Walton? Hladky? Or someone new? How Town's goalkeeping situation could play out during January window
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Ipswich Town are facing the prospect of loan goalkeeper Christian Walton returning to Brighton next week. Andy Warren looks at how Town's goalkeeping situation could play out during the January transfer window.
Pushing for a deal
The best-case scenario, and one which certainly remains in play, is for Town to complete a permanent deal for a goalkeeper who has impressed during his loan spell.
He’s happy at Ipswich, is encouraged (like we all are) by the Blues’ start to life under Kieran McKenna and will know exactly how highly the Town fans think of him, given he and Macauley Bonne were both on the end of ‘sign him up’ chants throughout the 90 minutes at Priestfield.
CEO Mark Ashton and his team, who would have heard those chants loud and clear from the directors box, remain intent on doing exactly that. They know Walton’s worth and would like him between the Ipswich sticks long-term.
There are some barriers to that, though. Most notably parent club Brighton, who could both have a need for him between now and the end of the season and also would like to recoup some value on a player they have long rated highly but never fully utilised.
His contract, likely to be a lucrative Premier League-sized one, expires in the summer so it’s now or never for the Seagulls to cash in before he leaves for free at the end of the campaign. Big, expiring, Premier League contracts tend to bring their own issues, too. Regardless of how much a player may genuinely want a move, the numbers need to add up for them and the clubs in both the short and long-term.
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Walton’s had Championship suitors in the recent past and will likely have so again this month to varying levels, but it’s thought there is nothing imminently in the works. For a club to move for a new goalkeeper of Walton’s standing during the January window, they will surely need to bring him in as an undisputed No.1. Clubs in a position to or needing to do that at this time of year are few and far between.
So how does this play from here?
Well, if Walton does indeed return to Brighton after Saturday’s game at Bolton without a deal struck, there will be a fortnight left in the transfer window for the Seagulls to move either he or Kjell Sherpen elsewhere. The other will likely serve as No.3 behind Robert Sanchez and Jason Steele, with the latter currently injured. Third choice goalkeepers have never been more valuable, in the era of Covid.
Town will continue to work on finding a breakthrough between now and then or, even if Walton remains a Brighton player once the window closes, could revisit it in the free agent market at the end of the campaign.
There’s still plenty left to play out here.
The in-house options
Town moved quickly back in August to secure Walton when he became available on loan, at a time when Vaclav Hladky was finding things difficult after his own summer move to Portman Road.
The Czech has had to serve as back-up ever since Walton returned from an early hip injury in the middle of October, playing just once in the league since. With Town out of all cup competitions, he’ll likely be firmly stuck to the bench should Walton remain an Ipswich player.
It’s not how Hladky planned his big move to Ipswich playing out but, despite a few wobbles and some areas of question, he has also shown some signs that he can be a starting goalkeeper at this level. He was League Two’s leading clean-sheet keeper with Salford last season, which doesn’t happen by accident.
After a good pre-season, particularly in the home clash with Crystal Palace, Hladky largely operated behind a shaky Ipswich defence which was still finding its feet under Paul Cook. He contributed to that, of course, but he can’t be held entirely responsible.
It would be interesting to see how he got on if given a consistent run behind the solid-looking back three now in operation. So, does he deserve a chance or do Ipswich now see him as a back-up goalkeeper?
Hladky’s been dropped for Walton once already, to again be replaced during this window, without being given a chance to show what he can do, would be tough to take.
Then there’s Tomas Holy - the forgotten, extremely likeable man who made 65 appearances during his first two seasons at the club.
He's already been out on an emergency loan to Cambridge this season, providing his only league football of the campaign, with a feeling Ipswich would be open to the idea of him moving elsewhere once again in order to play games.
That will only happen should Walton stay or a new goalkeeper arrive, though.
It’s naïve to think Ipswich don’t have goalkeeping targets this month, given they went into their loan with Walton knowing Brighton had a recall clause and could very possibly use it. Eyes were open.
There’s a sense Ipswich could move elsewhere quickly, should Walton no longer be available to them and no deal concluded.
But which direction they ultimately turn is not known.
It's a tough market. Any new arrival would need to be a clear upgrade on Hladky, but anyone from a higher level will likely arrive having set on a bench (or not even made it) for the last six months. Not an easy time to find a starting goalkeeper.
Could Ipswich still have a Brighton loanee between the sticks come the end of the month and instead turn to Sherpen, the 6ft 8in former Ajax man the Seagulls are keen to loan out?
The Blues had other goalkeeping possibilities in the summer, before signing Hladky, most-notably Benjamin Siegrist at Dundee United. The Swiss keeper remained at his club in the summer despite interest from Ipswich and the Old Firm and has once again been a regular between the sticks.
There’s still talk of a pre-contract move to Rangers ahead of his deal in Dundee expiring in the summer, so could Ipswich pounce there?
Talking of Ibrox, Jon McLaughlin of Rangers is also out of contract in the summer. He’s been a good League One performer for Sunderland in the past and wants to play games, having been stuck behind Allan McGregor.
McKenna will know both Tom Heaton and Lee Grant, veteran third and fourth choice at Manchester United, well. Could they be possibilities? Easy links, given McKenna's past, but unlikely given Dean Henderson is pushing for a loan move away from Old Trafford and they will be needed.
Those are players are just ones which immediately come to mind, just thinking out loud.
Hopefully Town are able to secure a move for Walton which feels right for all parties and any moves elsewhere aren’t needed.