SO after the anticipation, the expectation and finally the crushing disappointment – what next for Dougie Freedman and Wanderers after losing out on top striker target Lukas Jutkiewicz?
As the hours ticked by on Monday, reports emanating from Burnley that the Clarets were getting closer and closer to the 25-year-old’s signature gained more and more credence.
It was not until late yesterday morning that fans were finally put out of their misery as the deal was announced officially.
Although Middlesbrough’s asking price of £1.5million had always represented a significant fee for where the football club is at financially, Dougie Freedman was among those holding out hope that owner Eddie Davies and chairman Phil Gartside would find some way of making the deal happen.
Pinning your hopes on one signing may be construed a dangerous game but finding a striker with the same physical attributes as the former Everton man is no easy task.
Freedman needs a platform from which his side can play in his favoured 4-2-3-1 system – and for the four-and-a-half months that Jutkiewicz spent on loan last season, he had one.
The fact that fans had taken “Juke” to their hearts was an added bonus.
Whether it was up front alone, as the central point of a front three, or when paired with fellow loanee Joe Mason playing just behind, Jutkiewicz’s presence became somewhat talismanic towards the end of the last campaign.
From bullying Leeds United at Elland Road to the deft finish against Bournemouth at the Reebok, a much-travelled player finally looked to have found a place called home.
Football is seldom that simple, however, and it became clear as soon as Jutkiewicz travelled back to Teesside that Wanderers were not the only club in the hunt, and that Boro intended to cash in as best they could.
Throughout a long, drawn-out process, people close to the player insisted he wanted to return to Bolton, raising expectation levels that bit further.
Even after taking a medical on Monday morning the striker offered a few hours of “thinking time” to give Wanderers a chance to make their move.
But in the end, a young striker whose future was all-but over at Boro can hardly be blamed for fixing himself up in a busy Burnley front line destined for the Premier League that already includes Marvin Sordell, Danny Ings and Sam Vokes.
How close the Whites came to making a bid, or their reasons for not doing so, remain locked in-house for now.
Freedman’s task is to go back to the scouting and analysis department that plucked Jutkiewicz from the Middlesbrough bench and placed him immediately into the first team and try to find another suitable candidate.
Past targets are always the first names to crop up – Danny Graham of Sunderland was the player being chased immediately before Jutkiewicz arrived. He proved too expensive at the time, so one wonders if he will be again.
One of the names that has immediately been suggested is Leicester City’s Chris Wood, another player of similar stature with good Championship experience.
Exactly which pool of players Freedman can actually select from now is the big question.
While most fans accept that the days of multi-million pound signings are gone for now, stories such as the one that surfaced in a national newspaper yesterday show the real extent of the financial sacrifices that are being made around the club in the post-Premier League era.
The manager has hinted he is one, perhaps two, front men away from having a squad he is comfortable with to start the Championship season in a little over three weeks.
After losing out on Plan A – fans are hoping that Plan B is not far behind.