Transfer window verdict: How Doncaster Rovers emerged from January better equipped for the mammoth challenge ahead

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It was clear after a couple of months of the season that January would be a pivotal month for Doncaster Rovers.

After the failure to get key players back from injury, previous manager Richie Wellens put increasing emphasis on the importance of the transfer window.

The lack of an upturn in results, mirrored by a significant downturn in confidence and morale, only added to the need for Rovers to make a splash in the market, if they were to give themselves any chance of survival this season.

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They were bottom of the league when the fireworks marked the start of 2022, six points adrift of safety.

Kieran Agard with Rovers boss Gary McSheffreyKieran Agard with Rovers boss Gary McSheffrey
Kieran Agard with Rovers boss Gary McSheffrey

But while the deficit had been stretched to ten as the most critical of transfer windows drew to a close, Rovers emerged out of January with fresh optimism that they can at least make a good go at an unlikely survival push.

Without being knock-your-socks-off spectacular, business has been rock solid from Rovers.

And more importantly, the new additions have helped foster a new style that has looked so much more promising in the last few weeks.

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With the presence of the eight new faces that have walked into the Eco-Power, Rovers look stronger in almost every department. They pack more attacking threat in their ranks, they possess more steel, they have much greater depth.

Norwich City loanee Josh Martin has made an impressive start to life with RoversNorwich City loanee Josh Martin has made an impressive start to life with Rovers
Norwich City loanee Josh Martin has made an impressive start to life with Rovers

Whether it will all be enough to keep them in League One remains to be seen. The task remains as mammoth as it ever has been.

Work began in earnest on January business with several weeks of 2021 still remaining - accelerated in the wake of Wellens’ departure at the start of December.

The talk was of ‘substantial’ funds being made available. While the exact substance of the word ‘substantial’ will continue to be a topic of debate, the season’s initial playing budget was bolstered by almost a quarter.

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There was a determination to hit the ground running once the window opened and quickly make impactful signings the squad so desperately needed, with experience at the top of the agenda.

Rovers added the experience in midfield they were desperate for with the acquisition of Adam ClaytonRovers added the experience in midfield they were desperate for with the acquisition of Adam Clayton
Rovers added the experience in midfield they were desperate for with the acquisition of Adam Clayton

But it quickly became apparent that selling the prospect of joining a side rock bottom of their division was not going to be the easiest task.

There could have been understandable frustration that Rovers did not act to make a statement signing early in the window. The sort of not-taking-no-for-an-answer sort of move that would have delivered a clear message the club was not going down without a fight.

That would not have particularly been in keeping with the typical approach from the club however. Nor would it necessarily have been possible.

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It was expected that John Joe O’Toole and Michael Jacobs would be arriving, with both having indicated an intent to join. Both would ultimately stay put.

Rovers’ position in the table was blamed - understandably so - and poor defeats to relegation rivals early in the month did nothing to aid their recruitment cause.

It left them with ground to make up on and off the pitch, and work to do to achieve the goals that had been laid out in the transfer window.

It must be noted too that through the month, Rovers were guided by a rookie gaffer, experiencing such off-field set backs for the first time in his career.

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Gary McSheffrey though maintained his typical calm demeanour throughout to roll with the various punches and emerge from the experience with credit.

And so did the recruitment department as a whole, certainly on initial viewing.

Though there were knockbacks and several returns to the drawing board, there was nothing like the chaotic events of the closing of the previous transfer window.

It may have taken 12 days to get the first new face through the door but the business that followed was decisive and timely.

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When Jacobs began to drag his feet over a switch from Portsmouth, winger Josh Martin was brought in quickly on loan from Norwich City.

O’Toole’s change of heart was the most surprising. It is safe to say Rovers were convinced a deal was done and caught a little off guard when he signed fresh terms with Mansfield Town.

But the recruitment department rallied and lined up Adam Clayton, a player with greater pedigree, albeit without recent game time of which to speak.

Both Clayton and Agard emphatically tick the experience box and will be of tremendous value to the squad as a whole. It is hoped they will get to and remain in a physical condition where their on-pitch contributions can be as valuable as those off it.

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Goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell is in for back-up and his experience too will be an asset. Coaching staff at the club have been impressed by his work on the training ground so far.

In Ollie Younger and Reo Griffiths, Rovers are looking to the future with the added bonus of both being ready to contribute in the now.

Defender Younger has made a solid start and certainly looks capable of establishing himself as a regular in the Rovers defence.

At the time of writing we have yet to see Griffiths in action but you cannot fail to be excited by a striker who was so prolific at youth level and appears to have all the physical attributes to succeed. Lyon have not stuck in a 30 per cent sell-on clause for nothing.

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The three new loanees all look upgrades on those that departed with the club’s blessing at the start of the month.

A key element of that is the fact none are embarking on a first taste of senior football in this country - and all have operated within squads at a higher level already.

Martin looks a confident player that can bring a variety of different approaches to his attacking play, be that either taking defenders on or slowing down and making incisive passes.

Ben Jackson is an explosive attacking left back that will provide some much-needed competition for Branden Horton, a player who has been very much thrown in the deep end this season.

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And Mipo Odubeko made a big impact on his debut at the weekend, popping up in dangerous positions in and around the box and always looking keen to get shots away quickly. These are attributes Rovers have been lacking throughout a pretty toothless campaign.

It is not too much of a stretch to predict that goals will come for the West Ham United loanee.

Important too for Rovers was holding onto loanees Ethan Galbraith and Matt Smith for the remainder of the campaign, particularly in light of suggestions Manchester United were considering recalling the former.

Both have played big roles in the change of approach for Rovers, with Galbraith sitting deeper and popping balls forward, while Smith’s hard running has been put into good effect with chasing down second balls or charging into the channels.

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As the month began, Rovers had plenty of work to do to prepare themselves for the real relegation fight.

While the severity of the challenge has only increased, they ended January with a stronger arsenal for the battle ahead.

There are no positions in the team where they are worryingly short of options and alternatives - even with nine senior players still sidelined with injuries.

McSheffrey was right to point out that Rovers could have an incredibly strong squad for the final few games of the season.

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For now at least, he has helped put together a group that can carry the weight of the imposing task facing them between now and the end of April.


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.

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