Rovers recruitment: In-house Rothwell replacement in midfield make-up

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Lewis Travis celebrates his goal in the win at Preston North End
Lewis Travis celebrates his goal in the win at Preston North End

The central midfield cupboard won’t quite be as bare as it was for Tony Mowbray in the summer of 2017, but the incoming manager will undoubtedly have work to do in the middle of the park.

Bradley Johnson and Joe Rothwell had already announced their departures from the club ahead of the retained list which confirmed that Jacob Davenport would also be leaving after four years at Ewood Park.

Rovers’ one central midfield signing last summer came in the loan market, as Leighton Clarkson arrived from Liverpool, but that was cut short in January after only four starts.

Mowbray opted against signing a replacement in the window, though had always felt that Tayo Edun could help out if required in that area, having first caught the former manager’s eye playing there for Fulham Under-23s.

Rothwell had interest from both Bournemouth and Chicago Fire in the January window, and while Rovers opted against selling, Mowbray felt it was something they should have pursued.

The main difficulty was the time required to source a replacement, and also the unique skillset that Rothwell had made finding an alternative difficult.

Peterborough United’s Siriki Dembele was a player of interest, but wouldn’t have been a like-for-like replacement, though he ended up moving to promotion rivals at the time.

Infact, one of the players whose data showed up strongly to that of Rothwell was a player already at the club: John Buckley.

He finished a breakthrough season with goals in back-to-back away wins, and said after the Preston win that he felt few midfield trios in the Championship could match that of him, Lewis Travis and Rothwell.

He played in a deeper role against Birmingham City on the final day, and with Bradley Dack most likely to take up his place once again in the No.10 role, the Academy graduate could be primed for a deeper role alongside Travis.

“All the best midfielders can play in all positions,” Buckley said after the final day win.

“I like having that flexibility in the midfield and where I get asked to play I’ll adapt my game and try my best.

“This year is my first playing as a No.10, so I’ve always been more used to supporting play and delivering into the box.

“I’ve been trying to get into the habit of breaking the box, and I feel I’ve done well.

“Playing deeper is something that I’d look forward to.”

Travis missed only one game in 2021/22, and should Darragh Lenihan opt against signing a new contract, could be Rovers’ captain in waiting.

He is a bona-fide top end Championship midfielder and will lead the fight for Rovers once again in 2022/23.

Should Buckley be seen as a deeper option, then Rovers will still require at least one signing in that area.

It has been a position under-funded in recent times, Johnson a free transfer, Rothwell and Davenport signed for small six-figure fees in 2018, with Tom Trybull, Harrison Reed and Clarkson all brought in on loan.

Given it is an area that needs reinforcements, Rovers could buck that trend this summer. The type of player that is would come down to the preference of the new manager.

Would they prefer another Travis type, a more ball-playing option, or someone to bring extra athleticism.

Goals from midfield is an area in which Rovers have particularly struggled, Buckley’s strikes in consecutive away fixtures seeing him end on three, the same as Rothwell, and two more than Travis.

That concern should be eased by the return of Dack, who with a full pre-season behind him, a first since 2019, will be hoping to get back close to his best.

Should he, then Rovers shouldn’t have any concerns about helping out the forward players with goals.

There was some consideration of a new deal for Davenport, a feeling that a new manager could benefit from what he can offer, but the final decision was to part ways.

That will open up the pathway for Jake Garrett who will be eager to impress the incoming manager.

The 19-year-old did that last summer, and was involved in the first-team in the early weeks of the season, though he failed to make his debut.

Garrett starred for the Under-23s in their 2022 revival, and will attract loan interest from League One and League Two clubs should Rovers feel this season is one too early for the Academy graduate.

A left-footed midfielder with a competitive edge, ability to carry the ball forward, Garrett brings many qualities and is destined for a bright future.

The same is said for Adam Wharton who signed his first professional contract earlier in the year. That was no surprise, the fact it was only for two years, a little more so.

Younger brother of Scott, Wharton junior has trained regularly with the first-team and also made the bench for the FA Cup tie against Wigan Athletic in January, while still only a second-year scholar.

Another left-footer, Wharton is a classy operator in possession, preferring interceptions to thundering tackles when defending.

His languid style gives the impression things come easy to him, but will benefit from growing into his body more and becoming more robust to last the 90 minutes better.

Rovers will probably view a loan move too soon for the 18-year-old who will likely stay at the club, be a regular for the Under-23s and be around the first-team squad.

Fellow scholar Charlie Weston is set to sign his first professional contract and be a part of the Under-23s set-up, as is Jared Harlock who has played much of his recent football in the wide areas.

Isaac Whitehall missed the 2021/22 season through injury, but had shown enough previously to earn himself a new contract to take into next season.

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