Rotherham United youngster Jerry Yates unwittingly paid the price for the Millers’ 2016/17 striker shortage, new boss Paul Warne believes.
The 20-year-old centre-forward was delighted to feature in the Championship so early in his career, but Warne says he would have made faster strides had he been loaned out to a lower-league club where he would have been guaranteed more action.
Instead, with then-manager Alan Stubbs failing to recruit a single frontman in the summer transfer window, academy product Yates had to stay at New York Stadium to bolster the squad which went on to be relegated.
“If we had signed more strikers last summer, I think the ideal route for him would have been to go out on loan all season to get game-time,” Warne, who took the Millers hot-seat last month after a spell in caretaker charge, told The Star.
“Unfortunately for him, we didn’t, which made him stay around more. He’d have got more benefit if he’d gone to a League One or Two team, definitely.
“Through circumstances, that wasn’t available. But when he was called upon in the Championship, I thought he did pretty well as it was some step-up.
With Jonson Clarke-Harris suffering a pre-season cruciate knee ligament injury, Rotherham had only one senior centre-forward, Danny Ward, until they brought in Dexter Blackstock as a free agent in September.
Blackstock failed to impress and Yates, who last week signed a new deal tying him to the club until 2020, found himself above the former Premier League player in the pecking order.
He scored three goals in 23 appearances, with his only league strike coming in the 2-1 home win over Norwich City in January.
Warne is planning to bring in up to three new frontmen as he prepares for life in the third tier but says Yates - along with Clarke-Harris and Blackstock - will be given every opportunity to force his way into the starting line-up.
“I am saying I am going to sign extra strikers,” the boss said. “He is going to have to compete for his place, and the same with Dexter and ‘Jono’. They are all the same boat and I don’t look at them more or less favourably.
“I thought Jerry’s pre-season last year was probably the best out of the whole squad and then he got limited time. This year, after another year as a pro, if he comes back and is the most impressive in pre-season, he will start with a shirt.
“Off-season clears your mind a bit. I don’t have any pre-judgements on any of them and that is the truth.”
Yates said: “I’ve not really got any targets in my head other than to try to get as many games as possible. I just want to try to cement a place in the starting line-up and then try to help the team.
“I’ll always try my best and work hard for the team and see where it gets me.”
The New York pitch is being dug up this week as the Millers groundstaff prepare a new surface for next year.