ROVERS turned to the loan market in 2019 and 2020 in a bid to solve their issues at left back, while in 2022 they spent over £1m to address that area of the pitch.

It is a position that could well be on the list again in 2022, but is definitely less pressing that in previous windows.

Harry Pickering made a very promising start to his Rovers career, looking a bargain at £650,000, with a string of impressive and consistent performances on the left side of the Rovers defence.

Yet much like Rovers, his form in 2022 dipped, not helped by a second injury absence of the campaign. As the 23-year-old himself said, the Championship can be tough enough in your first season, never mind doing so on the back of an injury.

He said: “I was in a good rhythm of games of playing every week and doing well at the time.

“The injury hit and it took me a bit of time to adjust to the game.

“The Championship is tough, a game every three days sometimes, so it’s tough enough without coming back from injury.

“They happen and you have to get on with it and do the best you can and work as hard on the training ground to improve.”

In all he made 31 starts, a figure he will be looking to build on next term, as he will his attacking output with that having been such a strong part of his game during his time at Crewe Alexandra.

Indeed, set pieces is an area that Rovers will look for more from next season, and Pickering could hold the key to that.

Pickering’s 31 starts were more two than Douglas in the previous campaign, but short of Bell’s 35 made in 2018/19.

He started the opening 11 matches, seven in a row to end 2021, plus 12 of the final 13, with periods of absence squeezed inbetween.

Deputising for the majority of that was Tayo Edun, signed for £450,000 from Lincoln City last summer, Rovers’ sole cash buy.

Edun himself missed 10 weeks of action in 2022, and left back has been something of a cursed position for Rovers, with Elliott Bennett, Joe Rankin-Costello and Stewart Downing having had to deputise in recent seasons given issues in that area of the pitch.

Rovers will hope in Pickering and Edun they have the necessary quality to make those concerns a thing of the past.

Mowbray stuck to his word with Edun however, declaring upon his signing that while he did offer cover at left back, he also saw him as a player able to compete in central midfield, a position he started in against Peterborough United, when he was sent off, and Birmingham City on the final day, when he was substituted at half.

Edun has qualities that suit that role, but work on his technical side of the game will be needed if that is to be seen as a longer-term option.

If the incoming manager sees him as an option in central midfield then that could open the prospect of an incoming at left back, with Rovers having previously signed Douglas and Greg Cunningham on loan on deadline day of 2020 and 2019 respectively.

While Pickering had played much of his career for former club Crewe as a left back, it was at wing-back where he played most for Rovers, a position that Edun had previously occupied for Lincoln City.

Unsurprisingly, given the pair being under long-term contracts, left back isn’t a position that Rovers have been linked with many players.

More intriguingly is the state of play with left backs within the Rovers Academy.
Lenni Cirino made an impression with an enterprising display off the bench in the pre-season friendly with Leeds last pre-season, and has caught the eye for the Under-23s.

Still only 19, Cirino has a bright future, but his development was hampered by a significant hamstring injury which ruled him out of the second half of the season.

That allowed Rovers to blood Georgie Gent and Jake Batty, the latter an England youth international, despite still being scholars.

That is a path that Cirino took, with Gent and Batty sharing game-time at left back/wing-back, and impressing.

Both are industrious, strong in the tackle, and with quality in the final third, and it will be interesting to see how Rovers go about things with the trio next term.

Cirino, at 19, is the oldest of the three and would be the one most considered for a loan spell, but is still early into his development and might not attract the level of club that Rovers feel would suit him.

Gent has signed his professional deal, with batty expected to follow suit, and giving the three the necessary game-time to each next season will be a balancing act.

Yet having three highly-regarded players in one position shouldn’t be anything to be concerned about, instead excited by, given their qualities.

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