The Verdict: Consolidation awaits for steady Rovers
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
On Tuesday, we gave our verdict on the 23 teams on the opposite side of the field this season, so today we look at how Rovers themselves can expect to fair back in League One.
In 2015/16, relegation crept up on DRFC through a miserable winless run after the turn of the year that Darren Ferguson, newly installed in the post at the time, couldn’t find a way to stop. Bemoaning a bloated squad lacking in quality, the additions of Tommy Rowe and Gary McSheffrey came too late in the campaign to save our skin, and in the end it was an embarrassing exit through the third tier trap door. But, almost as soon as the Burton fans streamed onto the pitch on the final day to celebrate going out of the division the right way, Fergie and the club set to work building a new Doncaster Rovers that would not let this happen again. Out went many of the spineless brigade from the relegation campaign, whilst others were marginalised, and in came a raft of signings that proved capable of completing the task at hand. Rowe signed permanently, along with Matty Blair, John Marquis, Mathieu Baudry and Jordan Houghton, among others, and with a new-look squad full of attacking verve and quality, Fergie succeeded in taking us straight back up.
Now with nearly two years at the helm under his belt, the manager knows exactly what to do to avoid repeating the mistakes of that season. A united squad with a winning mentality has been forged, and at time of writing all but one potential chink in the armour has been shored up (that of an additional centre half to cover Baudry’s injury). We have added to an already fine squad with a few seemingly astute additions and, despite missing out on some targets, we do appear to have created a solid squad depth consisting of seasoned pros, exciting young prospects and solid hands who can do a job. There is a settled feel to the club for the first time in years, arguably since the departure of Sean O’Driscoll as boss in 2011, and everyone from board through to coaching staff appear to be pulling in the same direction for Doncaster Rovers to hopefully go on and be successful over the next few years.
This morning two new players were announced as joining the club, one the Tunisian international Issam Ben Khemis, who has been on trial for the past several weeks and impressed in pre-season, along with Dutch youth international Rodney Kongolo. Kongolo, captain of the Manchester City U23s team despite being just 19 years of age, has come in on a six-month loan deal to fill the combative central midfield role that has been left vacant by the departures of Jordan Houghton and Paul Keegan, plus the injury setback suffered by Luke McCullough early in the summer. Overall Ferguson has brought in six new signings to date, along with tying down star striker John Marquis to a new long-term deal, leaving us to start the season with a 27-man senior squad, a good number that we should be happy with at this level, plus with the knowledge that there is room for one or two more additions between now and the end of August.
Ferguson has tinkered with two preferred formations in our pre-season fixtures, opting for the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 Diamond in equal measure, with varying degrees of success as was the case in League 2 last term. There is finally some solid depth to each area of the pitch, with only really room for one more centre half and potentially the return of the popular Houghton to play holding midfield. Here is how our depth chart looks at time of writing, with players in italics listed there as their secondary position:
GK: I. Lawlor, M. Marosi, L. Jones
FB: D. Andrew, N. Mason, C. Alcock, M. Blair, T. Garratt, T. Walker CB: M. Baudry, A. Butler, C. Alcock, J. Wright, R. Fielding
DM: B. Whiteman, L. McCullough, R. Kongolo, N. Mason, H. Middleton CM: T. Rowe, J. Coppinger, R. Kongolo, I. Ben Khemis, A. Beestin
W: M. Blair, A. Kiwomya, J. Coppinger, T. Rowe, W. Longbottom F: J. Marquis, A. Williams, L. Mandeville, A. May
As you can see, we have at least four options for every key area of the pitch and it can easily be argued that the quality through the depth of those options is better than it has been since we were last in the Championship, if not longer. Of the 27 players listed above, 20 have significant first team experience, whilst only goalkeeper Jones and defenders Walker and Fielding have pretty much no senior league minutes under their belt. Add in Houghton and/or a centre half, and the Rovers squad looks more than capable of sustaining a gruelling League One campaign, and it is fair to say that the assertions from top players like Marquis and Coppinger that we can push for a top six place are not without some merit.
All in all, barring a massive injury crisis, ITEN believes that we can expect to see Rovers consolidate their place in the division with a steady campaign, as there is plenty of quality in the squad albeit with less experience at this level than some comparable sides. Keeping the momentum going from our promotion last term is vital, particularly due to the nature of our collapse in 2015/16, and whilst a continued push for a Play-Off place is probably out of our reach for this year, a comfortable finish away from trouble in the upper echelon of midtable is the least we should hope for and feel able to achieve. With that in mind, ITEN is predicting a 10th place finish in League One in 2017/18, but we’d be delighted to be wrong so long as that meant us finishing even higher.
The time for talking, mercifully, is over now, with just two days until the big kick off. Check back in this weekend for analyis of the opening game against Gillingham, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself when you head back to the Keepmoat for some competitive football once again.
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