Wants, Needs & Desires
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Line of Defence
Refreshingly, there is no goalkeeper situation to sort out this summer. Ian Lawlor has slotted in as a strong, quality #1 since his January arrival from Manchester City, and has a very capable understudy in Marko Marosi, who saw plenty of first team minutes during our promotion campaign but was blighted by injuries. Academy graduate Louis Jones also has a growing reputation so there is strength and depth to arguably the most important position on the pitch for the first time since the days of Neil Sullivan.
In front of the keeper however are some serious issues that need addressing. Many observers believed the defensive line to be the weakest area of the Rovers team last season, and it is hard to argue with that as the side scored goals for fun but struggled for consistency at the back. Mathieu Baudry should remain the heart of the back line, but there are questions over the quality of Andy Butler despite his excellent leadership abilities and it seems unlikely that either he or raw talent Joe Wright will be asked by the manager to play week-in, week-out in League One.
Reports suggest that a left-sided signing is close in this position, with names mooted including veteran Hull defender Alex Bruce as well as several younger players from top flight clubs such as Tom Brewitt, released this month by Liverpool, and former Mansfield loanee Kyle Howkins from West Brom. Whether Fergie wishes to play a back three or a conventional four, it is evident that Rovers will struggle to challenge in the top half without a suitable addition in this area.
Rovers’ two signings to date are both defensive acquisitions, but are more likely to bolster the full back position than central. Niall Mason converted his loan deal from Aston Villa into a permanent switch shortly after the final game of the season at Hartlepool having proved useful in a variety of roles throughout the year. Comfortable on either flank as well as sitting in front of the defence, Mason should be a solid body to have on hand, whilst the free transfer signing of Grimsby’s Player of the Year Danny Andrew addresses a pressing need at left back. Add Craig Alcock on the opposite side and Rovers have the makings of a very dependable back line, although a lack of talk about any further full back arrivals suggests Fergie may be keen to press on with his desire for a back three after utilising Matty Blair as a wing back to some degree of success for much of last season.
Luke McCullough made a commendable return to the first team in a new role as a holding midfielder in the final weeks of the season after a tough year. Earmarked by the manager last summer as the great future for the club protecting the back line, the Northern Ireland international suffered a knee injury in a friendly at York that was supposed to rule him out for the entire season, but saw his recovery accelerate resulting in a late March return that included a pair of excellent MOTM performances, most notably in the 5-1 demolition of Grimsby that took us to the bring of promotion. Jordan Houghton had made the position his own before a serous injury saw him miss the run-in adversely affecting the whole team, so finding an adequate replacement for him must be the top priority for DRFC this summer.
Further forward, Rovers are in good shape with Tommy Rowe, Matty Blair and legendary captain James Coppinger all flourishing for the past 12 months. Youngsters Will Longbottom and Alfie Beestin come with great potential too, so for now focus must go elsewhere when it comes to additions to the squad, although it isn’t fair to expect the now 36-year-old Coppinger to continue shouldering the lion’s share of creative responsibility in the attacking third on a weekly basis going forward. This could well be the position that Fergie looks to augment through the loan market, with strong talk in the press that the man to fill the attacking midfield role will be young Sheffield United prospect Ben Whiteman, who enjoyed a breakthrough spell at fellow local rivals Mansfield in 2016/17.
On the Attack
Darren Ferguson has stated his desire to bring in two new forwards this summer, although one is dependent on the departure of Andy Williams. Rovers are already looking sharp in this department, with John Marquis coming off the back of an excellent year in which he scored 26 goals to finish at the top of the League Two scoring charts, and Liam Mandeville enjoying a break-out period prior to injury ruining his season around Christmas. Alfie May also stepped in capably after a January move from non-league, putting in a string of encouraging performances and bagging three goals to his name in his maiden season in the professional ranks.
A bonafide goalscorer to complement Marquis’ talents seems to be the aim in the transfer market, with names such as Paddy Madden mooted and then dismissed by Fergie. A player in his mould would make the most sense, adding a bit of pace and guile to the hold-up abilities and rottweiler attitude of Marquis. In addition, the sale of Williams should afford Ferguson the opportunity to bring in a player with “pure pace” to run off the shoulder of opposing defences, a type of striker he nearly signed last summer before reneging on a deal for Greenock Morton’s Jai Quitongo. Former loanee Keshi Anderson has also cropped up in conversation a lot, although he is more of a skilful #10 and failed to impress in two League One loan spells last term.
That leaves five players on the transfer list who should be on their way out of the club over the next few months. Ross Etheridge endured a spectacularly bad year after signing from Accrington last summer, guilty of costly mistakes time and again resulting in the young goalkeeper becoming shot of confidence right from a shaky debut against his former club, ending with him spending time out on loan at non-league sides Alfreton Town and Lincoln City in the second part of the season. The arrival of Lawlor and retention of Marosi suggest that there is no way back for the clumsy stopper now.
Cedric Evina has also found himself well down the pecking order despite a cameo appearance late in the year away at Grimsby. Still only 25, Evina has plenty of time to carve out a career as a professional but it appears his time at DRFC is drawing to a close, and the arrival of Danny Andrew to fill the left back slot confirms as much. On the opposite side, Mitchell Lund has also been listed for transfer potentially due to a lack of mental development under Fergie, as his playing performances have not been too bad and he did suffer an awful injury at the hands of thuggish Yeovil tactics back in August, derailing his entire season.
Fellow youth team graduate Harry Middleton failed to impress despite early promise, proving unable to stake a claim for a long-term place in midfield. The biggest problem for Middleton seems to be his lack of sense for his true role on the pitch, proving ineffective in a holding role whilst not quite possessing enough of the tools to be a true asset further forward either. If moves cannot be found for him or Lund, you do feel that they are the only ones in this crop of unwanted players who may be afforded a second chance providing they acquit themselves well in pre-season training.
Andy Williams was the surprise name on the transfer list when it was announced last month, but the harsh reality is that the veteran striker lacks the consistency to merit a place in the team this season. A natural goalscorer, Williams has talent in abundance and we saw his capability at League One level both in the hoops and prior to coming north in prolific spells at Swindon and Yeovil. Usurped by Marquis and even Mandeville in our promotion season, the time seems right on both sides for Williams to seek a fresh start elsewhere.
With Andrew and Mason already in the door, one more addition at the back should be enough to compete for now. The bulk of this summer’s transfer budget should be spent on both a holding midfielder – in the Jordan Houghton / Brian Stock role – and on a proper goalscorer with dynamic ability to augment the attacking line providing support for the rich talent of Marquis, Rowe, Coppinger and Blair. By the 5th of August, the additions of this central midfielder and striker, plus Andrew, Mason, Whiteman, the vaunted centre half and an additional forward should set Rovers up for a good year in which we see much more to shout about than in our last season in League One. —– Look out later this week for the launch of the brand new ITEN account on Twitter! We are stepping up our social media presence ahead of the new season, so check us out after the announcement and stay tuned to ITEN online for upcoming articles covering the release of the EFL fixture list, a belated 2016/17 Awards piece and much more.