have worked with the 19-year-old centre-half on a day-to-day basis. He, too, now poses a selection headache.
“Alex Pearce has impressed all week in training – and the two centre-backs have had three clean sheets. The boys have done well. But they know that they've got to keep on doing well because Alex has proved in training to be an excellent prospect and I can see why Steve Coppell wouldn't entertain a bid for him.”
Decisions, decisions, decisions…