Scott Wharton believes his time is now as he prepares to return to Rovers and bid to become the latest homegrown prospect to push for a spot in Tony Mowbray’s first-team plans.

For the third successive season, Wharton finished a season out on loan, the latest with Northampton Town who he helped to victory in the play-offs, the third time he’s been part of a League Two promotion campaign.

Wharton, still only 22, has now played over 100 senior games, 43 coming for the Cobblers across his season-long stay, but he is now ready to test himself in the Championship.

Rovers have kept a close eye on Wharton throughout the course of the season, knowing there would always be an opening in central defence for next season with Tosin Adarabioyo returning to parent club Manchester City.

Charlie Mulgrew, a regular in defence throughout Mowbray’s tenure, looks set to move on, while Derrick Williams has struggled with a persistent calf problem in 2020.

Hayden Carter has started Rovers’ last two matches, and may well have pushed his name to the front of the central defensive queue of those at the club, though Tyler Magloire and Joe Grayson are now back fit.

The latter pair have both spent time on loan, but failed to cement their place in a side in the way that Wharton has, and he hopes those experiences learned through his loan spells will stand him in good stead.

“The Championship is a lot higher standard than League Two and it is completely different football,” he said.

“League Two is more in the air and very physical, but in the Championship, there is a lot more quality and I will really have to step up my game.

“I think I have come to that age where I am not a little boy anymore, I am a man of 22.

“I need to get on with my career, be the best I can be and play at the highest level I can play at.

“I think now is the time to really give it a good go.”

The Salesbury-born defender has spoken with Mowbray about his future, and the pair have both agreed that pushing for a place in the Rovers set-up is the priority.

Wharton has signed contract extensions in each of the last two summers, with his deal now running to 2022, but having experienced first-team football on a regular basis, he is keen for that to continue.

That won’t be easy given the step up in level, and Mowbray wanting to see a physical development in the homegrown defender.

Wharton shot to prominence in August 2016 when thrust in for his senior debut by Owen Coyle for the 2-2 draw with Burton Albion, scoring three days later he scored in an EFL Cup tie against Crewe. But it wasn’t until November 2017, and a Checkatrade Trophy tie at Rochdale, that he would next pull on a Rovers shirt.

A first half red card signalled an early end to his night, with that, one of just three senior appearances made under Tony Mowbray, the last of which came in December 2017.

Northampton have already expressed their interest in re-signing Wharton on loan, and Mowbray said: “There are a lot of clubs that would be interested in taking Scott Wharton with his promotion credentials.

“And yet, with respect to clubs in League Two it isn’t the Championship, but he’s another young guy who’s doing very well in his career and we have to try and make the right decision for his career and for the football club.

“Let’s wait and see. Every year I’ve been here Scott has come back in pre-season and I’ve just felt he’s had to develop his upper body and become stronger for this league.”

“It’s very much at the forefront of our minds about the central defensive position and there has to be competition.

“Let’s see what the competition is between the players we’ve got.”

Northampton were 2-0 down after the first-leg against Cheltenham Town, but rallied to win the second 3-0 before putting four unanswered goals past Exeter City to seal promotion.

There was the occasion of playing at Wembley,  albeit behind closed doors, and Wharton told Omni Sports website:  “It was so weird with no fans being in the stadium – it did not feel anything like Wembley.

“It’s a massive stadium and a great pitch, but without the fans it just felt like a normal ground and not special at all.

“With 40 or 50 thousand people in there it would have been a different game, but we were really good on the day and we came out and smashed them 4-0.

“To come back and get promoted in the play-offs in the way that we did, it was extra special.”