Player, Influential: #4 Seny Dieng
Since the season is on hold due to the developing coronavirus pandemic, we thought we’d take the 2019/20 season as it stands and spotlight a few of the most influential players to Darren Moore’s young Rovers team.
Two weeks ago we looked at defensive rock Tom Anderson, so this week we turn to the man between the posts, goalkeeper Seny Dieng.
An Unlikely Rise
Seny Dieng was not a name many knew this time last year. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone – save for fans of Dundee, Stevenage or QPR – who had a clue who he was. Now though, Seny’s is a name on the lips of many pundits across the EFL, after a fine season in goal for the Rovers that has been a significant aspect of the team’s upturn in form and fortunes since the turn of the year.
When Darren Moore brought the Swiss-born stopper to the club on loan in late July, eyebrows were raised. A move coming days before the inevitable departure of star striker John Marquis, fans pondered the necessity of bringing in another goalkeeper with the promising Louis Jones already brought into the first team to compete with Ian Lawlor. The fact remained though that the departure of Marko Marosi – now a consensus pick for Team of the Season at his new club Coventry – left a gap at the position that needed filling.
In addition to the need to fill a squad space, the new manager clearly wanted a different sort of player in goal for his team. Rovers fans weren’t to know it at the time, but Moore favours a more modern “Sweeper Keeper” to facilitate the short distribution passing tactics he wished to implement, and Seny Dieng has proven himself exactly that sort of player, whereas Lawlor is a more traditional shot-stopper.
Dieng’s lack of senior experience was another potential issue raised as the average age of the Rovers squad decreased dramatically through the transition at the start of the season, although the YouTube highlights of his half-season spell at Dundee showed promise. Dieng had to wait for his opportunity, getting only a couple of relatively low key cup appearances in until late September before Moore turned to his new keeper in the wake of a last-gasp defeat at home to Blackpool.
That was the first league defeat for Moore in the Rovers hotseat, so dropping Lawlor as a result seems harsh on first glance, but the manner of the Seasiders’ late goal compounded a long-term issue with the Irishman: he doesn’t command his box enough. Instead of coming out to challenge for the aerial ball, Lawlor stood on his line allowing Armand Gnanduillet to pick his spot for the winner, and having failed to register more than one single clean sheet in the opening seven matches, Lawlor was dropped and Dieng came in in his place.
On his debut – a glorious 2-0 win over Peterborough – Dieng showed exactly why he was brought to the club. He was everywhere in his 18 yard box, collecting corners and making sure lethal strikers Ivan Toney and Mo Eisa were kept quiet. He worked well with the back four to get attacks started quickly and shut out the most potent attacking unit in League One with a couple of fine saves. Moore couldn’t have asked for much more from his enigmatic new keeper.
An Assured Presence
Fast forward to March, and Rovers have the third best defensive record in the division. Dieng is one piece of that impressive mark, but a crucial one at that. His record of 26 goals conceded from 27 league starts (rising to 32 in 32 in all competitions) is more than stellar, well above average for League One, and his tally of 10 clean sheets is the 12th best among keepers, coming out at an average of one every three games.
Often with keepers though, we have to look beyond the stats. Dieng has barely put a foot wrong this season, despite often raising heart rates with perceived risky pass-outs from the back. Rovers rely on this element of risk to draw the opposition press and exploit space in behind, something that has been effective in creating goalscoring opportunities for the men in red and white. His ability to find the best teammate to spark a quick attack has been invaluable and is something that neither Lawlor nor Marosi were particularly strong at.
Much like Rovers as a whole, Seny Dieng is not the finished article. However, he has been one of the most reassuring presences in a team that has steadily improved throughout the course of Darren Moore’s curtailed maiden season in charge. His all-round ability to command the area and link play from back-to-front has been vital and it is these qualities that have people including Moore saying that he can go on to play at a very high level.
It will be a shame if the global pandemic means we have seen the last of Dieng in a Rovers shirt. He has been a breath of fresh air this season and deserves the praise he has received in recent months. Securing his services for next season would be as big a coup for the club as any potential new addition.