• Adam Stubbings

Open Season: Our Biggest Needs Ahead of 2020/21

In any normal year, this week would mark the final countdown to the start of the new season but in this strangest of times for us all, today instead marks the opening of the Summer Transfer Window. Now is a crucial period for clubs up and down the EFL as they try to build competitive squads with limited resources, and managers like Darren Moore face unique challenges that they have never had to navigate in their careers before.

The first team squad should be reporting back for pre-season training in the next week or two, but at time of writing Darren will only have a dozen bona fide first team players joining him to get preparations underway. Regardless of the reduced budget and difficulty in recruitment, he and his staff will have to bring in at least six new players for the squad and do what they can to keep hold of Rovers’ better performers from last season.

We can’t possibly know the exact budget the club will be working to over the next six weeks or so, but we do know the key areas in need of attention amongst the squad. Here are our thoughts on three positions the squad needs improving in ahead of the 2020/21 season.

1. A Creative Winger

The departure of top scorer Kieran Sadlier leaves a big gap in the attacking third, particularly when it comes to creative output. Sadlier was as much a provider as he was a goalscorer and helped stretch defences in a way nobody else in the squad could in 2019/20. Whilst the squad does now have a central striker to act as the focal point in Fejiri Okenabirhie, and retains the direct play of Jon Taylor, there is now a need to provide that complementary element in the form of a wide player who can affect play in front of goal.

James Coppinger enters his final year of a legendary Rovers career still very much an important player to the squad, but his game time may well diminish somewhat and he cannot be relied on anymore to be the team’s primary provider week in, week out. This is not to write the great man off, as he will still surely play a significant role in the upcoming season, but he needs help in this department and a key addition to replace Sadlier needs to be a top priority for Darren Moore.

Whether or not he wishes to bring in a more energetic presence on loan, be that a return for Jacob Ramsey or someone else, shouldn’t factor in to this as Rovers need a permanent acquisition to bolster the attacking triumvirate before considering loan additions in this area of the team.

2. A Combative Central Presence

The synergy between midfield duo Ben Whiteman and Ben Sheaf were a big part of the way Rovers played last season, with Darren Moore making the centre of midfield a leading light of his tactical philosophy from the get-go a year ago. Sheaf has gone back to Arsenal and will probably move up the ladder after a stellar season, whilst Whiteman is easily the biggest asset remaining in the Rovers squad.

If the club can hold on to their talismanic captain, then finding a new partner for him in midfield will be a priority of recruitment and the midfield on the whole will probably look quite different in 2020/21 as Whiteman only has Madger Gomes and youth team graduate AJ Greaves for company at the moment. Gomes has a lot of technical ability but is still a rough diamond, whilst Greaves is completely untested at senior level, so a more physical, combative presence in the middle of the park is a must if Rovers are to find success this year.

This may well be another loanee in the same vein as Sheaf and Herbie Kane, who excelled in the role the year before, and really the only major pre-requisite is that the player brought in can compete physically with a clutch of robust, physical midfield units in League One. If Whiteman is poached by another club however, it is an entirely different conversation as to what is needed to strengthen midfield.

3. Width on the Right Flank

If we’re working under the assumption Whiteman isn’t leaving, we also have to plan with the belief that Matty Blair is not returning. The popular utility player is yet to sign a new contract and may well leave for pastures new, and even if he is to stay there is no reason not to think that the right flank needs some attention. Whilst Darren Moore has two top quality left backs at his disposal in Reece James and Danny Amos, he has only Brad Halliday at right back and the tenacious Jon Taylor in front of him.

This just isn’t enough to proceed with, although both are solid first team players who could be set for prominence after decent maiden seasons in the hoops. A player with the ability to stretch the pitch going forward would be beneficial to the team and give the manager more options to change-up how he approaches opposing teams during games. Somebody with a bit of pace and trickery wouldn’t go amiss, but equally a player with positional solidity and an ability to support Halliday in defensive situations couldn’t hurt either.

There are other areas in need of attention, with a lack of depth at centre half and up front notable in particular, whilst the goalkeeping situation now Seny Dieng has gone remains unclear despite the presence of Ian Lawlor and Louis Jones. However, bolstering the right-hand side that has looked bare for a couple of seasons now would go a long way to solving some of the depth issues that have plagued Rovers for some time.


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