Rovers Return: On Whiteman, Lumley & Lockdown
Doncaster Rovers’ enforced Christmas break due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the squad has allowed us to take stock of the season, even if being deprived of football again at this difficult time was a bitter blow just as the festive period was kicking into high gear.
The team returns with an FA Cup clash against Blackburn ahead, as well as the prospect of playing twice a week for much of the rest of the campaign owing to the fixture pile-up caused by the isolation period. If that wasn’t enough to wrap your head around, the January transfer window has opened meaning speculation over players coming and going from the club is fast becoming the hot topic of conversation once again.
Ben Whiteman: The Journo’s Dream
No Rovers player will invite more discussion than captain Ben Whiteman this month. His stellar performances throughout the past couple of years have steadily built his reputation and the midfielder is now a consensus choice for the tag of “Best Midfielder in League One”. That of course means more interest in him from clubs higher up the pyramid and it also makes him an easy target for those reporters eager to fill column inches with clickbait gossip regarding a potential move away from DN4.
There is absolutely no doubting Whiteman’s ability to play in the Championship at this stage, and he would surely be a key addition for any second tier side looking to improve their team, but Rovers hold a position of strength in any negotiations owing to the fact that he is tied down to a long-term contract and is one of the club’s highest earners. In addition, the player himself has shown no indication that he is desperate to leave and so is unlikely to kick up a fuss unless a real powerhouse comes knocking on the door to tempt him away.
To that end, there is no reason for fans to panic about the captain’s immediate future. He has been superb this season and is integral to how Darren Moore likes his side to play, so will be tough to replace if and when he does eventually go. But for now, there is no reason to believe Whiteman won’t see out the season as a Rovers player and if that is to change this month, it will have to be a substantial financial offering for Rovers to accept losing their star man.
Safe Hands Needed
One player who may well have played his last game for Rovers however is Joe Lumley. The goalkeeper brought in as an emergency replacement for Joe Bursik in November has performed fine for the club since joining but his parent club Queens Park Rangers have opened talks over a new deal according to a report in the Doncaster Free Press today. Whilst that is somewhat surprising considering Rangers’ depth at the position and the strong performances of former Rovers loanee Seny Dieng this season, it is no disaster for Darren Moore if Lumley is not going to return.
The club has contingency plans in place and will sign a replacement this month on loan, whomever that may be, and in the meantime academy graduate Louis Jones looks more than capable of stepping in to the void. Jones is highly rated by Moore and the club coaching staff and it can only aid his development if he gets more game time, as looks likely at least as long as Rovers have to pursue an alternative target to Lumley.
Whilst Lumley has been solid enough (save for the match-costing clanger he dropped at Hull last month) he has not set the world on fire either, and neither he nor Bursik showed enough signs that they could live up to the lofty standards set by Dieng last term in their spells with Rovers. The next gem may be just around the corner for Rovers and there is no reason to believe that the recruitment team won’t find another suitable player to keep goal for the rest of this season.
Lockdown 3 Brings Familiar Challenges
The prospect of attending a Rovers game again this season diminished significantly with Monday night’s announcement by Boris Johnson that the country was going back into a national lockdown in order to combat the rapidly rising rates of Covid-19 among the British population. Fans have been deprived the live match experience since last March and there is no end in sight to having to settle for watching on iFollow from the frustrating comfort of the sofa.
If we have seen the last James Coppinger performance in person it will be very sad indeed – let’s hope the great man returns for a second testimonial of some sort in the future – but staying safe and well in order to watch Rovers for years to come has to be the priority. It is fortunate that the modern day gives us the means with which to see every ball kicked on television even if it is an inferior experience, and it is credit to the club that they appear to be financially solvent enough to keep going without catastrophe on the horizon despite a huge loss of revenue.
Seeing out the season now will be the hope and aim of all clubs across the EFL, who have already weathered a series of heavy storms between the financial pressures and health worries brought on by the pandemic. Regardless of attendance, if Rovers can get up and running again quickly and compete for promotion it will add that crucial bright spark to the lives of thousands of supporters going through the most challenging time of their lives.