Analysis: Positive signs for the future under McCann from a solid if unspectacular maiden outing - Alfreton 0 Rovers 1

It is not so much the result, the number of goals, or individual performances that matter in pre-season friendlies.

Sunday, 8th July 2018, 10:26 pm
Updated Monday, 16th July 2018, 3:53 pm
John Marquis charges down the flank during the friendly with Alfreton Town. Picture: Heather King

That might not be the worst thing given Rovers' rather uneventful opening to their pre-season programme.

More important was the opportunity to look for any hints at what Grant McCann may have planned for his Rovers side.in the longer term.

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An unlikely second half Joe Wright goal - one of very few chances for either side - took care of the goal and result side of things in McCann's first public outing as boss.

The game delivered the typical test of fitness for 22 Rovers players, each handed 45 punishing minutes in intense heat at North Street.

Nothing too much can ever be read into friendlies, particularly the first of the pre-season calendar and one played in such high temperatures.

There was no indication that Rovers will be tearing up League One in the coming season. Nor could any be expected at this stage.

But there was an indication of the manner in which a McCann side will certainly attempt to do just that.

On his unveiling he spoke of forging a hard-working, expansive side that would play out from the back, with full backs high up the pitch and plenty of movement throughout.

And, on the evidence of Saturday's work-out, he has started to deliver on that.

The foundations were laid under two-and-a-half years of Darren Ferguson's rule.

But McCann looks set to adapt from that his own style, arguably with greater intensity and tempo than we bore witness under the guidance of his former mentor.

It was evident from the start what Rovers were attempting to do.

Lining up in a 4-3-3 system, players interchanged positions and territory constantly while Rovers were at their most energetic.

The centre halves split when the ball was back with the goalkeeper, the central midfielder dropped deep to offer another outlet while the full backs moved high up the pitch, often beyond the midfielders.

The ball was moved quickly and players were expected to follow suit, finding space and runs to carry Rovers up the pitch.

The wider two of the three forwards would start closer to the touchline than the centre of the pitch and look to charge inside or link-up with the energetic full backs.

There is plenty of work still to be done. Players will be drilled with the minutiae of positioning requirements until it becomes second nature.

And fitness work will continue. This squad must be as fit as it has ever been if McCann's approach is to work.

Yet the intent is clear and the signs are positive if it can indeed be made to work.

Rovers are still light on newcomers with only Tom Anderson and Max Watters added at this stage.

Anderson - playing in the first half alongside Andy Butler - delivered what had come to be expected of him during his loan spell last season as he headed everything away.

He even ended up with a bloodied nose for the umpteenth time in his career. And he shook it off by sticking a piece of cotton wool up each nostril before carrying on like nothing had happened.

As for Watters - featuring in the second half on the right of a forward triumvirate with John Marquis and Alex Kiwomya - it was a quiet maiden outing in Rovers colours.

Lively in the opening minutes of the second period, he struggled to get on the ball as the half wore on with play often coming down the opposite flank.

There was minutes on the pitch for the trio of transfer-listed players. Having missed the training camp in La Manga, this was their first real opportunity to force a shift in McCann's thinking about their futures.

Tyler Garratt provided the most eye-catching moment as he slotted through a fine pass onto which Wright latched and clipped over Tom Nicholson to score the only goal of the game.

But Liam Mandeville and Mitchell Lund did nothing to disgrace themselves either.

There will be some disappointment that more chances were not created, given the gulf in standard from the opposition and the ultra-positive approach.

But overall, McCann could be contented with the first taste of action for his new side.

And he can be safe in the knowledge that there is plenty more to come and plenty of time to put it in place before August 4.