What Doncaster Rovers' friendly at Rossington Main told us about how Richie Wellens wants his side to play

Reading too much into the first friendly of pre-season can be a foolhardy exercise.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 12:00 pm

Bolstering fitness levels without over-exerting players is the priority and you are more likely to see multiple changes throughout the match.

But there were a few interesting points of note from the manner in which Doncaster Rovers performed against Rossington Main on Saturday that we are likely to see carried forward into the season.

Here, we make some observations on some of things we saw at Oxford Street.

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Kyle Knoyle impressed during Rovers' friendly at Rossington Main. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX


As expected, Richie Wellens sent his side out in a 4-3-3 system for both halves, despite not necessarily having two sets of 11 that fit into the system.

It demonstrated Wellens’ determination to deploy the formation at Rovers and quickly get his players up to speed with the intricacies of his style of play.

So it did not matter that left back Branden Horton was forced to play on the left of a front three in the second half. It was about the early stages of putting plans in place.

Richie Wellens gives his players instructions at Rossington Main. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX

Wellens has told the Free Press previously that 4-3-3 is his favoured approach - though he will consider a 4-2-3-1 in order to match up with those of the division’s top sides who go that way.

And short, sharp passing to get the ball up the pitch at pace is the order of the day, with quality in the final third then expected to take over.

The sharpness in attacking areas was not present for much of the game, despite the scoreline, but some of the mechanics of getting the ball into the final third look to be coming along very nicely.


Some managers mix up their teams when they know they will be sending out entirely different sides in each half of friendlies.

But Wellens’ selection on Saturday made it clear who he sees at the forefront of his plans as the new campaign rapidly approaches.

Barring fielding trialists Aidan Barlow and Dan Gardner in the wide attacking roles, his first half team was as close to first choice as it gets with the current squad.

Jon Taylor and Jordy Hiwula are likely to occupy those positions once fit, while Fejiri Okenabirhie will push Omar Bogle for the central striking role.

And Tom Anderson would have been present in the back four alongside Ro-Shaun Williams had he not pulled out of the game injured in the warm-up.

Questions remain over who will occupy the deeper lying midfield role, with Wellens speaking previously of not seeing John Bostock as the most suitable for the position.

But Saturday’s first half demonstrated that the Rovers boss is not far away from having a strong-looking first XI.

The patched together second half side featuring six trialists suggested there is plenty of work to be done to bolster the squad for the rigours of a League One season.


One thing that was very quickly apparent was that partnerships across the pitch are going to be key to how Rovers play.

A duo that has come together very quickly is that of Matt Smith and Kyle Knoyle - Smith operating in the right of a midfield three with Knoyle at right back.

The two linked up with each other superbly, showing an excellent understanding of each other’s game despite Smith only arriving at the club five days prior.

Wellens put the cohesiveness down to the fact both have played under him before and have a knowledge of his style.

It was a pleasure to watch their interplay, with Smith pulling out wide to allow Knoyle to make a run through the middle or dropping deep to receive the ball if Knoyle was cut off.

Expect these partnerships to develop across the pitch, especially on the other flank between Tommy Rowe and Ben Close.


Early evidence suggests that Wellens’ full backs will certainly be putting in the hard yards this season.

Both Rowe and Knoyle found themselves high up the pitch throughout the first half - often in more advanced positions than the attacking three.

The pair had clearly been encouraged to make runs inside and not stick the touchline and it gave Rovers a fresh and dynamic attacking edge.

Knoyle impressed, hitting the byline and cutting balls back into the box as well as latching onto passes himself inside the area.

And Rowe brought the expected calm, control and quality that is so fondly remembered of his previous stint at the club.

These two are going to be key players in how Wellens wishes to operate this coming season.


Bostock was handed the responsibility of sitting deeper in midfield during Saturday’s first half, with trialist Owen Bailey picking up the mantle after the break.

Bostock has impressed Wellens through pre-season with his efforts but whether he is a long-term option for the deeper lying role remains to be seen.

His passing quality in the position is undoubted. His best performances last term came when allowed to sit on the half way line and spray balls around to his team mates.

Wellens’ doubts about him in the role stem from his ability to move quickly around the pitch, and cut out opposition counter attacks before they fully blossom.

He has spoken of the option of Smith in the role and there is little doubt he could do the job with his physicality, as well as his own passing ability.

But having witnessed Smith’s performance on the right of the midfield, and his relationships with those around him, it would seem somewhat of a shame to move him further inside.


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.