The Loan Report: December 24-30

The final Loan Report of 2012 is a much abridged one, with almost everyone outside of England currently enjoying a well-earned winter break.

In fact, only two of Chelsea’s numerous overseas saw action in the last seven days. One of those was Thorgan Hazard, who was in Belgian Jupiler League action for Zulte Waregem at home to OHL Leuven. He got 73 minutes in a 2-1 win which ensures that Essevee finish the year in second place, some way behind runaway leaders Anderlecht, but nonetheless in a position nobody would have envisaged at the start of the campaign.

In Portugal, Milan Lalkovic came off the bench for Vitória Guimaraes in the Taca de Portugal away to Beira Mar to help his side to a 2-2 draw. Matej Delac was the backup goalkeeper as per usual.

Back on domestic shores, the usual action-packed schedule at this time of year has been present and correct once again and there’s been plenty of playing time for some of the young Blues scattered around the country.

Romelu Lukaku featured in a pair of away games for West Bromwich Albion, starting away to QPR and coming off the bench at Old Trafford against Manchester United. He was effective if slightly underwhelming in the Boxing Day fixture at Loftus Road, missing a couple of decent chances before being replaced in the second half, and then went on to produce his usual battering ram of a substitute performance on Saturday against the league leaders.

He didn’t find the back of the net this week but he has gradually seen more opportunities throughout December and it bodes well for the second half of the campaign, one in which he is almost certain to remain at The Hawthorns.

In The Championship, Nathaniel Chalobah and Watford saw their Boxing Day trip to Bristol City washed out due to rain but got a chance to shine in front of live television cameras at the weekend with a trip to Brighton, and the England Under-21 international took his with both hands.

He was simply excellent in Watford’s 3-1 victory and earned Sky’s Man of the Match award for a composed performance in the middle of the park where everything good went through him. He exhibited poise and flair and no shortage of dynamism in some of his play, whilst his range of passing – and the execution of it – was arguably as good as it has been all season.

Some observers may have given him an assist for the first of two Matej Vydra strikes but it had little to do with the eventual strike, so it would be generous to say the least.

Having only turned 18 just under three weeks ago, it’s been a little bit of an up and down season for Chalobah, with some youthful inconsistency creeping in alongside a generally very good body of work. His potential is in absolutely no doubt, however, and talks will take place this week for him to remain at Vicarage Road until May. Should he do so, he’ll likely line up against Manchester City in FA Cup action next weekend.

Elsewhere in the same division, Josh McEachran picked up an injury during Middlesbrough’s first game of the week and missed their second at home to Blackpool. He was spotted with an air boot on his foot, suggesting a potentially longer absence, but it might have also arrived at a good time, with the rigours of a first full-length season for him starting to result in a few lethargic displays. The enforced break may provide a much-needed rest period.

Sam Hutchinson’s future at Nottingham Forest took an uncertain step this week when the club sacked manager Sean O’Driscoll and replaced him with Alex McLeish. O’Driscoll was a very patient fan of the injured defender, and it remains to be seen how McLeish appraises the 22 year-old, who is due to return to training in the next week or two.

Ben Gordon managed to get into Birmingham’s matchday squad for the second of their holiday fixture list away to Bolton, but it was only due to a dramatic shortage of numbers and he didn’t get on. He has one matchday left at St. Andrew’s before almost certainly heading elsewhere.

In League One, Patrick Bamford made a Boxing Day return from an injury absence only to re-injure his hamstring and return to the fitness table. He came on as a half-time substitute for MK Dons at home to Walsall and hit the post during the second half, but was forced out of the game five minutes from time and with his spell at Stadium:MK due to end on January 7th, the smart money is on his return to Cobham.

The same goes for Todd Kane at Preston and Conor Clifford at Crawley, both of whom continue to struggle to get into their respective loan sides.

Sam Walker made a first appearance under new manager John Ward at Bristol Rovers on Wednesday in a 2-2 draw away to Aldershot, whilst Saturday’s action at Cheltenham was postponed. Ward has talked extensively of late of making better use of the loan market, which might make Walker a casualty of the new regime at the Memorial Ground.