WANDERERS’ FA Cup pairing with Cardiff City looks to have hampered their chances of bringing Kevin McNaughton and Joe Mason back to the Reebok.
Sunday’s draw saw Dougie Freedman’s side coupled with last season’s Championship kings in a fourth-round tie scheduled to be played on January 25.
And that has proved a cruel twist of fate for the Whites boss, who was trying to bring both McNaughton and Mason in on loan for a second spell as quickly as possible to boost his slender squad.
Even though McNaughton has returned to the first team at Cardiff in the last fortnight, sources close to the club believe the impending return of Kevin Theophille-Catherine from injury will again see him out of the reckoning under new Bluebirds boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
McNaughton was picked for his first Premier League appearance against Arsenal by caretaker manager David Kerslake because reserve right-back John Brayford has also recently returned from long-term injury. All signs pointed towards a speedy return to the North West for the Scot, who proved a hit in a three-month loan at the end of last year, even though his involvement in Cardiff’s third-round victory over Newcastle United left him cup-tied.
Mason also featured heavily in a two-month stay, scoring on his full debut against Doncaster Rovers, but like McNaughton is now unlikely to be allowed out until the end of the month, if at all.
Freedman makes no secret of the fact he wants both players to return to the Reebok but will now have to wait until the end of the transfer window since Solskjaer does not want to do anything that could improve the feelgood factor at the Reebok ahead of the cup tie.
“Quite simply their manager called Joe back because he wants to have a better look at him,” he explained. “But we have said to Cardiff that if Kevin or Joe became available please can you contact us, and they have said yes they would.
“If Solskjaer says they can go, hopefully there will be a phone call back.”
Fans’ opinion is split on young striker Mason, who made a promising start to his career at Wanderers but seemed to struggle to lead the line in a one-man attack.
Freedman is sure there is more to come from the 22-year-old and feels he would benefit from another spell in the Championship.
“I don’t know what his (Solskjaer’s) mindset it but I’d imagine he’ll want a good look at him being a striker himself,” he said.
“At the end of the day it’s game time that young Joe is missing, not training time, and he was getting it here.
“I don’t know the answer at the moment – we’re in Cardiff’s hands as to the next piece of that particular jigsaw.”