May 25, 2024

 Bristol Rovers take former Birmingham City and Middlesbrough favourite on trial

George Friend was among the players to report for the first day of pre-season at The Quarters

Bristol Rovers have taken experienced former Birmingham City defender George Friend on trial, Bristol Live understands, with the Devon-native available on a free transfer.

Friend took part in training on the first day of pre-season at The Quarters on Monday and will be further assessed over the course of the week in Almondsbury and could even play a part in Friday’s friendly against Melksham Town.

The 35-year-old’s contract at Birmingham expires this week and having played a bit-part role under John Eustace in 2022/23 is looking to prolong his playing career at a new destination after spending the last three seasons at St Andrews.

Friend boasts a wealth of experience and significant EFL pedigree with 52 appearances for Blues in the Championship and prior to that 446 career matches for Middlesbrough, Doncaster Rovers, Wolves and Exeter City, as his permanent clubs.

The Barnstaple-born defender can play as a left-back or left-sided centre-back and fulfils a positional need for Joey Barton with Lewis Gibson having returned to Everton following his loan spell and Calum Macdonald’s exit on a free transfer, meaning Lewis Gordon lacks competition on that flank.

Friend played in front of Rovers fans at the Mem just over a month ago as he was part of Marcus Stewart’s charity match having worked alongside the Rovers hero at Exeter when Paul Tisdale was in charge.

Should he sign for the Gas, Friend would not only fill a gap in the squad, but also bring considerable leadership skills in the dressing room following a 17-year career. Towards his time at Birmingham he was also operating in an unofficial player/coach capacity.

Friend emerged through the Exeter academy and starred for the Grecians during their promotion from the then-Conference National in the 2007/08 season.

He earned a marquee move to Wolves when he was just 20 but could never make a sustained breakthrough at Molineux as they became a Premier League club and following loan stints at Millwall, Southend United, Scunthorpe and back at Exeter, eventually settled in Middlesbrough following two seasons with Doncaster in the Championship.

He became a regular at the Riverside making 299 appearances as they made the play-off final in 2016 and he was twice named in the Championship Team of the Year.

Although in the twilight of his career, providing he can prove his fitness and hunger, he could have plenty to offer a Gas defence that was light on experience last season, contributing to their porous defence.

He would also continue Barton’s shift in transfer policy this summer as, so far, James Wilson, Luke Thomas, Jevani Brown and Friend – should he sign – can all be considered established performers at this level and higher up the pyramid, rather than emerging talents which has tended to drive Rovers’ business over the previous two summer windows.

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