DONCASTER ROVERS: Bye George it’s a blow

On the way out: Utility defender George Friend is set to depart League One outfit Doncaster Rovers.      Picture: press association
On the way out: Utility defender George Friend is set to depart League One outfit Doncaster Rovers. Picture: press association
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DONCASTER Rovers boss Dean Saunders admits he will be sorry to see highly-rated defender George Friend leave the club.

The versatile defender is on the verge of quitting Rovers and joining either Middlesbrough or Ipswich Town.

“As I’ve said before he is one of those who I didn’t want to lose,” said Saunders. “He is a great lad and has a great attitude and would probably have done great for us in League One.

“I can’t really stand in his way. He is probably going to earn double what he is earning with us and he’ll be back playing in the Championship.

“I just wish that it had happened three weeks ago so that I had a few more players to choose from.”

Saunders spoke to an out-of-contract centre-back on Saturday, and there is a possibility that he could feature in the squad to face Championship newcomers Sheffield Wednesday in the first of three successive home games at the Keepmoat Stadium.

With Friend seemingly having played his last game for the club, Habib Beye, Sam Hird and Adam Lockwood having left since the end of last season, and Shelton Martis currently injured, Saunders is currently without an experienced centre-back.

He also found himself with only one fit keeper, teenager Jonathan Maxted, after Tuesday’s friendly defeat at Rotherham after Gary Woods suffered a thigh strain in the first half. Veteran keeper Neil Sullivan (thumb) has yet to feature during pre-season.

Saunders, who had to play midfielder Paul Keegan in the back-four in the second half of Tuesday’s game, could be forced to bring in a right-back against the Owls if James O’Connor, who came off injured isn’t fit. Kyle Bennett (calf) also failed to finish the game but Saunders hopes that he will be fit for the weekend.

“I think the lad trod on his calf and it was a bit sore but he should be all right. The main thing is that it’s not a muscle injury,” said Saunders, who confirmed James Coppinger was left out of Tuesday’s game as a precaution.

“Copps had a tough week last week so he may have over-trained,” he said.

Saunders is hoping that veteran striker Robbie Blake, one of six players to have played the full game at the New York Stadium, suffers no reaction.

“Robbie is nowhere near fit yet but he will be,” he said.

Blake, who didn’t play much football at Bolton Wanderers last term, has been doing extra sessions with fitness coach Mal Purchase.

But warned Saunders: “You have to be careful when you are trying to get players fit that they don’t get injured by pushing them too hard.”