Doncaster Rovers: Why Richie Wellens ‘deserves a break or two’

AT least Richie Wellens has been here before with Doncaster Rovers. Although that is where the similarity probably ends.

Richie Wellens, manager of Doncaster Rovers. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
Richie Wellens, manager of Doncaster Rovers. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

A technically gifted midfielder whose bravery to take the ball in tight situations marked him out from the crowd in his golden first playing stint at Rovers, Wellens was part of a Doncaster line-up who endured a wretched run of results in the opening third of the 2008-09 Championship season.

There are parallels, at least in terms of the league table, to the current position of Rovers, now managed by Wellens, of course.

Back in 08-09, Doncaster won just two of their first 16 league games and were effectively eight points adrift of safety at one stage when they propped up the table.

Doncaster Rovers' John Bostock gets a helping hand from Lewis Wing after being on the losing side at Sheffield Wednesday. Picture: Steve Ellis

Throughout that time, there was calm from Sean O’Driscoll and his players when many may have expected panic to pervade.

Their fervent belief that their pure footballing performances – at a time when Rovers did indeed play some eye-catching stuff but lacked ruthlessness in both boxes – would eventually yield results proved well placed.

Rovers ended the season in 14th, showing play-off form from Christmas onwards and gloriously playing their way out of trouble.

Whereas that side was blessed with some outstanding players who were innately confident in their ability to turn things around on the pitch, the team which Wellens is now leading has many more questions surrounding it in their quest to haul themselves off the foot of League One.

He has not had much luck so far in having to contend with an ill-timed early-season injury crisis and significant Covid issues which hit Rovers far worse than most in the lower divisions.

Purse strings have also been tightened after the best part of 18 months without paying customers while Wellens has also paid the price for previous mistakes in the transfer market that were not under his watch. More especially in January with the signings of two comparatively big-names in John Bostock and Omar Bogle impacting upon his budget.

As for the hope? After a grim time of it on home soil, the fact that Rovers have won their last two league matches in front of their own fans is progress, although few are saying that mighty oaks will grow out of small acorns.

It’s at least a start and the fact that Rovers are just three points behind the two teams just outside of the relegation zone is a result of sorts, given the extent of what they endured in a fraught start to the season when almost everything that could go wrong did.

Should Doncaster somehow pull themselves out of bother, evidence suggests that home form will play a big part in it.

Fixture scheduling has already seen Doncaster call in at four sides tipped to be in the promotion shake-up next Spring in Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan and Ipswich and a surprise package in Plymouth.

Back-to-back road trips to opposite ends of the country in Ipswich and Plymouth proved brutal in every way and along with Peterborough, Rovers are the only side in the top four divisions yet to pick up an away point.

Inspection of their forthcoming league matches, certainly after their next game at home to Wycombe, offers fewer excuses.

Doncaster host teams currently in the bottom half of the division in Cheltenham, Cambridge, Fleetwood and Lincoln and visit Gillingham and Charlton, who have also started slowly.

It looks to be a definitive spell and Wellens will be savvy enough to realise that with his players needing to finally come of age. The Rovers chief will also be streetwise enough to recognise that after two six-goal beatings already this term, he probably cannot afford another heavy defeat in the next few months either.

The punishment could well be too much and prove a tipping point even among his loyalists.

For Doncaster to pull away from danger, they will need to show a stronger mentality and better game management over a consistent basis, allied to an ability to take chances when they come along in a side which doesn’t look blessed with goals.

Rovers scored just once in their opening six league matches and their tally of six goals is the worst in the division. As is their total of just two goals in the first half of League One matches.

The scheduled return of Jon Taylor and Fejiri Okenabirhie later this month will hopefully do something about that at a time when Joe Dodoo and Jordy Hiwula will also have no excuses about not being fully up to speed either.

Finding a tough side will also be key. Rovers have not come from behind to win a league match since November and they have also taken the lead in three games already this term but lost.

It points to a lack of leadership in the post-Ben Whiteman world.

At least, events in the past week has been a tad more encouraging.

Last weekend’s win over MK Dons came just four days after Rovers’ brutal 6-0 loss at Ipswich, which Wellens labelled as his ‘darkest moment’ as a manager.

It clearly showed that his players are all behind him and had merit. If anyone deserves a break or two, it’s surely Wellens.