Just a few weeks ago Richie Wellens warned Doncaster fans that they might have to ‘suffer’ as the club embarks on what could be something of a rebuild season.
A harsh reality that was illustrated in his side’s 2-1 opening day defeat to AFC Wimbledon as he was forced to hand out no fewer than 10 debuts.
And he still believes there will be more tough days to come as the redevelopment of the team continues.
“I’m really disappointed but we know where we are,” he said. “It’s a rebuild and there are going to be times when we have to suffer, as long as we suffer together and we’re going in the same direction, I am good with that.”
But for the time being he appears to have the backing of the fans, according to Adam Stubbings from Into the Empty Net at least, who believes their former player turn boss shouldn’t have to carry the can for the club’s failings in the transfer market.
You’ve said that Rovers had ’embarrassed themselves’ and their supporters on Deadline Day – why was it such a failure?
“If you’re asking me what I think is the embarrassing aspect of this, it’s our approach to the transfer window. We have scored one goal in seven games this season and everybody with working eyes has been able to see that the glaring issue is upfront.
“Our entire first-choice attacking forward line is injured – Fejiri Okenabirhie, Jon Taylor and new signing Jordy Hiwula – and the backup players are just not up to scratch. Yet we have hung on, and hung on, until the very last minute for certain players who have ultimately gone elsewhere.
“That has left us in the ridiculous position of scrambling around for alternative players with only hours to go in the window. Inevitably, it has meant a clerical error denied us the signing of Aiden O’Brien at the very close of play on Deadline Day, so we are left with no striker until January, which severely hamstrings Richie Wellens and his attempts to get the team going and off the foot of the table.
“The other position that we needed to strengthen was on the wing. We needed a creative player who can link with the strikers from out wide, and again had a target in the pipeline for weeks.
“That signing has been taken off the table on Deadline Day and we have had to pivot to a central attacking midfielder with very little senior experience, literally plucked from the bench of Newcastle’s U23s team at a Papa John’s Trophy game up at Sheffield Wednesday on the night.
“Rodrigo Vilca suddenly has a lot to live up to, and I fear the fans will expect too much of a young lad with no English league experience. It just compounded the day for many fans after the failure to secure the striker as well.”
What’s your assessment of the window in general?
“I think it was nearly a very good transfer window. Richie Wellens acted early to sort his defence out, and signed some very good players to fill important roles.
“Kyle Knoyle already looks like an upgrade at right-back, Tommy Rowe returning to the fold brings experience, versatility and commitment in droves, and Ben Close looks a deft midfielder who can make us tick. I think the loan signings are largely promising players at the top end of our range, so I expect good things out of Matt Smith from Arsenal and Pontus Dahlberg from Watford in particular.
“However, with such a big rebuild of the squad underway, it wasn’t enough to prioritise the defence and then leave ourselves struggling to finish it off by signing the right forwards.
“We’ve lost a lot of players from last season, most of whom I was happy to see go, but we failed to shift Omar Bogle and Ed Williams off the wage bill despite them clearly not being good enough (thanks again to Darren Moore for that) which has hamstrung us in our hunt for attacking reinforcements, unfortunately.”
The season has started poorly; where does the fault lie? With Wellens or the board, or both?
“I would absolve Richie Wellens of any and all blame, I actually feel sorry for him. The recruitment process that we seem to have in place is not up to scratch if you take the evidence of how badly this transfer window has ended for us.
“Rovers haven’t learned from past windows, where we’ve missed out on players who would make a big difference and had to settle for bargain bin replacements.
“That’s not to say I think we need a personnel change above the manager. We have a new recruitment guy, Graham Younger, who is officially titled as Talent Identification Manager, so it is rather early to be judging his work, and I think that the club’s CEO does his best to further the club.
“But I think some reflection is needed on the structure and approach to the footballing arm of things and I hope that the growing discontent amongst fans over how things have been handled this summer leads to that reflection finally taking place.”
You’ve said that Rovers’ ‘patched-up team’ are now resigned to a relegation battle – how do you assess your chances of survival?
“I’d like to think we can stay up, but the current injury crisis and lack of viable attacking options leaves us in a bind.
“If we had got the reinforcements we needed then I think we’d soon have shot up the table, but it will be hard to find the confidence to get moving now despite the best efforts of those we do have available.
“I think we have appointed a good manager in Richie Wellens, and have some really good players when fit, but whether we have a cohesive team that will be able to string wins together and pull ourselves clear of danger remains to be seen.”
The last three seasons have featured play-off chases – do you think you’re moving away from an era of vying for promotion? If so, why?
“It all depends on how the club responds to the mistakes made this summer. If they can rectify the processes that led to us missing out on key targets, then we can get into the right shape to challenge for a Play-Off place again.
“League One is extremely competitive now, there are a lot of big sides with very big resources and we will always be playing catch up to those sides so long as they are at this level.
“We need to aspire to what Wycombe, Luton and Rotherham have been able to do in recent years – maximise your resources, however limited, be shrewd in the market and develop players who can make a big contribution.
“It’s all easier said than done of course, but the building blocks are in place to be successful. If Richie Wellens stays long-term and is given the power to shape his vision for the squad, I have little doubt that we will get back to challenging for a top six place.
“But I’ll be surprised if it’s this season now, and Rovers fans may have to resign themselves to a couple of years of rebuilding and resetting before we come again to earn a place at the top of this division.”
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