Doncaster Rovers boss makes honest and frank admission about style of play on his watch

Gary McSheffrey admits he has been ‘caught in between’ certain styles of play since taking over at Doncaster Rovers.

By Paul Goodwin
Tuesday, 5th April 2022, 8:27 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th April 2022, 8:31 am

The 39-year-old, who has won five of his 22 matches in charge, freely accepts his relegation-haunted Rovers team have been far from an easy watch.

But he says a pragmatic approach in terms of the style of play has been necessary due to the personnel available to him, fitness levels and the situation the club finds itself in at the bottom of League One.

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Gary McSheffrey on the touchline at Wycombe Wanderers. Picture: Gareth Williams/AHPIX LTD

McSheffrey initially implemented a more direct approach after taking over from Richie Wellens in December as Rovers looked to get ball forward quicker and into the channels.

At Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday the style of play was notably different as John Bostock returned to the starting line-up and the team tried to play through the thirds.

Before the weekend, the Free Press asked McSheffrey what style he wanted to play at Rovers in the long term and how close he has been able to get to that this season.

“It’s nowhere near close to the style,” he said.

“The style is defensively you need really solid foundations. You need to be fit and you need to have the desire to get back into a good shape and be hard to beat.

“And then it’s attacking football and a lot of the time it’s exploiting opposition’s spaces and finding the spare man. You can have certain styles in and out of possession.

“The style at the minute, it’s not been great.

“We’ve been caught in between a little bit in terms of a type of style.

“If you go direct you need frontmen to win the ball, hold the ball up and bring players into play.

“If you play out from the back and play through midfield you need lots of options on the ball and you need to work harder with the ball than without it at times to be an option.

“So we're nowhere near where I would like us to be. We’re building bricks and stepping stones and fitness levels are key to that.”

On whether pragmatism has come to the fore, McSheffrey added: “Yes. I could try and play great football on the eye and not really get anywhere with it. We could have a couple of good passes and then the ball turns over too easy.

“But you’ve then got to try and find weaknesses in the opposition to try and get points as well.

“So it’s been a bit difficult to implement certain styles, whilst trying to pick results up and pick points up.

“You can definitely implement some non-negotiables and some fundamentals of how you want your players to play and work.”

Wellens’ appointment in the summer was an attempt by Rovers to work towards recreating their ‘Arsenal of the north’ reputation.

Chief executive Gavin Baldwin said last June: “It’s important that we get our identity back and we play football that entertains and excites the supporters and makes them proud.

"To bring in players to do that may take a couple of years.

“We would hope that we make significant strides towards that this year and fans will immediately see a new style of football that excites them but also it will be winning football.”

He added: “We want all fans to drive to the game really excited about how we play - the number of shots we’re going to have, the crosses that will go in, the pressing game, the energy etc.

"Rather than get in a manager with a track record and a high win percentage that plays long ball football and is not great to watch, we believe we can get the same results but make it exciting. It just may take some time to get there.”

Rovers have lost 27 out of 41 league games this season and, barring an incredible finish to the campaign, face relegation to League Two.

They are the lowest scorers in League One having netted just 28 goals.