With Ryan Lowe’s Plymouth Argyle squad taking shape, and just five weeks until the close of the transfer window, we’ve reached the point when Premier League and Championship teams will start to loan out more of their young stars and those not involved in first team plans. Therefore, what better time to take a look at ten potential loan signings that we could see in the next month and a bit.
Club: Blackburn Rovers
Position: Centre back
Appearances: 31 (loan, Lincoln and Bury)
21-year old defender Wharton played for both of League Two’s top two last season. He started off on loan at Lincoln for the first half but saw limited game time at Sincil Bank as he only managed to amass 16 appearances, with the majority of these coming from the bench. Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn swiftly recalled the centre half due to this and he was shortly sent out to fellow promotion chasers Bury. There, he was a regular, starting 15 of 17 league matches as the Shakers won promotion, scoring two along the way.
Any potential loan move for Wharton could hinge on his relationship with Ryan Lowe, as have most of Argyle’s transfers this summer. It is safe to say that the Rovers youngster would fit the system, given his time playing in it last season. Indeed, with no apparent competition for Gary Sawyer on the left of the back three, Wharton could well slot straight back into that spot having filled it last season.
Club: West Brom
Position: Centre back
Appearances: 33 (loan, Exeter)
West Brom youngster Dara O’Shea is no stranger to the Devonshire countryside as he spent last term on loan at Devon rivals Exeter City. O’Shea became a mainstay in the Grecians team from mid-November onward as he went on to make 31 starts for the site that finished a point outside the play-off places, and his impressive performances led to a call-up to the Irish U21 side.
At 6ft 2, the Irish centre half has a taller frame than Scott Wharton, which could be useful to Plymouth Argyle’s backline since neither Sawyer nor Aimson currently exceed 6ft. With Argyle having just captured fellow Albion youngster Alex Palmer on loan, Lowe could use the same contacts to engineer a move for O’Shea, who started both of Exeter’s matches against Bury last season. Having cut his teeth with Devon’s second team, he looks ready to take a step up and challenge for promotion next term.
Club: Luton Town
Position: Centre back
Appearances: 14 (Luton and loan, Argyle)
Jones will be well known to most fans of Plymouth Argyle for both his time with the youth team and his recent loan spell at Home Park last season. With Luton promoted to the Championship, the chances of Jones gaining minutes has decreased even further, so it seems likely that the Hatters will be looking to move him on, temporarily or otherwise. Meanwhile, Argyle are currently light on defenders, so the move could be a no-brainer for all parties.
Jones’ comfort on the ball – as demonstrated during his late run in the team last season – would suit Lowe’s possession based style. From the moment he was thrown into the team for the Good Friday defeat at Gillingham, he demonstrated that he can make incisive forward passes and comfortably dribble past opponents to bring the ball out of defence, qualities Lowe looks for in his wide centre-backs. Yet, it shouldn’t be overlooked that in Jones’ four starts Argyle conceded 13 goals, with his defensive awareness and poor communication playing a role in this.
Position: Defensive midfield
Ryan East is one of three players on this list to have yet to make a splash professionally, but he is just one of many players currently circulating in the reserve teams of Category 1 academies, waiting for an opportunity at a lower league club. Indeed, one of the best comparisons may be to look at Herbie Kane, who arrived at Doncaster on loan from Liverpool last summer having not played a single professional minute in his career. Yet, he immediately slotted into their team as a dynamic, deep-lying playmaker with box-to-box tendencies. Come the end of the season, he was named in the League One team of the year. There are a number of players out there with the potential to do this, the key is picking them.
The reason East has made it into this list is two-fold. First, we had a recommendation to include him in the list from the same person who bugged us all of last summer about how good Kane was going to be for Doncaster; can’t argue with him there. Second, he fits a spot that Plymouth Argyle don’t have much cover for at the moment: defensive midfield. Adam Randell aside, there is no direct cover if Joe Edwards gets injured this season.
East’s composure in possession (think of him as a stronger, more mobile David Fox) and leadership (he captained Reading’s U23 team) make him a good fit for the deepest midfield position in Ryan Lowe’s 3-1-4-2. Like Randell, he has greater strengths in possession than when defending, so he could be used as an alternative to Edwards against more defensive teams that require intricate passing to break down. As well as leading his Reading team to a third placed finish in the second division of the PL2, East also helped his team to the semi-finals of the Premier League International Cup (kind of an U23 version of the Champions League).
Position: Attacking midfielder
Southampton man Will Smallbone has yet to be given the chance to prove himself within the Football League, but has continued to be a mainstay in the south-coast’s U23 side. Smallbone played in a variety of different positions over the PL2 season, the majority being in central-midfield, as he was nominated for the player of the season award. Smallbone was also a crucial component of the team that ran to the semi-finals of the Premier League International Cup, like East.
What makes Smallbone an exciting potential loanee is his skills profile, which is highly similar to Jay O’Shea, a crucial component of Lowe’s team last season. Both place a greater emphasis on finishing attacks rather than initiating them, making late runs into the centre of box more often than supplying the final pass for a teammate. However, what distinguishes him from Antoni Sarcevic, who also has excellent timing and positioning when making these runs, is his general midfield play. The 19-year-old has the technical capabilities to consistently pick out his teammates with accurate passes as well as the temperament to know when to pass and who to.
He played from the right of centre-midfield in a 3-1-4-2 for Southampton’s U23s, meaning he knows the formation well enough, and with a combined ten goals and assists in 22 starts in the PL2 last season, he looks to be ready to take a step up and challenge himself in professional football.
Club: Blackburn Rovers
Position: Central midfielder
Appearances: 46 (Gateshead)
Central midfielder Tom White joined Blackburn Rovers from Gateshead this summer following the Heed’s demotion from the National League, and with the Championship being a big step up, White has said he is expecting to spend the first half of the season out on loan to gain more experience. With Argyle still looking like they could do with another midfielder, White fits the bill.
While neither White’s goals nor assists tally scream that he’s a player worth signing, he is very comfortable on the ball and even more comfortable winning it back. That said, White is not a defensive midfielder. His role at Gateshead was as more of a box-to-box player, receiving the ball in midfield and driving the team up the pitch before releasing it to one of the more attacking-minded players. White performed this role superbly, winning the club’s Player of the Season award and gaining international recognition with an England C call-up. White’s arrival would leave Lowe with the option of starting him in the deepest midfield position or pushing him into a more advanced position, adding cover to both spots.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Appearances: 28 (Barnsley and loan, Bury)
Another familiar face to new boss Ryan Lowe is Barnsley prospect Callum Styles, who spent the beginning of last season on loan at Bury. Styles made his way through the Bury youth ranks, making breakthroughs into the team during the 2016/17 and 2017/18 League One campaigns, before Barnsley snapped him up for an undisclosed fee last summer. He was loaned back to them at the start of last season, but then returned to the Tykes in January as they went on to secure promotion, making seven sub appearances.
Styles remains at a stage when he probably needs another loan spell to help him progress, having only made 12 starts during his six months with Bury last season, so why not send him back to a manager he knows well? He operates as an attacking midfielder and is comfortable with the ball at his feet, using his close-control and passing technique to cause opposition defences problems. As well as knowing the system, Styles would add some extra quality to Argyle’s midfield, with back-up to Danny Mayor and Conor Grant looking particularly light.
Club: Sheffield United
Position: Attacking midfielder/winger
Appearances: 19 (loan, Oxford)
32-year-old winger Ricky Holmes certainly goes against the trend of this list, but he is a player who has proven his worth many times before, most notably for Northampton and Charlton Athletic. After relatively unsuccessful loan spells at Oxford and Gillingham, new Premier League outfit Sheffield United are looking to ship the veteran winger out. He may be currently on the transfer list, but it’s not unlikely that he would be available for loan if no sides are willing to take the plunge.
Holmes brings technical ability which is rare in the depths of League 2 that would surely make him a shoo-in alongside Danny Mayor in Ryan Lowe’s best team. He has the ability to score screamers regularly, skill in abundance that would make him a threat in any side, and experience of winning promotion from League Two before. Though he could be the classic flop transfer that everybody gets excited about (David Goodwillie, Nadir Ciftci, etc), it would still be a major statement of intent if Plymouth Argyle snapped him up.
Let’s face it, this was an easy one to include. Ennis has already been linked to Plymouth Argyle by Peter O’Rourke, a reliable journalist when it comes to football rumours. He claimed that Byron Moore was all set to join the Greens over ten days ago, and now that appears to be soon to be confirmed. Days later, O’Rourke claimed that Argyle were in advanced talks to sign Ennis on loan – a claim that was rebuked by a local journalist – and Ryan Lowe has also confirmed the clubs’ interest in him.
Ennis would almost certainly fit Lowe’s style of play – which is presumably one of the reasons they’re interested in him – due to his similar approach to ex-Bury frontman Nicky Maynard. Ennis’ game is largely built around getting in behind and poaching chances around the 6 yard box. With Ryan Taylor a player that appears unsuited to Lowe’s attacking approach, another poacher like Ennis appears a must to round out Lowe’s attacking options.
Appearances: 35 (loan, Gateshead and Accrington)
Middlesbrough striker Luke Armstrong is unlikely to be a name many in Devon are familiar with, despite his most recent competitive goal game coming against Plymouth Argyle for Accrington Stanley in the penultimate game of last season. Armstrong has spent the majority of his career so far based in the North East playing either in non-league or for Middlesbrough’s youth sides, with his loan to Accrington being the first time he has played in the EFL.
Armstrong is very good at getting in behind a defence and had a very impressive record when through one-on-one at Gateshead last season. Willing to throw himself into anything, and not afraid to put himself about a bit, Armstrong is a real handful for defenders and could add another dimension to Argyle’s front line as an all-round striker if he could be persuaded to join.
While Armstrong was loaned out in League One last season, he struggled for game time at Accrington, and his form also took a hit. Middlesbrough might see a move to a League Two club, where he can expect to feature more regularly, as a better next step for him.