Paul Taylor: Why Nottingham Forest cannot afford to leave themselves with a void to fill
AMID a summer of considerable activity at Nottingham Forest, the arrival of one man stood out.
While seven-figure sums were splashed out to sign Simon Cox, Henri Lansbury and Adlene Guedioura, there was a different kind of significance attached to another signing.
And that was the plain, simple fact that Dan Harding was the first left-back signed by the Reds since January 2006.
In comparison to some of the big money signings, Harding almost crept in through the back door. But it was still a landmark moment for the club.
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Because Harding was the first permanent left-back at the club since that previous capture, Julian Bennett, had subsequently departed, initially on loan, in the summer of 2010.
From the moment Bennett collected a serious knee injury on Boxing Day in 2008, Forest had to rely on loan signings – albeit some very, very good ones – to fill the void.
But now, while there is no issue at left-back, there is still a lingering void in the squad.
Following a summer of intense activity and a reasonably positive start to the campaign, it may have gone unnoticed.
But Forest do not possess a natural right-sided winger. There is a new hole in the squad.
Which is why signing Birmingham City's Chris Burke must be the absolute priority for Forest between now and the end of the transfer window.
Almost regardless of what other irons Forest may have in the fire, that is the position they need to fill.
And Burke ticks all the boxes.
He is a player Alex McLeish knows well. He has played for two successful Championship clubs, in Cardiff City and Birmingham.
And best of all, Forest should not have to break the bank to get him, because he is out of contract in the summer.
Birmingham need to raise money quickly, to address growing financial problems at St Andrews.
And, if they do not reach a deal to sell him, they risk losing him for nothing in the summer, when he could walk away on a Bosman free transfer.
So you would not imagine that Forest will not have to up the ante too much to get the deal done.
Now they have made a second bid, they should hopefully get the 29-year-old Scotsman on board, in time to face his former club on Saturday.
Presuming the player is keen on the move, it is something that would work in everyone's favour.
In July and August, the Al Hasawis, it must be remembered, gave a significant demonstration of their intent.
Yes, around £2.5m was generated by the sale of Chris Gunter to Reading.
But Forest will have shelled out in excess of £4m, when you consider that fees were also paid for Harding and Danny Collins.
Forest are also committed to paying large portions – or in many cases all – of the Premier League wages of their loan signings, such as Billy Sharp, Daniel Ayala, Elliott Ward and Gonzalo Jara.
And Jermaine Jenas and Alan Hutton will not have come cheaply, when they made loan moves to the City Ground previously.
But, having gone that far, having provided that level of backing already, that extra little push could now make all the difference.
McLeish, on Saturday, spoke about wanting between three and five new additions during this window. Darius Henderson will have accounted for one of those, when he arrived from Millwall on Thursday.
A left-sided defender who can play either at full-back or in the centre remains on the manager's shopping list.
As does a player who can inject a little pace to a Forest squad that, while full of quality, does not include anyone with a searing turn of heel.
While George Boyd, Peterborough's roaming attacking midfielder, is also still a target.
But that right-wing position has to be the priority, whether it is Burke or not who comes in to fill the latest void in the Forest ranks.
Rumours linking Forest with Nabil El-Zhar, Levante's former Liverpool winger, do not have any foundation.
But, having provided the club hierarchy with his list of targets, McLeish will be as eager as anyone to see what deals Forest can push over the finishing line.
Without a right winger, unless he plays somebody out of position, which has been the gripe of many a former manager, McLeish will be limited in the formations he can field.
Forest have, periodically, looked very strong with Simon Gillett sat in front of the back four and Radi Majewski at the head of the diamond.
But that also leaves Forest lacking width, unless the full-backs demonstrate their attacking ambition.
And, when Plan A does not work, McLeish does not currently have too many options.
Forest are not comfortable with a three-man central defence, as they have shown more than once this season.
And, although Chris Cohen has done well in the position, they can find themselves lacking balance when they attempt an orthodox 4-4-2 with a central midfielder in a wide position.
But, most of all, having assembled one of the strongest front-lines in the Championship, with Sharp, Cox, Henderson and Dexter Blackstock likely to walk into many other Championship sides, they need somebody to provide the ammunition.
Peterborough chairman Darragh MacAnthony claimed that Forest had made a second bid for Boyd this week – and accused them of trying to buy a Bentley for the price of a Lada.
To borrow that analogy, with the strikers Forest possess, they already have a Ferrari.
If they get a deal done for Burke, he can provide the petrol to make it roar.