Richie Wellens talks Doncaster Rovers' start to the season and why he's confident points will not be dropped in the same manner in the future
Looking ahead is not something Richie Wellens has been afforded the opportunity to do much since his appointment as Doncaster Rovers boss.
But with his squad much closer to full strength than it has been at any point in his tenure, Wellens feels he is finally able to plan for the longer term rather than day to day.
The 41-year-old tends to be strategic in his planning for upcoming matches, pencilling players in for certain amounts of game time in specific matches to ensure their energy levels can be managed across multiple matches.
With players absent due to injuries and illness, and others struggling to get up to full speed due to the demands of the fixture list, Wellens has previously not been able to think about matches beyond the next one on the calendar.
With absentees now down to just a couple and his squad rejuvenated during the international break, he can plot his way through another busy period - and he believes Rovers will be all the stronger for it.
“It’s been really difficult because you tend to position yourself for a block of games,” he told the Free Press.
“If you’ve got a fully fit squad you try to plan for three or four games in advance for what team you’re going to pick.
“We’ve not been capable of doing that.
“Basically we’ve been going day to day. The change has been that vast from day to day where we think we might have these three players but then they’re out and someone else might have come in.
“I think once we get everyone fit, there will be more structure to it.
“We’ll be able to look at a six game block and think we need to do this, pick this team for that game, and this team for the next game etc.
“There will be more structure for the way we go about it and that will be big for us.”
The start to the season has been a tough one for Wellens and Rovers but there is fresh optimism they can begin to look up having entered the international break following improved performances.
Wellens insists he has seen positive signs that his younger players are getting to grips with the rigours of League One football - and the demands of the highly competitive environment.
And he is convinced Rovers will not be dropping points in the same manner they have done previously this season.
“That was more about the game management and the know-how,” he said.
“A lot of these lads - the likes of Matt Smith, Ethan Galbraith, Pontus Dahlberg - they’re young and they’ve not been subjected to what we’re throwing them into.
“Had our game management been better we could probably have picked up four points from the Wigan and Plymouth games.
“It was only our lack of experience and our game management why we didn’t.
“It was the same with Wimbledon at home. If you rewind and we pick up a point in that game, it gives us something to take forward, something to build on and it would also have stopped Wimbledon from getting a full three points.
“But what’s gone is gone and I do think we’re seeing an improvement in the players.
“If you watch our last ten minutes back against MK Dons, the way we managed the game was really good.
“MK Dons had only one penalty box entry in the last eight minutes which, against a good footballing team that has scored a lot of goals and were unbeaten in the previous ten, was very good.
“There were a lot of good signs there.”
Wellens believes it was always likely there would be teething problems this season, given the youthful and inexperienced nature of areas of his squad.
He has freely admitted he would have liked to bring in two or three more experienced players, which would have helped guide the youngsters through tricky situations.
“Those are the type of players that know it,” he said.
“Wigan have recruited really well. They’ve brought in players that have made 300 to 400 appearances and have been there and done it.
“But that costs money.
“Older heads can help the younger lads as well. ‘Why are you taking a touch there? Put it in that area. Let’s get up the pitch.’
“But the lads are getting there. They’re learning and they have to.
“Games change. You can school your players about the way certain teams are going to play and certain things that are going to happen. If you play against that and do really well, the opposition are going to change.
“What you won’t have done is coach in how they are going to change so sometimes you need the players to adapt, take on the information more quickly when the opposition do adapt and react to it better.
“I think we’re getting better at that.”
Part of that improvement has come from specific work on the training ground to give players ideas of how to react in certain situations.
“Jordy [Hiwula] took it into the corner late on against MK Dons and that is something we’ve been working on - scenario training,” Wellens said. “We’ve been looking at it over the last few weeks.
“If we’re 1-0 up with ten minutes to go, what do we need to do?
“If we’re 1-0 down, what do we need to do? If the opposition have ten men, if we have ten men - we work through lots of different scenarios.
“We’ve practiced it so if something changes once they’re out there, it’s not alien to them.”