With Antony Evans and Sam Nicholson possibly leaving this summer, attacking midfield is likely to be a priority position for Bristol Rovers in the transfer market.
Negotiations are ongoing with the out-of-contract duo, both of whom were significant contributors in Rovers’ promotion season, but they have options elsewhere and with Elliot Anderson’s loan spell at an end, Joey Barton could have to rebuild an area of his team that was a huge strength last season.
And with the fact Rovers are stepping up a level in mind, the manager will certainly be eager to supplement his squad with dynamism in the final third. The free agent market could present plenty of options to the Gas and here are some players worth considering for Rovers.
Our list of wingers begins with a headline name: Gas hero Billy Bodin, star of the 2015/16 promotion campaign.
His stellar contributions in blue and white from 2015-18 have secured his place in the club’s history and he deservedly earned a move to the Championship with Preston North End. But bad luck with injuries followed, with knee and Achilles issues limiting him to just 44 appearances in three seasons with the Lancashire club.
A one-year deal at Oxford United in League One gave him a fresh start and he was able to showcase his ability with an impressive return of seven goals and five assists in 25 appearances. Some injury problems remained, but any League One team that gets 25 performances out of Bodin would benefit significantly.
Now 30, the Wales international is a free agent again although Oxford say talks are ongoing over a new deal.
A Mem return would delight Gasheads and only fuel the momentum behind the club since promotion to League One, but Oxford are proven promotion contenders in the third tier and could table an offer that is hard to refuse.
While Bodin is an obvious option for the Gas, Bradford City’s Charles Vernam could be a valuable acquisition for a League One side.
The 25-year-old made a breakthrough with Grimsby Town a few years ago, earning a move to Burton Albion in League One as a result, where he scored twice in 14 appearances.
He was snapped up by the ambitious Bantams, who were desperate to end their extended stay in the fourth tier last season, and Vernam certainly held up his end of the bargain in an often dysfunctional team that stuttered to another midtable finish.
An injury forced him to miss around a dozen games in the February and March, preventing him from kicking on after a bright start at Valley Parade, but he finished the campaign strongly to end with a tally of eight goals and four assists in 28 league games .
Bradford have offered the winger a new contract, but the Bantams are braced for his departure.
Brandon Barker’s name may already be known to Gasheads. The winger scored for Oxford in the 2-0 defeat that ended Paul Tisdale’s time in charge at the Mem. That spell with the Us was an impressive one for Barker, scoring three goals and adding four assists in 19 games while on loan from Rangers in the second half of the 2020/21 campaign.
The former Manchester City prospect returned to Ibrox for the start of last season but Giovanni van Bronckhorst did not have Barker in his plans and he was allowed to join Reading on a short-term deal midway through the season.
He would make just four appearances for the Royals and will leave on a free transfer at the expiry of his contract later this month, so this is not an ascendant player but one with a sense of untapped potential.
Barker has impressed in League One before and he has a strong pedigree having impressed in Man City’s under-23s with nine goals and six assists in 35 outings, which lured Rangers to sign him. That move did not go to plan but he could bounce back if given a platform in League One.
Like Barker, Harry Chapman had something of a season to forget in 2021/22. His excellent form on loan at Shrewsbury Town the year before earned him a chance at parent club Blackburn Rovers, but he would make just three appearances for Tony Mowbray’s side before joining League One Burton Albion on loan.
After spending half a season with the Staffordshire club, he was briefly recalled to Ewood Park before returning to Burton on loan again.
His return in 28 league appearances was just a single goal and no assists, below his expectations, but in the previous 58 outings in the third tier he was much moire efficient with 10 goals and seven assists on his record.
He was particularly impressive on his loan stint with the Shrews in 2020/21, scoring seven times in 23 games, adding three assists.
Clearly, the 24-year-old needs to rediscover his form, but there is a player in there.
Jack Payne is more of a central playmaker than a winger – although he can play out wide – but he offers the same kind of attacking cutting edge as the players on this list.
The 27-year-old was outstanding for a Swindon side that played a possession-based style of football often seen in League One and, having played at that level before, he surely could make the transition again.
He ended the season with 13 goals and five assists. The numbers have been boosted by being clinical from the penalty spot, but he could be a real point of difference for a third-tier side, boasting a strong scoring record and a cultured left foot.
Payne is one of several players out of contract at The County Ground and that is the least of the uncertainty at Swindon with manager Ben Garner heavily linked to the vacancy at Charlton Athletic. A side offering security and League One football could lure Payne away.
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