There's nothing like a couple of weeks away to give a fresh sense of perspective. You come back to find we've sold one and seem about to sell another, signed three new, and failed to beat Scunthorpe while turning over Swindon in a competition that we now care about even less than before (which is not to say that the win wasn't welcome). So it's a mixed bag. The positives are there, but it's daft to ignore the negatives - not the obviously disappointing Scunthorpe result (it's early days and we have no divine right to win games or to determine the tactics of the opposition) but rather the departures.
I have no idea whether the decision over Diawara was down to the transfer fee, wages, his attitude, or a combination of all three. Pardew has said he doesn't have to sell, but presumably there is some balancing to be done. Maybe a decent offer for Diawara was sufficient to fund the signings of McLeod, Zheng Zhi and Racon. If Fortune had gone to Stoke would that have been enough? But if we end up signing a new central defender for any significant sum to replace Diawara the decision to accept a bid will look questionable - especially if in the interim we have injuries or suspensions (it's early days on this front too but let's not forget Traore).
The fact is that unless he didn't want to play for us - there is no good reason to believe that was the case, although maybe his apparent long-standing desire to play for Bordeaux meant a different attitude when they came in for him - we are weakened by Diawara's departure. Bottom line for me is I liked him. He didn't react badly (at least not publicly) to the poorly chosen comments about his signing, seemed genuinely pleased when the fans sang his name, and didn't seem in the least bit fazed by playing against Welling. Plus if he'd had the chance to form a regular partnership (which he did not last season) he could have been a real star for us.
Perhaps more worryingly, if Thomas does sign for Derby it will give the impression that, while we have haggled over prices, we have ended up selling any player for whom there's been definite interest (of course we may have rejected bids for others that have not become public). We always knew that Darren Bent and Luke Young would be sold, Diawara could be seen as a special case. But Thomas would be a different matter, even though there is a case with him of simply taking the money for a player who may never realise potential. If he goes I would welcome some comment from the club: if he wanted out then a simple 'we didn't feel we could stand in his way' would be enough; if we needed the money (whether to help balance the books or to fund a new defender) fair enough.
Central defence and strikers are perhaps the two areas where partnerships are as important as individual ability. Many moons ago I interviewed Jack Charlton (when he was manager of Sheffield Wednesday). It's a well-worn story but he said he asked Alf Ramsey why he picked him for England when there were better centre-halves around. The rationale was that England had the best defender in the world in Bobby Moore and Ramsey wanted a certain type of player to complement him. He chose the best available of the type.
If you apply this thinking to us, can McCarthy and Bougherra form a mutually-supportive combination? Neither has played anything like enough games for a clear answer. But I have to say I'm sceptical, given what seem to be their styles of play. If he stays, of the options available I'm inclined to think that Fortune can be a better partner, probably for McCarthy (as he seems to be the leader in the defence that we badly lacked last season). Fortune has his limitations, but can do a basic job if partnered with a more mobile partner better at reading situations developing. Perhaps with new midfielders coming in Samedo will revert to central defence, or maybe the elusive Gibbs will come into the picture (surely we will get more from him than a cameo against Welling).
As for the Scunthorpe game, I'm prepared to take the rap. It might have been the mickey-taking of the mummified bodies of St Pellegrino and St Bianco (although I could argue that this was just a nervous reaction to the sheer terror of the drive to get to the village stuck up in the mountains), or pointing out in Lucca cathedral that a painting of the new-born christ has him looking like he's enjoying a good smoke. For someone up there it was pay-back time, and thanks to the vagueries of text-reception allowing me to believe for some time that we had won probably leaves us even.
So the holidays are over - well, not quite. My partner came back to London with me. So her romantic last night of the annual break will be spent in a pub watching Stoke v Charlton. As we now have two French players she's up for the fight - although with England v France at rugby to follow all may not be sweetness and light. Allez Racon!