Leicester City v Doncaster Rovers: Wellens intends to justify decision to stay put

MENTION to Richie Wellens that he could have been concerning himself with far more pleasurable Championship business today if he so wished and chances are you will receive a wry smile.

Richie Wellens.
Richie Wellens.

Instead of aiming for the sunnier climbs of the Premier League with QPR – not exactly in Bermuda shorts at Barnsley today but waiting for the real stuff to begin with their play-off berth and position already secured – Wellens is fighting fires elsewhere.

In Leicester, to be precise and while his old club will be popping the champagne corks and having a party come what may at the final whistle when they are presented with the Championship title, his current employers, Doncaster Rovers, could be having a wake.

Just like on the final day 12 months ago, Rovers’ season has boiled down to 90 mad minutes, as it did at Brentford at the end of a crazy 2012-13 campaign.

This time, the South Yorkshire outfit aim to be celebrating safety not promotion, which Wellens may well have been hailing some time this Spring if he had elected to join Harry Redknapp’s Rangers early in the New Year.

The Mancunian midfielder might be comfortably into his 30s, but age is proving no barrier.

He would walk into most Championship sides – why would Redknapp have attempted to sign a player not far shy of his 34th birthday if not ? – and is one of the biggest single reasons why Rovers find themselves scrapping for their lives this lunch-time.

It is no coincidence that in the absence of Wellens, Rovers ‘best player’ in the words of Paul Dickov, they have plunged into freefall, losing five out of six matches in April, a month in which he was blighted by a foot problem, starting just one game before succumbing to injury.

Thankfully, Wellens, while not quite 100 per cent fit, is available for today’s crunch game and while the pain of his injury has left him feeling sore, it has not been half as excruciating as watching Rovers’ season unravel as a helpless bystander.

It could have been oh so different especially if he had headed south to join Redknapp.

Wellens told The Yorkshire Post: “It might not look a good decision at this moment in time, but it will if we stay up. To be fair, since January, they (QPR) have dropped a little bit.

“It was a difficult one, but at my age, the most important thing is my family and I didn’t want to be stuck in London on my own.

“Obviously at Doncaster, this is our careers on the line at the minute and no-one likes a relegation on their CV.

“I’d imagine all the players might have a cut in their wages which can have an impact on their family lives with the financial situation if it happens. I don’t think we deserve to be in this situation, to be honest. We should easily be mid-table...”

On what he readily admits has been one of the toughest months of his career, he added: “It’s been pretty frustrating really.

“When we came back in the changing rooms after beating Leeds (on March 29), we thought ‘eight points with seven games to go’ and even if we could sneak four more points it would be enough.

“For me, it’s been so hard being injured and watching the team knowing we are one win away and just can’t get that win.

“I have been in sides going into the last day needing a result to get into the play-offs. But I have never been involved on the last day with a team who might get relegated, so this is a new experience.

“The manager has never been under pressure throughout the season and a few games ago it looked like we’d finished 17th or 15th or something, which would have been a good stepping stone to build on for next season. It’s just these last six games which have been awful.

“The Charlton situation was also a total farce and if we’d had those three points, we’d be safe.

“The whole situation was a disgrace with the groundstaff not making any attempts to get the water off the pitch. If it had been the other way around and Charlton were winning 3-1, you would have seen their groundstaff getting all that water off the pitch...”

It is a time of the season when managers who roll the dice can be spectacularly rewarded or otherwise, although any Rovers fan will say Wellens is worth the risk.

The quirks of football fixture fate are such that this lunch-time the schemer lines up against the side where he spent four seasons and was well regarded by supporters, winning the player of the year award in 2010-11.

Wellens is pleased his former club have clinched promotion to the top flight, while crossing his fingers that a touch of intensity might be missing from their play with silverware in the bag and a party in the offing.

On the other hand, the game assumes cup final proportions for Rovers and Wellens added: “For us, we have get in our minds that it’s a play-off final to stay in this league.

“Leicester have been promoted for a fair few weeks and we hope the intensity may have gone out of their game. They deserve a well-earned break as they have done great this year. Hopefully, their break starts before Saturday and we can take advantage.

“But they are the best team in the league and it’s going to be difficult, no matter what.

“They probably will be aiming for 100 points. But is 100 points important next season? Teams next season won’t be saying they are playing the side who got 100 points, but the team who won the Championship. They are the main things, winning the league and getting promoted.

“It’s just a number. If they were playing for the all-time record points total, then great...

“Looking back, I had five years there and the last was clouded by me having a major injury I couldn’t recover from. But I still look at it as a successfull spell.”