Wilkinson back to boost strike force

Reporter: Matthew Chambers
Date published: 03 February 2015

CONOR Wilkinson handed Athletic a major deadline-day boost as the club’s hierarchy managed to resist bids for key performers.

The 20-year-old Bolton striker, who enjoyed a promising spell at Park earlier this season, is on loan for the rest of the campaign and comes straight into contention for tonight’s clash at Barnsley.

Latics also swooped successfully for Dagenham forward Rhys Murphy, the believed £20,000 deal completed just before the 11pm deadline.

Athletic clung on to 14-goal top scorer Jonathan Forte despite overtures from Championship club Rotherham, while the other business of the day saw goalkeeper Paul Rachubka released by mutual consent and David Mellor leave for Conference club Halifax on loan for the rest of the season.

Two other bids for the club’s players were also understood to have been rebuffed.

After a series of transfer windows that have seen Jose Baxter, James Tarkowski, Korey Smith and Jonson Clarke-Harris depart, the latest activity represents a triumph for the boss as he aims to build a head of steam towards a top-six finish in the league.

The return of Wilkinson, who scored a goal in his Athletic farewell in a 2-1 home win over Walsall before being recalled by new Wanderers manager Neil Lennon, is especially timely given that Amari Morgan-Smith has been ruled out for four weeks with a pulled hamstring. Murphy, a 24-year-old former Arsenal trainee, also boosts Johnson’s options.

It is believed a pre-contract had already been agreed for Murphy to join Athletic in the summer and the move had been accelerated by way of the five-figure transfer fee.

Johnson was delighted with his double swoop: “I’m really pleased. Both are technically very good players and will add quality to our squad.

“We know all about Conor, of course, and Rhys is an interesting signing; he has the desire and intelligence to play at a high level.”

Johnson felt the right thing to do for Paul Rachubka was to allow him to join another club following the signing of Blackburn goalkeeper Jake Kean.

“Jake is going to play and Chubs has been a good pro and has done well for us. It’s fair to him to try to let him get somewhere earlier than the summer.”