Harry Middleton interview: ‘Mini-Richie’ ready to be middle man

Harry Middleton
Harry Middleton

For a young Doncaster lad that has matured in the shadows of one of Rovers’ classiest ever midfielders, there can be few bigger compliments than a ‘mini Richie Wellens’ tag.

But that has been the scale of the impact made by Harry Middleton this pre-season.

Harry Middleton in action against Middlesbrough.

Harry Middleton in action against Middlesbrough.

And judging by his performances over recent weeks, the 20-year-old from Hatfield Woodhouse could be about to step out of those shadows and make a name for himself in the colours of his hometown team.

Middleton signed off at the end of last season as development team captain, a player with obvious potential but yet to really make his mark on the first team.

Thanks to a few sessions down the gym in between he has very visibly returned to Rovers as a man, having grown not just in physical stature but confidence too.

He feels more ready for League One football now. And he has unquestionably given Paul Dickov food for thought ahead of Saturday’s opener.

However, his response to comparisons with Wellens - made by one member of the local press pack following Middleton’s assured display against Premier League side Sunderland - showcased a grounded individual not about to get carried away with his promotion in the midfield pecking order.

[‘Mini Richie Wellens?’] “It’s a big statement that,” laughed Middleton, asked about the former Manchester United man’s impact on his development.

“But, yes, Richie’s been a massive influence on me.

“It’s been good for me over the last couple of seasons just to be on the bench and watch players like Richie and Keegs [Paul Keegan].

“They have two different styles so I’ve been able to watch Keegs to learn about his role and then there’s Richie who likes to play a bit more and you can learn things off him in that respect.

“When you see what Richie’s done in the game it’s obviously a massive boost for me to have him around.

“Just to watch him and learn from him, it’s brilliant.”

Middleton, who signed for Doncaster shortly after being released by Hull City as an under 15, enjoyed his most impressive pre-season display against Sunderland.

Asked to support lone striker Harry Forrester from a central midfield position, he drifted into dangerous attacking areas and showed excellent composure on the ball throughout, despite the close attention of Lee Cattermole no less.

The young midfielder sees his best position as slightly deeper though, picking up possession off the back four and generating play through the thirds.

“Against Sunderland I was told to try and get forward, obviously due to the lack of strikers,” he said.

“We played 4-1-4-1 so myself and Richie had a bit more licence to go forward, with Keegs sitting there.

“But defensively you still have to keep your shape and make yourselves hard to break down.

“I’d rather sit a little bit deeper and get on the ball but he asked me to play a bit further forward in that game and I enjoyed it.

“To be fair I can play both roles. I’m not too fussed.

“Personally I think pre-season has gone really well,” he added.

“The manager’s given me a lot of playing time which is more than I could have asked for really.

“It’s going really well for me at the moment.

“I’ve been surprised at the amount of involvement that I’ve had, but I just want to keep working hard and I want to be in there - so I must be doing something right.

“When there’s more competition for places you’ve got to up your game.

“I’m hoping I’ve done that and given the manager something to think about.

“Hopefully I’ll be involved against Bury but we’ll see what happens.”

So what about the bulking up at the gym? Has that been a conscious effort?

“A little bit,” Middleton smiled.

“I’m trying to. I don’t know if you can tell!

“The manager told us to look after ourselves over the summer and not to come back in bad shape. I’d like to think I did a lot off-season to come back fighting and pushing for a place.

“Ben Rome, the fitness coach, gave us all a programme to follow over the summer and I’ve followed that as best as I can. Obviously he does that for your best interests and I’ve come back feeling fitter and stronger.

“I’ve felt the benefit of it. I feel a lot more comfortable in myself to battle with players and I feel a lot fitter this season than last season.

“I never felt out of place in League One last season but there were a few times I thought to myself if I get a bit fitter, stronger and quicker it will benefit me, so it’s something I’ve been working on. Hopefully it’s paying off.

“The manager’s said to me ‘just keep on working hard’,” he added.

“It’s all about performance so if I do well we’ll see what happens. I’ve just got to focus on giving him something to think about.”