Paul Goodwin's ten-game Doncaster Rovers assessment and why now is not the time to judge Richie Wellens
Richie Wellens is highly unlikely to quit Doncaster Rovers and even less likely to be sacked. So judge his team not on the first ten games but the next 36.
“It’ll be too late by then!” will no doubt be the response of the vocal minority on social media, those who have taken a matter of weeks to make their minds up on Wellens.
The reality is that if the worst was to happen and Rovers were to be relegated this season it won’t solely be Wellens to blame.
The club’s fourth boss in just over three years has already encountered several problems not of his own making – not least an unsustainable annual turnover of players and a couple of expensive recruitment blunders.
Another change in manager is certainly not the answer to the club’s problems, that’s for sure.
Wellens also needs stability in his own career and he is only too aware that his team need to show more cohesion, more control, more threat, more steel and more of the spirit seen against MK Dons to avoid becoming rooted in the bottom four.
But, while the ten-game mark is usually a perfectly reasonable point for early season analysis, there is very little to be gained from dissecting Rovers’ poor start – and that’s because of the sheer number of problems that Wellens has encountered from pre-season to the present day.
Let’s be totally honest, Rovers can’t have too many complaints about their current position at the bottom of League One.
I thought they would face some bumps in the road and wrote as much before a ball was kicked but I wasn’t expecting a ride quite as uncomfortable as this.
They started the season against AFC Wimbledon looking every inch a team of strangers and the impact of the Covid outbreak on the group’s fitness was only too obvious during the first few weeks of the campaign.
Rovers, in the main, have been unconvincing at the back, lightweight in midfield and powder puff in attack, which doesn’t bode particularly well.
The drop-off in quality from the squad that reached the play-offs under Grant McCann in 2019 appears to be self-evident. How many of the current side, for instance, would get into the team on that incredible night against Charlton at the Valley (apart from Tommy Rowe)?
The budget may have gone up from last season’s Covid-hit allowance but Wellens has quite clearly had to abide by some very careful management of the pursestrings.
Not being able to offload either Omar Bogle or Ed Williams and land the proven striker or defensive midfelder that might have made all the difference clearly made his first transfer window all the more difficult.
Rovers’ boss, of course, is not immune from criticism. Whether he got the balance of his recruitment absolutely spot on is open to debate. The lack of brawn and bite in centre midfield despite three new arrivals in that department immediately springs to mind.
But there must be an acknowledgement that factors outside of his control have been fundamental to the slow start. The very least he deserves is the benefit of the doubt and a fair crack of the whip.
And there does appear to be some light at the tunnel.
Pontus Dahlberg is a goalkeeper whose saves will win points. Tommy Rowe is doing Tommy Rowe things. Ethan Galbraith is clearly very talented. The impending return of Jon Taylor and Fejiri Okenabirhie should boost a paltry goals for column of six.
The lads playing catch-up with their fitness like Tiago Cukur, Jordy Hiwula and Joe Dodoo are getting stronger all the time.
The home form is decent and not every away game will be against a possible promotion contender, which has felt like the case so far.
Wellens was keen to point out the bigger picture at Rovers when he spoke to the media after the drubbing at Ipswich and he was entitled to do so.
The results this year speak for themselves and there can be no hiding Rovers’ regression on the pitch since February. It’s going to take time to sort things out.
Wellens is blameless for what went before – the short term recruitment policy and the expensive recent mistakes in the transfer market which both made an already difficult rebuilding job even harder – but any criticism aimed in his direction is possibly him bearing the brunt of fans’ understandable frustration at how 2021 has played out.
It simply hasn’t been good enough. Rovers have gone from promotion contenders to relegation candidates in the blink of an eye. Various issues appear to have caught up with the club and Wellens had to build on some very rocky foundations.
So there is plenty of mitigation for the disappointing first block of ten games. Judge him and his team on the next 36 and beyond.