Summer Squad Overhaul : Part 1
Relegation confirmed, Doncaster Rovers will start next season in League Two. That fact has been coming for a while, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Now we must look forward to what needs to be a tilt at promotion from the fourth tier in 2016/17, and the only way we can achieve that is by assembling a squad worthy of challenging.
To do that, there must be a large turnover of players from the squad that has led us through the League One trapdoor. Here I take a look at who should stay and who should go, and despite my extensive scouting knowledge amounting to having read one book on the subject (Michael Calvin’s The Nowhere Men, a highly recommended read) I am also going to take a look at some potential signings to fill the gaps as Darren Ferguson gets set for a busy summer of rebuilding. Today defence gets the focus, and later this week I will tackle our needs in midfield and attack.
Between the Sticks
Our last line of defence, the goalkeeper, has been a problem area ever since Gary Woods usurped Neil Sullivan for the #1 jersey in Sean O’Driscoll’s tenure at Doncaster Rovers. Finding a consistent and talented goalie has been something of an impossible task, and this season saw us run through several once again. Thorsten Stuckmann, the big German, started the season as our first choice but lost his place after suffering an injury, first to Port Vale loanee Chris Neal and then after a shaky spell upon his return, to Remi Matthews who was brought in from Norwich for the run-in. Both of those players have now departed leaving Stuckmann and Marko Marosi as our only keepers on the books. It appears as though neither has a future at the club, with Stuckmann left out of the squad entirely for the final day draw with Burton and reportedly told to find a new club, whilst Marosi was not trusted to fill the BFG’s sizeable shoes when injured, and is one of the only members of the squad now out of contract.
GO: Marko Marosi, Thorsten Stuckmann
As far as potential replacements go, we need a goalkeeper with pedigree in the lower leagues, experience and crucially, the ability to command his back line. Too often we saw Stuckmann unable to do this, too slow to take charge of situations in the penalty area and unable to adapt to changing situations in games. York’s Scott Flinders has been mooted by some fans, but plays in a side relegated in miserable fashion to the National League this season, whilst Yeovil’s Artur Krysiak could be another option. Only champions Northampton can boast a keeper with more clean sheets in 2015/16, and Krysiak may be tempted to a more upwardly mobile club after a season of struggle down in Somerset. He also has age on his side and has played regularly for Exeter in League’s One and Two in seasons prior to joining Yeovil. Looking further up the pyramid, Chris Kirkland has just been let go by Preston, but Fergie may opt to scour the upcoming Premier League retained lists to try and find another keeper in the ilk of Remi Matthews.
The biggest problem area at the club has for some time been the defence. Paul Dickov failed to address the problems here last summer and Darren Ferguson then followed him in ignoring these glaring deficiencies in the January transfer window, opting instead to bring in untested Premier League youth team midfielders. Rob Jones departed the club around the same time but in truth wasn’t much of a help on the pitch anyway by that point, but right across the back line, be it consisting of 3, 4 or 5 defenders, we were woefully short and paid the price. Andy Butler is perhaps the best of the central defensive core, an experienced pro from the town whose commitment can never be questioned. Whilst he lacks certain technical attributes he is still a worthwhile player to have available and should have little problem coping in League Two.
Luke McCullough is a bit of a conundrum for Fergie however. Too slow and arguably too short to cope with many of League One’s centre forwards, McCullough finally excelled when moved forward to play in the holding role in front of the back four during the run-in. His footballing abilities have never been in question, and he is not a regular selection for the Northern Ireland squad for no good reason, but he is unreliable in the back four. Whether his ability would make up for this in League Two remains to be seen, but the other problem we have is that McCullough is one of the few saleable assets at the club and may attract suitors for his signature particularly if he is selected to go to the European Championships by Michael O’Neill. Our remaining central pairing are Gary Mackenzie, a complete waste of a signing by Dickov last summer that has barely had a look in since a ridiculous red card at Sheffield United in September, and youth graduate Ben Askins who is out of contract.
One of the few good moves Ferguson has made in the transfer market since joining is the signing of Craig Alcock, who played under the manager at Peterborough and won our Player of the Year award despite only joining in November. Deployed at centre half for much of the campaign, Alcock is better in the natural right back position but is adept at both and is somebody that needs to be considered a guaranteed starter come August. With him as our right sided option along with Mitchell Lund we are set up okay in this position – Lund signed a new contract earlier this year and will only benefit from the drop to League Two as he continues to learn the game and improve.
On the other side, Cedric Evina’s days appear to be numbered but, whilst guilty of many defensive lapses in his two years in the hoops, he has a tremendous upside and is a threat going forward. If his wages are not too hefty it would be worth keeping him as we craft a squad to challenge at the top. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has shown himself to be another failed Dickov signing, capable of one good game every ten or so and completely lacking in any kind of mental faculty needed to be a professional footballer. Unfortunately ATS suffered a serious knee injury against Burton and reports suggest he may now be out until January with a torn ACL. Whilst I have been vocally very critical of him in recent months and do not believe he is good enough to play for the club, I am sad to hear his career has been halted by such a bad injury and hope he reaches full fitness again. This also means it is highly likely ATS will remain for next season, as no club is going to sign a man laid up until next year.
STAY: Craig Alcock, Andy Butler, Cedric Evina, Mitchell Lund, Luke McCullough
GO: Ben Askins, Gary Mackenzie, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair
If the five players listed above remain from our defence this season, that leaves us needing to find a new first choice left back as well as two centre halves, particularly as McCullough seems more suited to a midfield role and may end up being poached by another club anyway. Last week Rochdale released Rhys Bennett, a versatile centre back who was a regular in a very good League One side until a couple of months ago. Bennett’s former team mate Niall Canavan has also been let go by parent club Scunthorpe, whilst the club have been linked to promising Mansfield defender Ryan Tafazolli, and I also like the look of Forest Green centre back Charlie Clough, who may be poachable after they missed out on promotion yesterday. In this position Rovers need to find players with aerial presence and pace, because Butler is not the quickest and Alcock is on the small side. At left back, Rovers could try to be ambitious and tempt someone like David Edgar to join – another versatile defender who spent the majority of this season in a top half League One side – or look in the opposite direction and snap up Luton’s Jake Howells.
Halfway there, check back later this week for my analysis of the rest of the squad, those all important midfield and attacking options, featuring club captain James Coppinger who, on this day in 2008, immortalised himself in Rovers folklore by scoring a sublime hattrick against Southend in the Play Offs to send us to Wembley.
Still the best individual display I’ve ever seen live. A special player in a brilliant team.