Doncaster Rovers v Cambridge United – Richie Wellens keen for Rovers to continue their growth

Doncaster Rovers are a “growing” team and on Saturday they chalked off a couple of important milestones but another is needed at home to Cambridge United this evening.

A 3-2 win over Cheltenham Town took Rovers off the bottom of the first League One table since it was meaningful, and was the first time they scored three goals under manager Wellens. Rodrigo Vilca and Joe Dodoo scored first league goals for them.

Next on the to-do list is first back-to-back wins since March.

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With lots still to do, there are signs of the patience Wellens needed starting to bear fruit.

Stoke City's Christian Norton and Doncaster Rovers' Kyle Knoyle compete for the ball. Picture: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

“We’re starting from rock bottom and it will continue to grow,” says Wellens, who inherited and ripped up a team in freefall in the second half of last season.

“We had a 10-minute spell at Ipswich where we weren’t devoid of confidence, it was just happening too quickly for us and I had two centre-halves suffering from potential concussion so we were all over the shop. Apart from that 10-minute spell, not one team has really outplayed us.”

The trouble is Wellens works in a results business and waiting for them can be hard for supporters understandably desperate to see their team do well now.

“My first interview at this club was about, ‘We want to get to the Championship, how far away are we?’” he recalls. “They’d won four times in 24 games so light years. But in three years’ time if I achieve what I want and we all pull in the same direction I believe we can get in the play-offs, then it’s a toss of a coin.

Doncaster Rovers' Richie Wellens. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“If I’m still here then, that’s where we’ll be. Now I’ve got to make decisions that will sometimes hurt me (in the short-term).

“The support I’ve had is the reason I wanted this job. I was talking to two other clubs and the remit here was top six. Top six this season was going to be very difficult and I was honest with them but in three years’ time we can do it.

“The club had been run on loan players, there wasn’t a great link between youth team and first team and loads of things like that.

“We wanted to get an identity back for Doncaster Rovers and I think Saturday was a Doncaster Rovers-type performance.”

Right-back Kyle Knoyle, back from suspension tonight, was part of a promotion-winning side at Cambridge last season.

“I believe we’re a squad that can be right up there,” he says. “In the early games results haven’t been there but performance-wise we’ve been better than the majority of teams we’ve played. There’s still more for us to give and that’ll be coming in the next few weeks.”

The adversity of a Covid-disrupted pre-season, followed by a demoralising start which saw an injury-ravaged squad take one point from their first six games should serve them well in the long-term, he feels.

“It’s not a case of if we come through, we’re definitely going to come through it and you’re definitely stronger for it,” he insists.

The way Doncaster allowed Cheltenham back into Saturday’s game showed there is plenty still to do. Wellens is a demanding manager, says Knoyle.

“When we need to be told it’s not been good enough, he’s telling us,” he says. “He’s an honest manager. You have to perform.”

In Wellens’s view: “Further down the line in our development (Saturday’s) game probably drifts a little bit at 3-0 up until about 82, 83 minutes and you nick an extra one because you’ve managed the game, they’re getting impatient, and you win 4-0,” said Wellens. “If you’re really lucky you might get one in the last couple of minutes.

“As soon as we scored the third we felt we’d got three points and now we’ve got something to lose.

“That’s three goals in three games we’ve conceded from a corner so people need to take responsibility. It’s having a belief that you are not going to get on the end of this, I’m going to make contact, I’m going to block your run, whatever it takes.”

They have to be more ruthless at the other end too, as Jordy Hiwula has been told.

“It looks great when someone’s doing six or seven step-overs - you need one step-over, half a yard of space, shoot,” says Wellens. “Be effective, don’t be a circus act. I firmly believe Jordy will get double figures this season but you have to get shots off.”

For all the talk of patience, Wellens sees a chance for quick progress.

“We’ve got a really good opportunity with a short space of time to our next game, another home game, to not continue the momentum but start building a lot of it,” he argues.

“It’s a long season. Within a week Cheltenham went from 12 to 18 points. If they’d beaten us on Saturday they would have been on 21 and thinking play-offs.”

Tommy Rowe will be given as much time as possible to recover from the nerve problem in his back which forced him off on Saturday, but Jon Taylor has been ruled out. Ben Close is also a doubt but Dan Gardner is fit.

Last six games: Doncaster Rovers WLLWLL; Cambridge United LDDDLD

Referee: A Haines (Tyne and Wear)

Last time: Doncaster Rovers 1 Cambridge United 0, August 16, 2016, League Two.