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Thoughts on last season:
After Rovers were dismally relegated from the third-tier during the 2015/16 season, Darren Ferguson’s brief was simple last season: to achieve promotion out of the Sky Bet League 2.
And, this target was met with aplomb, as promotion was sealed with 5 games to spare.
Importantly, Ferguson’s attacking style of football paid dividends as Rovers scored a magnificent 85 goals, of which 26 were netted by John Marquis.
However, it was not just the former Millwall forward that hit red-hot form.
The midfield quartet of Jordan Houghton (on loan from Chelsea), Matty Blair, Tommy Rowe and James Coppinger warrants much credit, whilst Mathieu Baudry and Andy Butler formed what I believe to be a dependable centre-back partnership.
Nevertheless, Rovers did not win the Sky Bet League 2 title after failing to record a single victory in any of the 5 games subsequent to sealing promotion, taking the gloss off a successful season where Ferguson’s side were top of the division for 23 matches.
So far, I have been quite pleased by Rovers’ recruitment.
Firstly, Ferguson swooped to sign Niall Mason from Aston Villa on a permanent deal after the 20 year-old impressed last season whilst on-loan at Rovers, showing much-needed versatility.
Ferguson then moved for left-back Danny Andrew. The move sees the 26 year-old leave Grimsby Town, where he picked up nine awards at the club’s 2016/17 presentation evening.
Furthermore, Rovers signed 21 year-old Alex Kiwomya from Chelsea on a permanent deal, after the pacy forward spent last season out on-loan at Crewe Alexandra.
Finally, Ferguson brought in 21 year-old Ben Whiteman on-loan from Sheffield United. The midfielder enjoyed a successful loan-spell at Mansfield Town last season, scoring 7 goals.
However, Rovers still require further recruitment, lacking squad depth after being rejected by several targets.
This is particularly necessary in defence, and Ferguson is currently pursuing Steven Taylor as a result of the former Newcastle United centre-back’s performance during a trial with the club.
Midfield reinforcements are also necessary, with Rovers looking to resign Jordan Houghton on-loan from Chelsea. A contract is likely to be offered to trialist Issam Ben Khemis as well, whilst Ferguson is waiting for a decision on the loan of an England U19(s) international.
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For this, there is no clear winner, with Mathieu Baudry, James Coppinger, Tommy Rowe and John Marquis all being excellent players. However, Coppinger just edges it for me.
Despite spending the majority of his career playing on the right of midfield, Coppinger is now deployed more centrally, allowing the 36 year-old to take control of games and dictate tempo.
This shift was certainly successful last season as Coppinger scored 10 goals and provided 15 assists, making his 500th appearance for Rovers in a 5-1 victory over Morecambe.
Thoughts on this season:
Presently, I think that Rovers are capable of securing a mid-table finish, with the squad being too strong to become embroiled in a relegation battle but lacking the depth to mount a charge for the play-offs.
However, the Sky Bet League 1 does appear to be quite open this season with a number of clubs fancying their chances of reaching the play-offs, and I believe that Rovers can be one of these if we complete our remaining recruitment.
After all, Darren Ferguson has achieved back-to-back promotions before in his 10 year management career, getting Peterborough United promoted from the fourth-tier in the 2007-08 campaign and then the third-tier in the following season.
Nevertheless, some of the Sky Bet League 1 teams may just prove to be too strong for Ferguson’s side, particularly the relegated Blackburn Rovers. Additionally, Bury have recruited well, whilst Bradford City will be desperate to make up for last season’s play-off heartache.
12th with Rovers’ current squad, but higher if the remaining recruitment is completed.