The Kids Were Alright: A Salute to Our 2019/20 Loan Stars
Last week’s news that the current campaign is being curtailed meant the inevitable end of a number of player’s time with Doncaster Rovers. As fans await the club’s Retained List for out of contract players, it was confirmed late in the week that the six loan players at the club for the second half of the 2019/20 season were returning to their parent clubs, bringing an abrupt end to the Rovers tenures of a number of good players. Here we take a look at those six players and salute their efforts for the club.
At 25 years old, Swiss stopper Dieng isn’t necessarily a kid anymore but goalkeepers do tend to run on a different development track to outfield players and indeed this has been the first time in his career that Seny Dieng has had a season-long run as first choice. Arriving as an unknown late last summer, Dieng usurped Ian Lawlor for the gloves in September and he went on to make 32 appearances in all competitions, registering a very respectable tally of 10 clean sheets.
His composure, command of the penalty area and overall consistency were a breath of fresh air at a position Rovers have struggled to pin down a reliable option in recent years, and he was a key player in the team’s upswing in form around the turn of the year. Unfortunately, he has been so good that parent club Queens Park Rangers will surely want to see if he can break in to their first team next season, especially as they’ve had some issues at the position themselves.
That though is testament to the effectiveness of the loan system by Rovers and of Darren Moore’s recruitment. Dieng’s displays have shown the way the manager wants his goalkeeper to play and that can only bode well for the future.
Young defender John is one of the players who made his senior league debut in a Rovers shirt this season, and he marked it in some style by netting a belter of a strike in the club’s first win of the season against Fleetwood. The Wolves loanee quickly established himself alongside Tom Anderson in defence with some mature performances but then missed two months injured. Naturally, he scored on his return to earn a draw with Milton Keynes but the form of Joe Wright meant John was deployed mostly at left back thereafter.
Those displays were a little less consistent, and a performance featuring two own goals in defeat at Gillingham in the FA Cup was perhaps the low point, but at just 20 years of age Cameron John showed plenty of talent and an exemplary attitude throughout his loan spell. Whether or not he breaks through at Wolves remains to be seen but there is no doubting his potential to succeed at a high level in future and Darren Moore will surely be watching his progress with interest.
There’s a case to be made for Ben Sheaf as the most successful signing in this crop of loanees. Lined up originally by Grant McCann, Sheaf was the only such transfer greenlit by Darren Moore after his arrival and it’s easy to see why – the Arsenal midfielder became an instant regular in the centre of the park, used to complement Ben Whiteman and as the pair learned to work together they became one of the most proficient technical duos in the division.
In 38 appearances Sheaf registered two goals (one technically an own goal, but we’ll give him it) and three direct assists, but his contributions go far beyond the immediate measurable stats. His passing accuracy was, despite regular groans from some sections of the stand, the third highest in League One (Whiteman led this particular table) and his key pass ratio was also very high, suggesting that Sheaf was a pivotal element of Rovers’ attacking efforts in 2019/20.
His technical ability on the ball is matched by his movement, and whilst the pitfalls of youth sometimes creep into his game, there is no doubting the potential of the 22-year-old and any chance of a permanent move for Ben Sheaf would surely be jumped on by Darren Moore.
Although he only played half a dozen games for the club, Jacob Ramsey’s contribution to the team’s efforts following a January switch from Aston Villa will not be forgotten. The biggest compliment we can give him is that he managed to displace the great James Coppinger from the side after netting two good goals on his debut to help Rovers to a 3-0 win at Tranmere. His burst of pace through the middle added a new dimension to the side and defences struggled to handle Ramsey’s unpredictability on and off the ball.
Whilst he was another player whose inexperienced showed at times in games, he hit the ground running and fit seamlessly into the fluid attacking ranks of Moore’s set-up and one of the biggest disappointments of the curtailment is that we didn’t get to see the full scope of what Ramsey could bring to Rovers. He signed off in style with a typically ruthless goal to win the last game before lockdown at Milton Keynes, and the manager will surely keep a close eye on his availability next season should Villa survive relegation.
Belgian winger Lokilo was also brought to the club in January, with Darren Moore at the time stating that he hoped to get a look at the Crystal Palace loanee with a view to a permanent move. In the end he only got 20 minutes of league action to see but Lokilo made his mark nonetheless, providing a speedy outlet off the bench against Wycombe and essentially scoring the third in a 3-1 win as his cross was turned into the net by a Chairboys defender.
Wolves academy product Ennis endeared himself to Rovers fans immediately by showing bags of heart and endeavour in his early showings up front. Thrust into the unenviable position of carrying the side’s goal threat for the first half of the season after a failure to replace John Marquis in the summer window, the 21-year-old had to act as pretty much the only out-and-out striker in the squad. He made a good start scoring a belter against Lincoln and providing two assists the next week against Rotherham, but injury stunted his progress soon after.
Ennis returned fully fit and raring to go at Christmas and the turn of the year marked a sharp upturn in his goal output. As Rovers went on a winning run, the enthusiastic striker played a strong part of the team’s push up the League One table and he ended up with five more goals before the season was curtailed to end on a respectable tally of 10 goals directly involved in (6 goals, 4 assists) from 32 appearances in the hoops.
Niall Ennis provided a focal point at a time when the team desperately needed one and although he is probably better suited to playing in a wide forward role or as a second striker rather than the line leader he was tasked with being here, his future is bright and his development all the better for his time in South Yorkshire this season.