January Joy: Rovers Transfer Window Review
Updated: Feb 3
It has been an eventful month at Doncaster Rovers, to say the least. At the close of the transfer window, Rovers had signed six players to strengthen a squad which is already well placed to challenge for promotion to the Championship, with Rovers concluding their business by signing Scott Robertson on loan from Celtic on Saturday morning.
Looking individually at the six newcomers and one big departure, here is our review of Rovers’ January business.
Balcombe Solves Keeper Conundrum
England U21 goalkeeper Ellery Balcombe was the first player through the doors of Cantley Park this month, with Darren Moore keen to put an end to the uncertain situation surrounding his #1 shirt following Joe Lumley’s emergency loan spell ending. Whilst Lumley was the original choice to continue in the role, his parent club Queens Park Rangers had other ideas and so attention turned to Balcombe, a highly-rated young stopper from Brentford who has so far looked an upgrade on his predecessor.
The 21-year-old has height, presence and quick reflexes and has been tested keenly in his first few weeks as a Rovers player, most notably in his Man of the Match display against Premier League West Ham in the FA Cup. Balcombe’s kicking has caused issues on occasion, but at the same time he is capable of excellency in distribution and demonstrated this on numerous occasions in the recent wins over Rochdale and Wimbledon.
It remains early days, naturally, in his loan spell but Balcombe has lived up to expectations so far and looks to be an astute pick-up by Darren Moore and his recruitment team.
Simoes Ready and Willing
Portuguese winger Elliot Simoes arrived on the same day as Balcombe, ostensibly as a replacement for Rayhaan Tulloch, whose loan spell unfortunately never got off the ground due to a troublesome hamstring injury suffered minutes into only his second game for the club. Simoes has had a couple of good runs in the team at South Yorkshire neighbours Barnsley but found himself on the fringes under new manager Valerien Ismael and so he finds himself at Rovers hoping to reignite his career in English football.
Reports from Oakwell that the Benfica academy product is lacking in intensity and work ethic have not borne out as true in his first few weeks as a Rovers player, indeed Simoes has looked a committed and capable attacking option who is yet to really show us what he can do. He has been decent enough and fit in well with the playing style of the manager, and in the sense of being an upgrade on Tulloch he has proven that just by being available for selection.
Simoes has bags of talent in his locker and it is surely more likely than not that Moore and his coaching staff will coax it out and into his play over the next few months.
Whiteman Departure Paves Way for Bostock Redemption
There is no arguing against the impact that the loss of captain Ben Whiteman will have on the Rovers squad, following his seven-figure move to Preston North End. He has been an integral part of the team for several years and had grown into an accomplished midfield playmaker, but Darren Moore knew it was inevitable he would lose his star player sooner rather than later, and has clearly had the solution in mind for some time.
John Bostock has spoken of conversations going back several months with Moore, and his arrival earlier this week signals a turning point for Rovers and hopefully for the player himself. The former wonderkid flamed out at Tottenham before building a decent career in Europe over the past few seasons, but it has become a stop-start existence for the Camberwell-born midfielder once again in recent seasons and he now has a chance at redeeming the initial promise he showed in his early career.
He will have to play himself into contention anyway based on current form, with Rovers enjoying a superb run of four wins in five games without Whiteman, and both Matt Smith and Reece James stepping up to the plate in the middle. Fans should not expect Bostock to do the same things Whiteman did anyway, but he should bring plenty of qualities in addition to crucial experience in this still very young squad, and he stands to be the most exciting acquisition of the window if the signing pans out.
Unfinished Business for Returning Sims
If Bostock is the most intriguing signing of the transfer window, then the most popular figure for Rovers fans coming in is undoubtedly Josh Sims. The winger has rejoined from Southampton on loan for the remainder of the 2020/21 campaign after a rollercoaster will-he-won’t-he saga of sorts. After suffering a hamstring injury against Swindon in December, hopes of an extension looked bleak as Sims entered the last six months of his contract knowing he had done well in the shop window during a fruitful couple of months at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The player though has cemented himself as a favourite by choosing to return to Rovers instead of opting for a move to the Championship. Sims stated his desire to keep a good thing going and the hope now is that he can add the quality and pace that the team’s attack has missed over the past six weeks in his absence. That the club managed to pull the transfer out of the hat is hugely commendable too – they are clearly willing to back the manager to try and achieve the aim of promotion.
Sims is still in the top five for most assists in League One despite being out for a month, and if he can pick up where he left off once fit again then Rovers are a force to be reckoned with out wide once again.
Bogle Eases Attacking Burden
The final piece of the attacking puzzle is the arrival of striker Omar Bogle, signed from Charlton on a deal until the end of next season. The 27-year-old is a player who has struggled to settle at any one club since a prolific goalscoring spell at Grimsby earned him a move to the Championship four years ago, but he brings something different to the attack than Darren Moore has had at his disposal at any stage in his managerial reign at the club, and is likely to be a focal point that the attack has long needed.
Bogle is an imposing handful for defenders, but he hasn’t found the knack of hitting the back of the net at a higher level than League Two. Since notching 19 goals in half a season with the Mariners, he has only scored 16 goals in 93 matches for seven different clubs since but has clearly suffered from a lack of continuity and will hope to find his feet once again under a coach who has proven his ability to get the best out of players.
Moore may not even be expecting bags of goals from Bogle – the squad overall has done an excellent job of spreading the wealth around this season, and Bogle’s arrival may help to maximise the impact of players around him such as top scorer Fejiri Okenabirhie, who looked dangerous as a wide forward option as well as centrally in recent games, and if this signing can augment the existing attacking threat that can only mean good things for Rovers’ prospects for the rest of the season.
Robertson Brings Bonus Depth
Despite originally stating that he would have to allow someone to leave in order to bring anyone else in, Darren Moore sprung a surprise on the final weekend of the window by confirming the signing of midfielder Scott Robertson on loan from Celtic, and the teenager went straight into the squad for the win at Lincoln. Robertson spent the first half of this season on loan at Gillingham playing in 19 matches, although he was absent for their trip to Rovers in December so fans will know precious little about him.
A defensive-minded central player, Robertson augments the options for Moore at a crucial position and adds further strength in the wake of Whiteman’s departure. Being a player with experience of the level and who is match fit will be a boost for the make up of the substitute’s bench at the very least in the weeks to come, whilst his arrival also signals the intent of the club to back the manager in order to get the players he feels he needs to cement Rovers’ ambitions this season.
The extension for Matt Smith, revealed to have been negotiated after other clubs showed an interest in taking the player on in January, also demonstrates that commitment and is as important as any other acquisition, particularly in the wake of some top-line displays by the Wales international playing the ‘Whiteman role’ in recent games. Robertson, Smith and Bostock look a good trio for Moore to choose from as he plots a way to solve the issue of where playmaking duties lie in his side going forward.