An appointment that brings concern yet potential: Liam Hoden on Gary McSheffrey being named new Doncaster Rovers boss

There are baptisms of fire and then there is the situation in which Gary McSheffrey finds himself at Doncaster Rovers.

Wednesday, 29th December 2021, 9:50 am
Gary McSheffrey

As first steps into senior management go, it does not get much tougher.

With little more than four months to play with, McSheffrey is tasked with dramatically turning around fortunes following a disastrously woeful start to the season that has left Rovers with a mountain to climb in order to retain their League One status.

To scale that peak he must, in the first instance, galvanise an inexperienced and depleted squad of players that have been hit hard by the difficulties of the opening five months of the campaign.

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The partnership of McSheffrey and assistant Frank Sinclair has worked well

Though part of a collective recruitment team, he simply must get January signings right. There is no margin for error with Rovers desperately in need of an injection of quality and experience over the next few weeks.

So it is easy to understand why some may need convincing that, as someone without experience in the role, he is the right man for Rovers at this moment in time.

As previously written, I believe since the summer Rovers may well have been caught out looking too much to the long term and failing to recognise the basic needs of the short.

That is not to say they are overlooking the perilous situation in which the club currently finds itself.

But there would be a decent amount more confidence in their survival chances at this stage had they obviously plumped for a short term fix in desperation to stay in the division.

It might have been a departure from what they typically look for when appointing a manager, or where they ultimately want to be with the developing football structure at the club.

But survival from here is the only goal, and reaching it by whatever means necessary should be the priority.

There is however a very specific set of circumstances which mean that McSheffrey may be the ideal man to lead Rovers through the tricky months ahead.

Rovers will continually need to call upon the younger members of the squad, who must learn quickly on the job. McSheffrey has worked with them all at age group level, knows what makes them tick and, arguably most importantly, knows what approach they will respond best to.

But he too must bring out the best in more senior figures who have not reached the levels of which they are capable on nearly enough of a regular basis this term.

In dealings with him as a coach over the last three or so years, I have always found McSheffrey to be an impressive figure.

As boss of both the U23s and U18s, as well as tactically astute, he was always honest - brutally so at times - publicly about the progress made by individual players and the groups as a whole. There was no doubting that he was keeping young players grounded rather than falling into the trap of praising them too much.

It was a little surprising therefore to listen to a more soft approach when he took caretaker charge of the senior squad. His words to the press at that point were always constructive and encouraging first, before any criticism was made.

But this perhaps reflects an ability within McSheffrey to understand what is required in a given situation.

A few weeks ago, he described himself as the candidate for the job that offered realism about Rovers’ current plight and the manner in which they can potentially claw their way out of danger.

He has not made big promises to supporters about glorious runs to comfortable survival. Instead he has attempted to assure that he has confidence in the abilities of the players at his disposal for the task at hand.

He has prioritised reassurance and encouragement above all else because he believes, having observed the group at fairly close quarters all season and witnessed another approach fail to do so, that is the way of bringing out the best in the squad.

While his lack of experience may not be reassuring enough for supporters initially, it is the players who need the confidence in his leadership more than anyone else and he appears to be providing them with that.

A major positive is the fact McSheffrey has been involved in meetings of the recruitment team since taking caretaker charge. There should be no delay in decisions over specific targets because he has already had his input on those that have been discussed.

As previously mentioned, January could hardly be more important for Rovers with a specific type of player required to increase the robustness of the group both physically and mentally. That he is not coming into the situation blind is a considerable plus point.

The presence of his mentor figure will be important too. Should Rovers be able to secure an agreement with their top target - and McSheffrey’s too - for the position, they will have an individual to call upon with great knowledge of the domestic game, as well as an ability to guide the new gaffer through the day to day operation.

The appointment of McSheffrey is most certainly a gamble - though, in truth, any candidate chosen would present some form of risk given the knife-edge on which Rovers’ season is currently balanced.

A man with past experience leading a side through such a situation would have provided greater confidence in the chances of survival, even though there would have been no guarantees of success.

Rovers undoubtedly have a bright young coach on their hands in McSheffrey, as he has demonstrated over the last few years.

And bright young coaches have to start somewhere if they are to step into the world of management.

McSheffrey’s start is as tough as it gets and if he swims rather than sinks after being thrown into the deepest of deep ends, it will have been an inspired appointment.


In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.