Rovers recruitment: Possibility of goalkeeping movement this summer

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Rovers No.1 goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski
Rovers No.1 goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski

Compared to the summers of 2019 and 2020, things have been more serene on the Rovers goalkeeping front of late. That theme is likely to continue in 2022.

Thomas Kaminski has been undisputed No.1 for Rovers since joining from KAA Gent in 2020, and having signed a new three-year deal, that looks set to be the case for some time soon.

He has received overseas interest previously, but any worries of a departure were allayed with the signing of a new contract, Kaminski declaring himself settled and happy at Ewood Park.

The Belgian has missed only six matches since signing, three in each season, with Aynsley Pears deputising.

Pears, who still has two years left to run on the four-year deal signed in 2020, had a difficult first year at the club, but impressed with clean sheets in wins over Preston North End and Bournemouth in 2020/21, only to make mistakes in Rovers’ FA Cup defeat at Wigan.

Kaminski and Pears both joined in 2020, with Antonis Stergiakis a third goalkeeper to join that summer, Rovers having gone without a permanent addition in 2019 after the departure of David Raya.

Jordan Eastham had the option in his deal taken up in last week's retained list, meaning the 20-year-old, who has been on the bench for the first-team including on the final day, under contract for another 12 months.

Stergiakis is under contract for another two years but coul well move this summer, while Joe Hilton, who spent the 2021/22 season with Hamilton Academical, has another year left on his deal.

The club have also offered professional terms to Under-18s goalkeeper Felix Goddard.

While Kaminski is expected to take the No.1 shirt and build on the performances in his first two seasons, the headline news from the goalkeeping department will likely come further down the pecking order.

Pears, now 24, has played only eight times for Rovers since signing from Middlesbrough for an undisclosed fee, but does still have two years left on his deal.

A loan deal had been mooted last season, and while a chance of regular football is something he would unlikely to turn down, it would see the need for another back-up goalkeeper, most likely on a short-term or temporary basis.

There would be the prospect of promoting Jordan Eastham to second choice should that happen, but the 20-year-old, who has played 27 times for the Under-23s, would most likely benefit from a loan spell too.

Eastham has excellent distribution, but being challenged by men’s football would be a step in the right direction for his development.

That is what Joe Hilton, two years Eastham’s senior, has done in recent times, with 23 appearances for Hamilton Academical in 2021/22, with his last Rovers Under-23s appearance coming in February 2020 after also spending time with Ross County.

Hilton has outlined he would be open to a return to Hamilton, and that could well be something that comes to fruition.

Greek goalkeeper Stergiakis is now 23, only a year younger than Pears, but hasn't made a senior appearance for the club.

He has the experience of 78 appearances for Slavia Sofia to his name, but his form has been patchy for Rovers Under-23s across his 16 matches, which has meant he has been unable to take the next step.

With Goddard expected to sign a new deal, he too will be looking for minutes for the Under-23s, with 19-year-old Aidan Dowling also to throw in the mix.

Rovers have looked at Everton’s Jak Stewart on trial in a bid to further add to their goalkeeping department, but calls will soon have to be made on who the club see as long-term options.

Stergiakis has fallen behind Eastham in the pecking order, the latter seemingly third choice, but with so few minutes to be shared around, Rovers face a decision on how to distribute them.

The loan market offers an opportunity, yet the majority of those so far have been in non-league, and Rovers would ideally want them to be playing at a higher level.

Goalkeeping coach Ben Benson remains in place after the dismissal of Tony Mowbray, and has been a regular figure on the touchline for Rovers since his promotion from the Academy in 2017.

The make-up of Rovers’ coaching team will be up for discussion during the round of interviews held with managerial candidates, but it seems most likely that Benson will stay on.

He is a popular figure with the goalkeeping fraternity, Kaminski regularly speaks highly of him, and the Belgian will hope that relationship continues.

As for the 29-year-old, he will look to continue building a reputation as one of the division’s best stoppers.

Areas to improve will be his distribution, with his long-range kicking undoubtedly offering room for improvement, while he hasn’t taken kindly to physical pressure around his six-yard box from set plays, something he will likely have to contend with more moving forward.

But with Kaminski between the sticks, Rovers are unlikely to give much thought to the goalkeeping position this summer.

The life of a No.2 goalkeeper may seem among the easiest from the outside, but it is a thankless task, training as hard as the No.1 so to be ready when called upon, but also knowing their place as second-choice, something Pears has had to get used to.

He has at least had chance to show what he can offer, and may look for more opportunities next season, and with those unlikely to come at Rovers, a loan move may well be in the offing.

If it is, that would create an opening, and possibly see the need for some recruitment in that area and shake-up what would otherwise be a quiet summer.

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