State of Play: 2019/20 Squad Assessment
Eight days away from the new season kicking off, Darren Moore’s Doncaster Rovers squad is yet to fully take shape. His relatively late arrival undoubtedly compromised our ability to act early in the transfer market, but with a fortnight and change under his belt now, Moore must know where he needs to strengthen and act decisively to ensure his side are ready to compete from the off. Rovers have made five additions this summer at the time of writing, with the loan signing of goalkeeper Seny Dieng bolstering the ranks this morning added to full back duo Reece James and Brad Halliday, and midfielders Ben Sheaf and Madger Gomes.
Gaps remain in this squad, however, after a number of high profile players departed at the conclusion of our excellent 2018/19 campaign under Grant McCann. Here we identify the key areas that Darren Moore has to improve to get Rovers competing for a place in the top six again this season.
Cutting Edge Required
There is no doubt that the front line needs a boost, with the invaluable threat provided last term by Mallik Wilks yet to be replaced. Wilks has now signed for Barnsley and finding a mercurial talent of his calibre will be tough in any market, but Darren must assess how to get the best out of our existing forward options and a wide forward with pace and end product is vital. Rovers have been heavily linked with Rangers’ Glenn Middleton this summer, but no move has materialised potentially because of the managerial change. Interestingly, Moore had praise for Middleton when asked about him after the Huddersfield friendly this week, but questions linger over whether he is still a primary target, or if Moore is pursuing other options.
Regardless, the top priority at this stage of the window should be to find that missing piece of the puzzle in the forward line, and whether it is Middleton or somebody else, a productive wide attacker should be top of the list.
The Matter of Marquis
No assessment of our attacking options can ignore the looming issue of John Marquis. The polarising striker has been linked with a move away consistently since a failed bid from Sunderland in January, but a concrete bid for his services this summer hasn’t yet materialised. Ideally, Rovers could count on him staying with the club considering his historic goalscoring form of last season, but as long as the matter is still up in the air, Darren Moore will find it difficult to know what to do with his forward group.
With Alfie May the only senior alternative up front another body is needed, something that appears to be being addressed with the experienced Jamie Ward currently on trial, but if Marquis is to leave in the next few weeks, the club will have to recruit a new first choice striker which will require targeting an entirely different calibre of player. The funds generated from such a sale could also help massively with improving other areas of the squad, but now we’ll have to sit tight and wait to see if Marquis stays or goes.
Ben Sheaf has looked a capable replacement for Herbie Kane in the limited pre-season environment we’ve seen him in so far, but a like-for-like for Tommy Rowe is still eluding us. Although Rowe didn’t have as big an influence on the side last season, his instinct to drive forward through midfield was unmatched and in the hole behind the strikers, our options are currently limited. James Coppinger has always excelled in a free role along the attacking midfield line and has frequently been deployed from wide positions in recent seasons, whilst we are yet to learn where Kieran Sadlier best fits in to the equation.
Madger Gomes, recruited from abroad after coming through the academy set-up at Liverpool and Leeds, appears to be a work-in-progress signing, and our only other senior player capable of filling this role is Matty Blair. Blair did well when tasked with playing in the centre of the park early on last season but was usually deployed as an emergency right back and is undoubtedly at his best when afforded the licence to roam down the wing. Therefore an experienced, creative replacement for Rowe would provide the balance and cutting edge we have seemed to lack in friendly outings this summer.
Strength in Numbers
The first XI may be two or three players short of being capable of hitting the heights we managed last season, but behind them the depth of the squad has been hit hard by summer departures. Chief among these is defence, with no senior centre halves behind first choice pair Joe Wright and Tom Anderson. Andy Butler and Paul Downing have both departed, and although youngsters Shane Blaney and Rian McLean are highly rated, we still need more experience to cover this area. Former Blackpool defender Alex Baptiste is on trial and would fill this gap, whilst also providing senior cover for the full back positions which is also lacking.
The arrival of Seny Dieng addresses the lack of established competition for Ian Lawlor, although academy graduate Louis Jones is tipped to push on this season and stake a claim for the #1 shirt. Despite growing apprehension about the stunted recruitment this summer, things appear to be coming together. Replacements for Marosi, Kane, Andrew and Mason have been found meaning that, with just a couple of strong additions we should be well placed for another successful slant at League One in 2019/20.