Player, Influential #1: Kieran Sadlier
Since the season is on hold due to the developing coronavirus pandemic, we thought we’d take the 2019/20 season as it stands and spotlight a few of the most influential players to Darren Moore’s young Rovers team.
Who better to start with than our top scorer, Kieran Sadlier?
Hitting The Ground Running
The Irish youth international winger, born in West Sussex, was signed by Moore’s predecessor Grant McCann in January of last year and earmarked as a player who could change the scope of Rovers’ attacking style in time. Sadlier had an immediate impact, scoring a superb strike on his league debut against former club Peterborough, adding another from long range in a win over Bristol Rovers before helping to seal the side’s Play-Off place with the opener on the final day win over Coventry.
Those three goals proved a taster for what was to come, with Sadlier one of the main beneficiaries of the huge summer rebuild brought about by McCann’s surprise departure to Hull. Now expected to play a bigger role in the attack, ‘Sads’ had to begin the 2019/20 campaign as a makeshift striker owing to the club’s failure to find a suitable replacement for John Marquis, and he answered that challenge in optimum fashion by scoring in both of the first two games, successive 1-1 draws against Gillingham and Rochdale.
The arrival of Niall Ennis to fill the void up front briefly saw Sadlier dropped to the bench after that great start, but he soon returned playing in his favoured wide role and he has barely missed a game since. Totting up six goals and three assists by early November, Sadlier has spent a considerable amount of 2019/20 as the most productive midfielder in League One, playing a key role in Rovers’ upturn in form around the turn of the year.
His two longest streaks without scoring before then were both ended against Peterborough, a team Sadlier just seems to love playing against. In September, he set James Coppinger up with a cross for the opener before sealing a 2-0 win with a ruthless finish, having dinked the ball over an opponent before running in on goal. The reverse fixture on Boxing Day was even better as Sadlier ran the show, firing in a brilliant effort from 30 yards to break the deadlock before notching a flicked effort from a Jon Taylor corner on a memorable day for the Rovers.
A Difference Maker
That victory in particular kick-started the side’s push into the Play-Off picture and although Sadlier did not score in any of his next five games, he played a crucial role in a run which included three straight victories in January to propel Rovers up the table. The month ended with a 3-1 win against Southend which saw Sads bag another brace, and his strike in our last home game to date, another 3-1 victory this time against Wycombe, took his tally to 12 for the year.
A dozen goals is a superb return for a winger in any league, and the six assists added to that tell a little more of the story too, but not all of it. Beyond the goals, Kieran Sadlier is the type of “X factor” attacking player that all teams would love to have. He is capable of creating gilt-edged goalscoring opportunities out of nothing and has seen his influence on this incarnation of Doncaster Rovers only grow stronger as his time in the hoops wears on.
Individual displays like those against Peterborough and Southend show his capability for taking a game and bending it to his will, demonstrating how deadly he can be at this level when operating at his very best. When absent from the side however, his importance is shown up even more. Rovers have only won one of the six games Sadlier has not started in League One this season, with bit-part sub appearances in recent defeats at Gillingham and Shrewsbury still fresh in the memory.
There is nobody else in the squad who can match the combined creative style, output and guile that Sadlier possesses. Usually when left out, he is replaced by more functional attackers brought in for their overwhelming pace or covering ability, but Sadlier has also shown as he develops that he can improve these aspects of his game and he is perhaps even underrated in terms of his off-the-ball contributions when the team is out of possession.
A Bright Future Beckons
All of this adds up to a player without any obvious weakness, something which stands out at the level Rovers currently play. Kieran Sadlier looks to be a player on the rise and at 25 years old is yet to reach his likely peak as a footballer. Rovers must count it as a top priority to extend his contract beyond this season, with his initial 18-month deal coming to an end in June, although naturally the current global health crisis means this is more up in the air than it was beforehand.
Losing Sadlier for nothing would be a financial disappointment, but losing him at all would be a blow. He is a proven goalscorer now and fits well in Darren Moore’s system, carving out a distinguished role for himself on the left hand side of the forward line where he can – and regularly does – torment opposition defences. He scores a wide variety of goals and is one of the few Rovers players who can say he has turned games on his own will in 2019/20. To put it bluntly, we can’t afford to lose him at this moment in time.
When the pandemic subsides and we all get back to football, the questions over Sadlier’s future will ramp up again. Whatever happens, there is no denying the winger’s contribution to the successes Rovers have had this season.