Reflections on Doncaster Rovers' disappointing deadline day

In the short-termism of football, the success or failure of three months worth of transfer activity at Doncaster Rovers was always going to come down to a single day.

Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 8:00 am
Keepmoat Stadium

And as the calendar was flipped over into September, there could be little doubt over which way the window would be judged amid the high emotion of the dust beginning to settle.

The failure to secure a much-needed striker before the deadline should be judged as such - a failure.

Particularly when the club had one with a great pedigree for the level within their grasp and let him slip through their fingers due to days of inaction.

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And even more so as they watched on helplessly as he opted to join a local rival at the 11th hour.

Rovers had done everything right in their pursuit of Will Grigg. The framework of a loan deal had been tentatively agreed around a fortnight in advance of deadline day - and a good deal it was too as they would have paid only a quarter of his hefty salary at Sunderland.

But by the time the funds were made available to finance the deal, it was too late, as other clubs came into the equation.

The need for the signing of Grigg was ultimately what saw them miss out on the Northern Ireland international in the end.

Rovers’ start to the season has been a horror show in terms of results and, in particular, the lack of goals. It has left them bottom of the table, with panicky bookmakers quickly installing them as favourites for relegation due to their perilous early position.

So when it came down to Grigg’s personal choice over where he would spend the rest of this season, Rovers were hardly in a position to make a strong case in competition with Rotherham, who look a decent bet for a promotion push.

Finances were not the factor. Rovers had matched the wage packet the Millers put on the table and told Sunderland they were willing to better it in order to secure Richie Wellens’ primary target.

But the Black Cats had already put aside their concerns about allowing the striker to join a promotion rival and left it down to Grigg himself to make the decision on purely football terms, which took him to the New York Stadium.

Their firing of blanks so spectacularly by Rovers at the same venue at the weekend only emphasised the need for attacking recruits, particularly as there were signs it was chipping away at the good progress made in other areas of the team.

So there will understandably be questions as to why it took the best part of three days after the game for additional funds to be released to allow Wellens to act.

Particularly as it became clear that hopes of freeing up money by moving players on had already died out due to a lack of interest on both sides for and from Omar Bogle and Ed Williams.

And it will need to be a good explanation to satisfy the growing number of supporters who have shown discontent at the start to the campaign and the recruitment.

While inaction will be the focus of much of the ire, it must be acknowledged just how little luck Wellens has enjoyed since his arrival at the club.

The absence of Jon Taylor, Fejiri Okenabirhie and Jordy Hiwula has left Rovers short in the most important area of the pitch, forcing them to rely on the inexperienced Aidan Barlow, players out of position or Tiago Cukur, who is still some way off peak fitness.

Even though he missed out on Grigg, it did appear he would be able to add an experienced forward to his ranks before the deadline. In fact, there was real confidence at 9pm that two new signings could be secured, along with Rodrigo Vilca, who did indeed join on loan from Newcastle United.

But Black Cats crossed Rovers’ path again - and it was not a good omen.

A deal had been agreed to sign Republic of Ireland international Aiden O’Brien on loan from Sunderland with plenty of time left to get it completed.

But the Free Press understands Sunderland mistakenly sent the wrong paperwork to O’Brien to sign, and by the time the issue was rectified the deadline had already passed.

After being a hive of activity through the evening, the mood at the Keepmoat was a sombre one as the situation became clear. Another one had slipped away.

There was the possibility of reigniting a deal for the highly rated Premier League youngster that Rovers had tracked throughout the summer, who it appeared was destined for a Championship move earlier in the day.

But that too fell by the wayside as attention was focused on trying to get a forward in.

And so, with the window closed, Rovers will likely look to the free agent market. That pool of talent will not however contain players that are ready to contribute straight away, which is exactly what Rovers need, and quickly.

It is somewhat of a shame that three months of activity will be blotted by what happened, or did not happen in the final few days of the window.

Wellens’ approach of targeting quality over quantity looked to have put Rovers in a good position as they started the campaign in the early stages of a grand rebuilding process.

A strong back four backed by a good goalkeeper and a technically gifted and vibrant midfield ahead of them.

But issues in the forward ranks were not addressed decisively enough, and Rovers may well yet pay the price for that.

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.