Blackburn Rovers have surprised their fanbase by making their first signing of 2023-24, in May, as attacker, Niall Ennis has committed his future to the East Lancashire side, commencing 1st July, upon the expiry of his Plymouth Argyle contract.
The striker, who was a main part of Plymouth Argyle’s League One title-winning side in 2022-23, decided against penning a new deal with Steven Schumacher’s Pilgrims and decided to swap the coastal county of Devon for wet and windy East Lancashire, putting pen-to-paper on a four-year deal – with Rovers holding an option to make that five years – to link up with Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side.
Despite departing Argyle on a free transfer, Ennis arrives at Ewood Park with some scoring pedigree, having netted 24 goals in 97 games in all competitions for the Pilgrims, since his permanent move from Wolverhampton Wanderers in January 2021. Although he proved to be a hit at Home Park, playing a pivotal role in helping the Greens towards the League One title with 12 goals, Ennis clearly believed he would stand a better chance at extending his stay in the second tier, with Rovers, than with Schumacher’s side.
Ennis, who only turned 24 on 20th May, is a product of his hometown side’s academy, in Wolves, rising up the ranks with the likes of former Rover, Ryan Giles, Championship loanee stalwart, Dion Sanderson and current Wolves first-teamer, Max Kilman. Having emerged from the academy in eye-catching fashion, netting 13 goals in 51 appearances throughout his time in Wolves’ various youth teams, Ennis has spent some of his career sidelined with varying injuries, a trait he will hope to shake off at Ewood Park.
The loan system is usually a feature that many teams take advantage of, and that was no different for Wolves and Ennis in 2017, when then-18-years of age, Ennis was sent out to Shrewsbury Town in League One for the 2017-18 season. After assisting on his debut for Salop, in a 3-2 League Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest, Ennis’ loan spell was cruelly cut short after two appearances for the Shropshire side, as he was ruled out for up to six months with a meniscus injury. Despite being unable to help Shrewsbury – ironically against Rovers – in their fight for promotion from League One, Ennis did return in the new year to play for Wolves’ youth teams, netting two in six.
Whilst he spent his whole youth in the Gold and Black of Wolves, impressing in various pre-season campaigns when supplementing the first-team, he only made one official appearance for the first-team, which came as a late substitute in a 3-2 FA Cup Fourth Round Replay victory over former loan side, Shrewsbury Town in 2019.
After easing back into action with Wolves’ youth teams during 2018-19, Ennis spent the next two seasons in League One, with Doncaster Rovers and Burton Albion, respectively. His spell at the Keepmoat Stadium was more fruitful than his time at the Pirelli Stadium, as he netted six and assisted four for Donny as they finished 9th in the curtailed campaign, before his time at Burton in 2020 was cut short, despite not finding the net in the Burton yellow, due to Wolves recalling him, in January 2021.
That recall led Ennis down to Home Park, as Plymouth Argyle picked him up on a two-and-a-half year deal, for an undisclosed fee. It didn’t take Ennis long to settle in Devon, managing to net his first goal in Green in just his third game for the club, all of which saw him come off the bench. After his bright start, he would go onto end 2020-21 with six goals and one assist in the 18 starts and six substitute appearances he made for the Pilgrims.
2021-22 again saw the attacker pop up at vital moments for the League One outfit. Despite missing the first-half of the season, once a change in manager saw Ryan Lowe be replaced by Steven Schumacher, Ennis saw an increase in game time and managed to end the campaign with four goals and four assists post-Xmas, as the Pilgrims narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 7th place.
Although his game time had been limited throughout his first year-and-a-half in Devon, 2022-23 under Steven Schumacher brought out the best in Ennis as he netted double figures for the first time in his career. Being utilised as a centre-forward with support from the wings, whilst in rotation with Ryan Hardie, Ennis was able to show his goalscoring capabilities in a team firing on all cylinders, whilst also having the consecutive run of games in his career. Ennis played in 38 of the 46 league games that Plymouth played as they clinched the League One title, pipping Ipswich Town on the final day. Ennis went on to net 12 league goals for the campaign, and 14 in all competitions, as he remained fit and firing, causing League One defenders issues, up and down the country.
Speaking of country, Ennis does have England youth experience, having played in all age categories from under-16s to under-19s. The attacker’s most successful stint with then Young Lions came under current Nottingham Forest boss, Steve Cooper with the under-17s, as he netted three in seven, whilst partnering the likes of Champions League-winning duo, Mason Mount and Trevoh Chalobah.
Despite aiding the Pilgrims towards a return to the Championship for the first time since 2009-2010, the attacker rejected a new deal at Home Park, much to the disappointment of their fans and manager, Schumacher, to pen terms with Rovers at Ewood Park for the next four seasons, at least.