While Graeme Lee was delighted to welcome his first new recruits through the door at the Suit Direct Stadium last week in the form of Southport striker Marcus Carver and Rotherham United defender Jake Hull, the Hartlepool United boss was left frustrated on Monday when learning he would lose midfielder Matty Daly for the remainder of the season.
That was after Daly was recalled by parent club Huddersfield Town having impressed over the first half of the campaign and owing to a growing injury list at the John Smith’s Stadium.
And Daly’s loan recall represents just how difficult the transfer market is for clubs looking to strengthen this year.
While Lee has made no secret about his desire to develop his squad this month, he finds himself in the precarious position of being stuck in limbo a lot of the time waiting for a decision from clubs who need to continuously assess their squads.
And that is because, not only is this Lee’s first taste of a January window as a first team manager, he is having to adapt, like every other manager, to the interminable strains of the current COVID-19 and injury protocols in place by the EFL.
Pools have seen two of their League Two fixtures postponed over the last month due to an increased number of positive COVID-19 cases within their squad or that of their opponents and, as can be seen across the Premier League in particular, teams are continuing to struggle to fulfil fixtures due to a combination of COVID and injuries.
And it is injuries that have forced the Terriers hand in recalling Daly this month for the remainder of the season as Carlos Corberán’s side continue their pursuit of a play-off spot in the Championship.
Daly, who made his Football League debut for Huddersfield in the Championship against Watford in 2019, has enjoyed a real breakout year with Pools this season.
The 20-year-old, signed by former manager Dave Challinor, has featured 27 times this campaign scoring seven goals in the process and while only two of those goals have come in the league, Daly’s tally of seven represents the most in the Pools squad so far this season.
It’s a significant blow for Pools, not just from a goal scoring perspective, but the impact Daly was able to have in games, particularly in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Daly has scored in each of the four ties he has featured in this season, including the winner against Bolton Wanderers last time out to book Pools’ spot in the quarter finals of the competition where they will host Charlton Athletic next week.
It led to calls from his teammates to rename the competition ‘The Matty Daly Cup’ which also demonstrates just how well thought of the midfielder was in the dressing room at the Suit Direct Stadium.
Daly’s crowning moment, however, arguably came during Pools’ remarkable 3-2 victory over Harrogate Town back in October with the 20-year-old curling in a delightful effort from range to cap a stunning seven minute turnaround.
But the predicament clubs are finding themselves in during the current climate means that ultimately, Corberán and Huddersfield had little choice but to call the 20-year-old back to the John Smith’s Stadium.
With the Terriers short on numbers, why wouldn’t they give the likes of Daly a chance to express themselves back in the first team after demonstrating he can compete in the Football League so well at a lower level with Pools? Not that that makes the decision any easier for Lee and Pools to take, of course.
It means Lee now faces a dilemma as to whether he must try and search the market for an immediate replacement for Daly or put his trust in those in his squad to deliver in his place.
Trying to find a replacement for Daly will be tricky. Pools have now already seen three players return to their parent clubs following Millwall’s decision to recall Tyler Burey earlier this month and Stoke City’s decision to bring defender Eddy Jones back to the Bet365 Stadium for similar reasons.
For Lee to be able to identify a suitable replacement and persuade a club to part with their asset, whether it be on loan or a permanent deal, while squads across the country remain depleted will be a tough task.
It means the onus may fall on those already in the building at the Suit Direct Stadium to step up and fill the goal scoring void left by Daly.
Gavan Holohan has finally forced his way back into the starting line-up in recent weeks and will be keen to add to the two goals to his name so far this season. The Irishman is perhaps the most obvious candidate to fill the void having scored over 20 goals for the club since his arrival in 2019.
Meanwhile Tom Crawford has enjoyed some positive displays in recent weeks, particularly his performance against Blackpool in the FA Cup, while Mark Shelton enjoyed a bright start under Lee with two goals and an assist from his opening three games before missing out in recent weeks.
But ultimately, Daly’s untimely exit has caused an unwanted headache for Lee with just two weeks remaining of the transfer window.
With Lee already having to wait for a green light on deals elsewhere, he may now be forced to try and pry another young talent away from a club from a higher division or find someone from lower down the leagues like Carver who is capable of making the step up.
Despite their defeat at Bristol Rovers at the weekend, Lee suggested he wasn’t far away from the squad he wanted at the Suit Direct Stadium. But having now lost his top goal scorer that is an opinion which might have changed.