Doncaster Rovers: Few positives, disappointing trialists and a big Covid-19 warning as Wellens' men toil in the heat against Bradford City

It was hard to keep from glancing over the sun-baked hills in the distance and wondering just what we were doing with ourselves on the hottest Saturday afternoon of the year.

Sunday, 18th July 2021, 12:00 pm

A Doncaster Rovers side patched up by 11 trialists were toiling in the heat against a Bradford City outfit already well set up for the new campaign.

It will have made for pleasing viewing for the 1,006 Bradford supporters permitted entry into Valley Parade as part of a trial run for the return of crowds.

Rovers fans, on the other hand, should be grateful they were locked out.

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Richie Wellens on the touchline at Valley Parade. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

This friendly was not quite at the ‘what’s the point?’ level for Rovers but it was not too far off. In the main it appeared a simple exercise of getting through 90 minutes.

Glances over to the scoreboard clock during the second half were plentiful, hoping for a sudden glitch in the passage of time that would take us closer to the final whistle in much quicker fashion.

The friendly hammered home the impact that a single case of Covid-19 can have on a squad, as around half a dozen more individuals were forced into isolation due to close contact.

And it was a stark warning that football is as far away from being clear of the impact of the virus as the rest of society is.

Wellens spoke afterwards of being thankful of the timing of this brush with coronavirus.

But with Rovers alone being impacted by the virus for the third time in less than seven months, there should be real concern of what may lie ahead in the coming months.

There are fears the game’s governing bodies will not be quite as flexible in their dealings with fixture disruption in the coming campaign as they were last season. Covid could easily scupper progress in much more damaging terms than simply resulting in fixture congestion.

Wellens had valiantly opted not to cancel his side’s second warm-up game in order to get what he could from the outing.

And while the positives were not plentiful, they were still there.

Tom Anderson getting his first pre-season minutes was a considerable plus. A couple of early towering headers offered more back-up to Wellens’ claims that Rovers have the best centre half in the division on their books.

And then there was the performance of Tommy Rowe which offered a fresh reminder of just how fortunate Rovers are to have landed a player of such quality.

His understanding with Ben Close on the left is blossoming at a great rate. And it will be genuinely exciting to see how those two operate as part of a left flank trio once Jordy Hiwula is added to the mix on that side of the front three.

Most impressive of all has been the speed in which Rowe understands his own role in Wellens’ side.

Picking up where he left off against Rossington, Rowe’s give and go runs inside often took him into the opposition box before any other team mates arrived. He was an option in space constantly.

And the quality of his delivery into the box was superb too. He produced arguably Rovers’ best opportunity of a quiet afternoon in attacking terms when he curled a ball across the six yard line with which Aidan Barlow and Aramide Oteh were both millimetres away from connecting.

Rovers had started well, dominating possession and moving the ball well over the first ten minutes.

But when Abo Eisa smashed in a penalty after being brought down in a clumsy challenge by trialist centre half Tunji Akinola, it was the hosts who took control.

A pair of smart saves from Louis Jones, one an excellent parry after a snapshot from Ollie Crankshaw, offered a little more to be pleased about for Rovers.

Half time brought the departure of the few senior contracted players on the pitch for Rovers, barring Jones, and saw the introduction of a plethora of trialists.

And this was when the afternoon became truly attritional for the visitors, especially when Andy Cook finished smartly from ten yards to double Bradford’s advantage on 55 minutes.

The vast majority of those reinforcements drafted in by Wellens have little to no prospect of earning a contract with Rovers, particularly after doing their chances little good on a disappointing afternoon.

Former Peterborough United midfielder Louis Reed was neat and tidy throughout the 90 minutes, at both deep lying and right midfield. But Wellens is looking for different strengths to what Reed offers as he seeks to fill a midfield gap in his squad.

Ex-Leicester City centre half Darnell Johnson was picked out for praise by Wellens for his performance after the break as he brought an element of calm into the back four.

Overall, Rovers struggled for any meaningful possession after the break while they were toothless in attacking terms throughout the 90 minutes.

Neither goalkeeper used by Bradford was tested at all, while shots off target were hardly plentiful either.

Offering consolation is the fact Rovers’ entire front line attacking options were missing either through injury or self-isolation. There is a decent amount of players to put the opposition on the back foot still to come - hopefully starting against Newcastle United on Friday night.

Little should be read from this outing from Rovers as this was not a true reflection of the squad that will take them into the season, nor the progress of their preparations so far.

But there is certainly plenty of work to be done still for Wellens and co.



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.