As a fan of a club that’s at times felt destined to spend its entire existence in the third tier, I know exactly how important loanees can be at this level.
Growing up, I used to bemoan the fact that none of our best players belonged to us. As quick as you’d get attached to a loan player, they’d be back off to their parent club and shipped elsewhere.
Yet, as I’ve become older, I’ve realised just how important these loans can be, not just to us – but to the players themselves. For younger players, a chance to get their first taste of real footballer; for the older loanees, a chance to re-ignite their careers elsewhere.
So who do you think have been the standout temporary additions this season in League One? Here are a few of my choices.
Luke McCormick (Bristol Rovers)
Chelsea loanee Luke McCormick proved to be a shining star in a poor season for Bristol Rovers.
McCormick joined Chels at the age of six and, as a 21-year-old, made his first steps into the professional game with Shrewsbury Town in 2019, signing on a season-long loan deal. However, things didn’t quite work out, and he was sent back to Stamford Bridge in January having made just a handful of appearances.
His time at Rovers this season, though, was far more productive – finding the net six times throughout the campaign, adding an assist to that, and featuring in 82% of the Pirates’ starting lineups.
Rovers fans noted him for his gutsy, passionate style of play that at times made him a nightmare for opposite numbers.
His hard-hitting style earned him a reputation with referees though, picking up nine bookings and being sent for an early bath away to Burton in March.
Rumour has it that the 22-year-old will be allowed to leave Chelsea on a free transfer this summer provided his new club agree to a sell-on fee – a similar route they took with Charlie Brown and MK Dons back in January.
Will Grigg (MK Dons)
Grigg, whose goals helped fire MK Dons to automatic promotion back in 2014/15, made a Deadline Day move to Stadium:MK back in February – and his form once again ignited the Buckinghamshire side towards a strong finish.
The striker made an immediate impact, coming into the side against Rochdale back in February – grabbing his first assist within three minutes, before then adding another later on as Cameron Jerome finished off an excellent team move.
His standout performance, though, was firing in an incredible four goals in against Swindon Town at the backend of April. In doing so, Grigg became the first MK Dons player to hit such an achievement – but also sent a massive warning to his doubters.
Overall, the former Walsall man scored 8 goals and created 3 assists for MK – an incredible one goal contribution every 111 minutes. Some number, that.
Will Russ be able to secure the striker’s services for good this summer? Who knows. One thing’s for sure, though – Grigg certainly still has it.
Jayden Stockley (Charlton Athletic)
After a seven-figure move from Exeter City back in 2018/19, things maybe didn’t quite work out as well as expected for Stockley up at Preston North End – but he certainly re-ignited himself on loan at Charlton this campaign.
The striker netted 8 times in 22 appearances for the Addicks this season, adding 2 assists, as Nigel Adkins’ side ever-so-narrowly missed out on the play-offs on the final day, despite a number of sterling performances throughout the backend of the campaign.
Stockley quickly became a fans’ favourite throughout his spell, largely given to his excellent aerial presence:
Charlton are, obviously, keen on making the striker’s move to SE7 permanent this summer – but North End may just give him another opportunity thanks to his recent rich form.
Joe Bursik (Doncaster Rovers & Peterborough United)
Bursik maybe didn’t overly impress in his initial loan spell with Doncaster Rovers, but he certainly made an impact after joining Ferguson’s Posh on an emergency basis towards the end of the campaign.
The former AFC Wimbledon youth product, who made the switch to Stoke in 2017 after eight years with the South London club, had a ‘shaky’ start with Moore’s Rovers, before being recalled by his parent club in October due to injuries.
After 15 appearances back home, Bursik was then called back into action with Peterborough United who, due to an injury to regular #1 Pym, were able to bring him in an an emergency basis.
And though his spell at London Road was brief, the youngster played an integral role as the Posh finally got out of League One.
Harry Pickering (Crewe Alexandra)
A bit of a cheeky one this, as Pixie spent the first half of the season as an Alex player – but his loan back to the club after signing for Blackburn Rovers in January proved a big boost for Artell’s side.
Pickering, who came through the esteemed Alex academy, made his professional debut at the backend of the 2016/17 season, before then quickly establishing himself as a regular the season after.
Fast forward to 2020 and the defender signed a new three-year deal in September, but Championship side Blackburn Rovers came calling in January and, after some bartering back-and-forth, agreed a few with Alex for Pixie’s services.
But part of that agreement was that the left-back would remain at Gresty Road until the end of the season – something that helped keep Artell’s side stable as they completed their first campaign back in the third tier.
After having first donned it in December, Pickering kept the captain’s armband while back on loan and lead by example for his side. Whilst he may not have added to his three goals and two assists from the first-half of the campaign, he still put in a number of stellar performances for the Cheshire outfit.
The left-back is just another fantastic example of the brilliant youth products that Crewe produce ?.
Brennan Johnson – Lincoln City
Finally, we have Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson – a player who has a ridiculous career ahead of him at the age of just 19.
The winger netted 10 goals and created 11 assists for the Imps in the regular season – a ridiculous set of numbers for someone who is still a teenager.
His pinnacle moment came, though, when he scored a hat-trick against MK Dons. The forward was somewhat lucky to be on the pitch after two rash challenges in the first half left him dangling on a yellow, but he made it count in the second as he stuck three past Russ’ high-flying Dons.
Appleton’s side will certainly be needing his goals in a tough play-off contest against Sunderland this week.
But has your club had any standout loanee players this season? I’ve almost certainly missed out some obvious names – so let me know in the comments if you think of any.