Doncaster Rovers: Assessing a turbulent summer of business after transfer deadline day

For Doncaster Rovers, this has been arguably the most talked about transfer window since the days of The Experiment.

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 12:04 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 5:01 pm
John Marquis joined Portsmouth from Rovers this summer

And while it will not draw as much debate as that controversial and contentious transfer policy, there will likely be arguments to be had for time to come on just how the last few months have played out.

Ultimately, the success or failure of a transfer window is determined by what follows on the pitch in its wake.

But what can we expect now the dust has settled and – most of – the business has been completed?

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Kazaiah Sterling

Rovers entered the summer knowing it would be unlikely for them to begin the new season with John Marquis still at the club.

While the striker's departure took longer than expected - and with a rather unforeseen destination at the end of it - Rovers can be pretty happy with the transfer fee agreed, at close to £2m for someone with less than a year to run on their deal.

So with Marquis heading out, the biggest point of note this summer was always going to be how Rovers would replace his goals, his presence and his drive in the team.

Right now, no one can emphatically claim those efforts have been a success.

Darren Moore

Young forwards Niall Ennis and Kazaiah Sterling have both shown flashes of real quality to suggest they do have bright futures ahead of them in the game.

But replacing a 20+ goal a season striker with two inexperienced loanees is never going to a deliver the assurance supporters are crying out for. Not that Darren Moore ever believed it would.

The Rovers boss said he wanted experience and pedigree and he hunted for just that but was frustrated at each turn.

He has lined up an experienced free agent to sign this week – and top level experience – though not one with a goalscoring record that comes close to Marquis’.

Herbie Kane

There will no doubt be plenty of frustration that Moore has failed to land the permanent signing of a striker who could emulate the achievements of Marquis at the club.

At this present time, it looks like somewhat of a mis-step during this window but time will tell if this is actually the case.

Undoubtedly the departure of Grant McCann, and the timing of his exit, had a major effect on Rovers’ transfer business.

With strict, stubborn contract offers made to those at the end of the deals, he ensured Rovers would head down a path of renovating a squad that had come so close to reaching the play-off final.

Whatever your view on that, McCann was in control of the situation and comfortable in his belief that he could replace those departing with players of at least equal quality.

Given his brilliant start to life at new club Bristol City, there will be some pining for Tommy Rowe. But his departure was always likely given the size of his wage packet and advancing years.

His presence in a Bristol City side with ambitions of challenging for a place in the top flight reflects on the quality of the player that Rovers no longer hold, but also the competition the club were facing in attempts to retain him.

Andy Butler's departure was undoubtedly a surprise - and a strange one at that given the leadership qualities he brought plus the future he has in coaching.

The defender felt low-balled with the contract offer from McCann, despite being presented with greater security in the length of the deal.

His switch to Scunthorpe United left Rovers desperately needing experienced cover at centre half.

Failing to agree a deal with Marko Marosi did not appear to be too much of an issue at the time, with Ian Lawlor returning to full fitness.

Danny Andrew's departure was another matter. McCann was fed up with contractual wrangling and pulled the plug. Depending on who you believe, stag dos, weddings and honeymoons either got in the way or were there to be enjoyed in peace but ultimately Andrew walked.

Prior to his own departure, McCann had lined up several deals – with Brad Halliday, Madger Gomes, Reece James and Ben Sheaf all products of that.

But there was undoubtedly a great deal of catching up to be done once Moore took the reins a month later.

It was ambitious to believe he would simply pick up the business McCann had started – though he did give the green light to Sheaf’s signing.

With the loss of important senior players such as Butler and Rowe, plus the departure of incredibly influential loanees such as Herbie Kane and Mallik Wilks, it was always going to be difficult to reach the end of the summer window with a squad as strong as that which finished last season.

So, how close are they?

In James, Rovers appear to have landed arguably an even more solid left back than the one he replaced - certainly in defensive terms. While he has yet to show the threat Andrew possessed, James is growing into a more attacking role and looks a solid addition.

Across the back four, the problematic right back position was filled by Halliday. While not delivering as quickly as his fellow new full back, Halliday has shown potential with surging runs forward. His defensive work, particularly marking, needs to improve however. Finally having an out-and-out right back remains a positive.

At centre half, Butler’s departure and the end of the loan for Paul Downing left significant holes.

The signing of Alex Baptiste looked to have added much needed experience but for his unfortunate and unforeseeable injury to strike him down so early in the season.

Wolves loanee Cameron John has impressed greatly since his introduction into the side, with a great deal of confidence in his ability despite his lack of senior games. How he will cope with week in, week out football at the level remains to be seen but it has been so far, so good from the 20-year-old.

Deadline day loan signing Donervon Daniels has plenty of recent experience at the level and brings much needed cover.

Coming in from Arsenal, Sheaf has looked a very good loan signing – and a versatile one at that. He may prefer playing as a centre half but he has been deployed as a sitting midfielder so far, with good success.

He is a different player to Kane – not as combative, not as aggressive pushing forward. But he frees Ben Whiteman up to attack more.

On Whiteman, retaining his services beyond the end of the window was perhaps the best piece of business Rovers could hope to have done. A midfielder with ever-growing attributes, he seems to be set for a very bright future.

Gomes has endured a mixed bag of a start to life at Rovers. Patchy and error-strewn performances saw him drop out of the side before injury to Sheaf brought him back in against Lincoln and he showed a lot more of his capabilities. Erratic may be the best way to describe the Spanish midfielder just now.

The departure of Ali Crawford – to Bolton Wanderers of all clubs – on deadline was surprising and not surprising at all in equal measure. There were signs in pre-season that he was struggling to force his way into Moore’s plans.

But he showed last term that he is a reliable, skilful and useful player so it is hard for this one not to feel like a loss.

Transfer windows do not just influence the season in which they take place of course. And there has been some justifiable concerns that Rovers are too reliant on the temporary fixes of loans.

For a club that prides itself on its sustainability, a major upheaval each summer is far from ideal.

And Rovers have certainly not guarded against such upheaval occurring at the end of this season with their business over the last few months.

They do deserve, to a degree the benefit of the doubt however. Permanent signings have not been made simply to make the numbers up and it is better to save money for the right signings rather than feeling the need to splurge.

Ultimately, the big question is one of have the big name departures – Butler, Downing, Kane, Wilks, Rowe, Marquis – been replaced?

If you are looking for like for like, then the answer is no. It is not too harsh to suggest no one has come in with ability currently at the levels of that sextet.

The start to the season that Rovers have delivered means there should not be doom and gloom about that fact. The current squad is energetic, confident and growing into Moore’s system with each passing week.

Goals have been the concern and we will have to see if that remains so going forward.

It seems now that a lot needs to go right, and continue to go right, for Rovers to come close to the success of last season.