Budget, Fergie, McCann, transfers, predictions, promotion? Our sports writers give their verdict on Doncaster Rovers ahead of new season
A new manager, a new system and new players '“ it has been a closed season of dramatic changes at Doncaster Rovers.
So what should the expectations be under new boss Grant McCann?
And how will Rovers fare in what looks set to be another highly competitive season in League One?
Here, our Rovers writers Paul Goodwin and Liam Hoden, along with former Free Press sports editor Peter Catt, give their thoughts on a series of issues as we await the big kick off.
Darren Ferguson’s resignation has certainly created lots of debate among fans about the budget, the owners and the ‘five-year plan’. What’s your take on the bigger picture and the current direction of the club?
Paul Goodwin: The current owners are not prepared to simply buy their way into the Championship.
But nor should they expect to cut corners and still challenge for promotion.
Rovers were crying out for a proven goalscorer at this level and a midfield destroyer this summer - neither are yet to arrive.
We are led to believe Ferguson wanted more funds for more experienced players, so his departure was probably inevitable somewhere down the line.
I tend to share the view that the squad is still too inexperienced. There is a strong first team there, but the squad is being propped up by youngsters.
Peter Catt: It seems clear that the sad death of Dick Watson, an avid fan as well as a major benefactor, has had implications for the club.
Whether it has had any effect on the budget, or future planning, only time will tell.
I still believe the owners are ambitious to reclaim a place in the Championship. From what I understand it makes sense financially to play at a higher level – and that is a thought always at the forefront of their minds.
Gavin Baldwin and Grant McCann are adamant that the budget is good enough to challenge for a top six place. Who am I to disagree?
Liam Hoden: Progression at Doncaster Rovers will clearly come via sustainable means - and there is little surprise that is the way the board would have it.
It means there will be no throwing around money in a bid to secure promotion.
Ultimately, the goal is a return to the Championship, yet the urgency to do that does not appear as great as it has done in the past.
On budgetary terms, it seems the board are making enough finances available to put Rovers in the conversation for the top six.
That may have proved not to be a considerable enough statement for Ferguson.
Though Ferguson’s departure was a blow, the club remains on an upward curve with solid foundations. But the rise may not be the quickest.
What are your early impressions of Grant McCann and his suitability to the role?
PG: Encouraging. I like the way he has set his stall out to get more bodies forward and more shots on goal.
I’m pleased he has put his own stamp on things and like the fact he wants the team to play with more width.
Was there a reason, however, that Ferguson was more pragmatic with what he had available? We’ll soon find out.
PC: The new boss made a good impression when he was first introduced to the media and has done nothing to change that view since.
But, like every manager, he will be judged by what happens on the pitch.
He’s quietly spoken, less fiery than Fergie, but you can tell there is a very steely inner core. He is hell-bent on playing attacking football in a 4-3-3 system, which could be great to watch.
What might determine whether he will be successful, however, could be how willing he is to adapt if Plan A fails.
LH: McCann is a really likeable man and very assured of his capabilities and what he can achieve with Rovers.
He is determined to play the attacking, aggressive football that everyone craves and has set about imposing that style on the Rovers squad pretty well so far.
And he is steadfast in his principles, emphasised when he told the media on his first day in the job that his side would not simply change approach if it was not working.
McCann’s brief is to challenge for promotion. Is that a realistic aim?
PG: Top two is a pipe dream.
Top six might be within reach - but Rovers will need a lot more luck with injuries and they will need to be far more ruthless than they were last season.
I see a lot of potential in this group of players but unfortunately I just don’t see the strength, character and know-how that got Rovers out of this league in 2013.
PC: I honestly think it will be difficult.
This league gets tougher each year and the money available at some clubs makes it harder and harder to compete.
It’s realistic providing the squad stays injury free, rapidly adapts to the way the manager wants to play and has a liberal slice of good fortune on the way.
Rovers could ‘challenge’ for promotion. Whether they can achieve it is another matter.
LH: I think Rovers certainly can challenge for promotion. How long that challenge will last or how successful it will be is another matter.
If the style of play and philosophy implemented by McCann delivers the goods, then Rovers could be very, very good this season.
At this stage, that is still a very big if.
Such an attacking brand of football suggests there will be a fair few chances conceded at the other end. Rovers will rely on scoring goals this season so they must get that right if aims are to be achieved.
How do you assess this summer’s transfer activity and do you think the current squad is stronger, weaker or roughly the same, compared to last season?
PG: When Rovers went down to League Two they made a genuine statement of intent by signing Tommy Rowe, Mathieu Baudry and John Marquis.
I don’t see that this summer.
The Tom Anderson deal made complete sense, while Ali Crawford and Mallik Wilks could prove to be very shrewd additions.
But my gut feeling is Rovers still require three or four experienced lads who really know League One inside out for them to be among the promotion frontrunners - and that is probably what Ferguson felt too.
PC: This is a tricky one because Rovers had horrendous injury problems last season – therefore the manager never really had a fully fit squad to choose from.
The main signings to date – Anderson, Crawford and Wilkes all look decent players.
Crawford is a busy midfielder who can pick a pass, Wilkes is powerful and pacy, and we all know what big defender Tom Anderson can do from his loan spell last season.
Against that Alcock, Baudry, Williams, Houghton and Kongolo have all departed, and Mandeville is out on loan.
But the manager can also call on the services of Danny Andrew and Alex Kiwomya, who missed most of last season.
So roughly the same, although it could be stronger if McCann makes a couple of late acquisitions.
LH: I think the squad is slightly stronger than it was last season. Those that have left were on the fringes or rarely involved at all and the additions have been made squarely with the starting XI in mind.
Tom Anderson, Mallik Wilks and Ali Crawford could all very easily start the first game of the season.
Wilks and Crawford should boost the creativity and threat in the side which was lacking last season.
My only concern is the lack of depth at centre half. An injury to one of the three senior centre halves would leave Rovers vulnerable.
How do you see this season going and where will Rovers finish in League One?
PG: I can’t really see anything other than a mid-table finish, but I hope to be proven wrong. 12th.
PC: McCann’s all out attacking ethos could be spectacularly successful – but it might also misfire.
I was wildly optimistic this time last year so I’m going to be more cautious this time and plump for a top ten finish.
But I’ve a sneaking feeling we might do well in the cups.
LH: I’m confident of a top half finish with plenty of thrills and spills along the way. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they had a strong push for the top six.
I’ll go eighth.
Who is your key man and why?
PG: John Marquis - just like it was last season. And it’s not just about his goals.
He’s a focal point, someone who leads from the front and sets the tone with his relentless work ethic.
Fingers crossed Rovers can hold onto him, and that he hasn’t had his head turned by the interest in him.
PC: This could be the kiss of death because I chose Liam Mandeville last year, but I’m going to say I don’t think we’ve signed him yet.
Rovers’ biggest problem last season was sticking the ball in the net.
At the time of writing McCann was still looking to add to his striking options.
Whoever he brings in to add more fire power could well turn out to be the key man.
LH: John Marquis. He was key to Rovers last season and I think that will be the case again.
It will be interesting to see how he thrives in McCann’s system which could require him to stick up front and not drop deep in search of the ball as much as he typically would like.
But that could see him get greater service in the area where he is most deadly.
PG: Promoted: Barnsley, Sunderland, Peterborough United
Relegated: Wycombe, AFC Wimbledon, Walsall, Accrington Stanley
Dark horses: Coventry
PC: Promoted: Barnsley, Charlton, Sunderland
Relegated: Gillingham, Walsall, AFC Wimbledon, Southend
Dark horses: Luton, Oxford, Doncaster Rovers
LH: Promoted: Sunderland, Peterborough, Oxford
Relegated: Walsall, Gillingham, Shrewsbury, AFC Wimbledon
Dark horses: Doncaster Rovers