Championship leaders Stoke City this afternoon demonstrated their determination to bag one of those automatic tickets to the Premiership by taking Shola Ameobi on loan until the end of the season.
The 26-year-old Newcastle United striker – long linked to loan moves to first Norwich, then Ipswich Town and then Plymouth Argyle – was due to face Manachester United Reserves this evening.
But after a frantic round of phone-calls the one-time England Under-21 striker was pulled out of the trip to Northwich and, instead, headed further down the M6 to Junction 15 and a chat with Potters boss Tony Pulis before news of the Potters swoop officially broke late this afternoon.
The Stoke chief was clearly intent on marking everyone's card as the promotion race enters the final straight. Stoke are top of the table; one point ahead of Norwich's opponents this Saturday, Bristol City. But with Hull City coming up hard on the rails as the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Watford and Charlton struggle to find any sort of consistency, so Pulis' swoop for Ameobi is designed to give their own promotion push one last shot in the arm.
“We might be lucky – and we may be able to get one or two if we can,” Pulis told the club's official website earlier today.
His lucky clearly held as the board took the plunge with Ameobi's signature. They will, in fairness, never have a better chance of reaching the promised land.
“We need to show everybody that we are going to give it our best shot,” Pulis told www.stokecityfc.premiumtv.co.uk.
“The most important thing is that we have a go, because the last time that I was here I don't think we were in a position to do that,” added the Potters boss, well aware that the club was in 'Now or never…' territory as such early-season favourites for promotion as Charlton, West Bromwich Albion and Watford continue to fluff their lines.
“If we fail by not having a go then I can understand the fans frustration – and that was my big thing last time I was here,” said Pulis. “We were treading water really and there was never ever any ambition to drive this football club on.
“The most important thing now is that we have a chairman who recognises that to get this football club and push it on, he needs to take a bit of a risk now and then – and that is what he is doing.”
The chairman concerned is Peter Coates who after, selling the Potters to the ill-starred Icelandic consortium as he went off and developed his Bet365 business, bought the club back off them and with Pulis' direct approach to the game working its muscular wonders on the pitch having been restored to the Britannia hot-seat by his long-time pal, he now stands within touching distance of the Premiership.
Today's loan switch – understood to have been formally completed about an hour before the official, 5pm deadline – will come as a big disappointment to City boss Glenn Roeder, particularly if it emerges that the Ameobi switch is merely the fore-runner to a full-time move in the summer.
Roeder will have been taking a keen – if not active – interest in today's developments given his oft-stated admiration for the player. He also, of course, had both Lee Clark and Matty Pattison up his sleeve in terms of Newcastle 'links'; that and the fact that he managed the player himself at St James having watched him progress from the Academy ranks on Tyneside.
How close the Canaries came to holding the Potters' interest at bay may emerge in tomorrow's pre-Bristol Press conference; as may further details of the Stoke deal with Ameobi not expected to join up with his new team-mates until tomorrow. Stoke then travel to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and while the presence of his ex-St James' pal Andy Griffin might have helped sway Ameobi's mind the strong suspicion is that money will have talked somewhere along the line.
The fact that he has only 15 months of his current Toon deal to run will also have crossed the mind of the Newcastle board; this summer was always going to be crossroads time.
With Maceo Rigters already in the building and that 52-53 point finishing line starting to come into sight following last weekend's 5-1 demolition of Colchester United, Roeder might have decided to keep his powder dry until the summer when the full-scale clear-out and re-build begins.
That said, you always got the distinct impression that Ameobi's strapping frame figured large in his summer rebuilding plans. Seeing him turn up on the end of Rory Delap's howitzer-like long throws might not sit too well with the Canary chief.
Otherwise it proved to be a very quite final, final transfer day. Ipswich Town chief Jim Magilton was understood to be hot on the tail of one-time Norwich loan signing David Healy at Fulham as they look to pep up their own play-off push with the record-breaking Northern Ireland international, while Crystal Palace took Ryan Bertrand's teenage Chelsea pal Scott Sinclair on loan until the end of the season as they geared up for one final push on sixth spot.
With the likes of both Chris Martin and Michael Spillane staying put, the only other piece of news of Canary interest came from north of the border where Carrow Road misfit Ian Murray ended a wretched season on a brighter note – agreeing a new, two-year deal to keep him at Easter Road until 2010.
Having been bundled out of the door by Roeder following the horrors of Home Park last autumn, the former Rangers utility player signed a short-term deal with the Edinburgh club that took him to the summer. Hibs boss Mixu Paatelainen has already seen enough to offer Murray a new, two-year contract.
“He's a great player and has performed really well since coming back to the club,” Paatelainen said. “Ian has real determination to succeed and this allied to his great versatility will, I'm sure, see him play a key role for us.”
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