You have to feel for Scott Wharton.
After several spells out on loan – culminating in League Two promotion with Northampton last season – it seemed as though this was the season for the 23-year-old to really make his mark at Blackburn Rovers.
For a time, it looked as though he was going to do that, with a string of impressive performances during part of a seven-game unbeaten run over the course of November and early December, Wharton did seem to have shown that this season, he was ready to make that step up to the Championship.
But after going down awkwardly off the ball during his side’s 2-2 draw at Brentford at the start of this month, Wharton now looks to be facing several months on the sidelines with a serious Achilles injury.
Not only is that a huge blow for Wharton’s prospects in what looked likely to be his breakthrough season at Ewood Park, but it also presents the club with a major headache going into the January transfer window.
Speaking this week, Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray admitted that it is unlikely the club will be making any signings in January, unless there are departures from the club.
In the vast majority of positions on the pitch, the club’s impressive recruitment in the summer, and the number of players they have closing in on a return from injury, that is a stance that certainly makes sense.
However, Wharton’s injury means that in central defence, that may not actually be the case.
With the 23-year-old now seemingly out for the foreseeable future, it means Rovers are now walking something of an injury tightrope at the heart of their defence going forward, with only three senior centre backs – Darragh Lenihan, Derrick Williams and Daniel Ayala – now available, and that could leave Mowbray with a major selection headache in the not too distant future.
Already this season, Williams and Ayala have both missed more than a month action due to injury – it was that that gave Wharton his chance in the first place – while Lenihan has missed at least eight league games in each of the last two seasons due to either injury or suspension.
As a result of that, it would, sadly for Rovers, be no surprise if they were to find themselves missing certain members of that trio at times between now and the end of the season.
Should that happen, then a failure to bring in a replacement for Wharton next month could leave Blackburn with a big gap in the heart of their defence, which opponents would no doubt seek to exploit, potentially serving as a big blow to Rovers’ promotion hopes.
Consequentially, you do feel as though Blackburn ought to be inclined to make sure they bring in a fourth centre back option in place of Wharton in January, the absence of which has cost them in previous seasons, when injuries have taken their toll to leave others playing out of position, weakening them in more than one area of the pitch.
Indeed, it could even be argued that with Wharton eventually set to return, then a loan deal could be more feasible for Rovers to provide that cover, since it would put less of a strain on the club from a financial perspective than a permanent deal.
Should they fail to do that, then not only would it leave them under pressure with their senior options in their defence, but it could also prevent them from sending a young centre back such as Hayden Carter out on loan in January – as they do seem keen to do – due to the need to ensure they keep enough options available in central defence for Mowbray’s senior side.
It seems therefore, that while recruitment may not be a priority for the Blackburn manager next month, it could benefit both his senior side to have that extra cover option available, and his young defenders, who might then have the scope to go out on loan and continue their development with more regular football.
While it may go along with Mowbray’s desire for a January built on retention and returns rather than recruitment, it does seem as though it could be a sensible move for Rovers to make, and if it can be the difference between paying the price of costly errors from a lack of options in defence or not in the battle for promotion, then the rewards from such a success, mean that a January punt on a centre back, could be well worth taking.