Has Fergie learnt anything from last season?
Let’s not sugar coat this, Fergie can consider his tenure at Doncaster Rovers last season as an absolute failure. With just 6 games gone last season the Rovers board acted swiftly to axe Paul Dickov and give the team a realistic chance to turn the season around and challenge for promotion, instead we start the season a division lower.
Ferguson is lucky to still be in employment at Doncaster Rovers, and surely he realises that if he fails to get the results this season then it is over for the Scotsman. Personally, I will not accept anything less than 100 points, the League Two title and Aaron Taylor Sinclair to make 0 appearances for the club.
Although this sounds like a task that would be quite difficult for a team that went 17 games without a win last season which included games against all but one of the bottom 8 teams in League One, Ferguson has been making the right noises during the off-season period by securing the return of Tommy Rowe and Gary McSheffrey on permanent deals (more on this later), bringing in Ross Etheridge and Mathieu Baudry from Accrington Stanley and Leyton Orient respectively. Young talent also enters the squad in the form of Joe Wright and Tyler Garratt, highly respected and accomplished players Matty Blair and John Marquis have also joined the ranks along with non-league star Alfie Beestin.
These additions coupled with the retention of most of the squad from last season has been enough for pundits and the bookmakers alike to tip Fergie’s men to challenge the likes of Portsmouth for the League Two title. Sadly however, I don’t share the same sense of optimism and I do have to question whether Fergie has learnt anything from the implosion of last season?
Before I go any further, I probably should point out that I’m not writing this as someone who was against Fergie’s appointment or the sacking of Dickov (Hello, Mark Hughes), no in fact I wrote an article before Fergie was announced highlighting that he would have been my choice as well. I truly and honestly expected Fergie to be the man to lead Doncaster Rovers out of the mediocrity of League One – which truth be told he did, he just lead us in the wrong direction.
Obviously Fergie has been talking the talk in pre-season, signed some decent players for this level, kept arguably (and I use that word with caution) our best player at the club in Andy Williams and has said what fans wanted to hear in press conferences and fans meetings etc., but all this is starting to look and feel a little bit like the last two seasons. Players more than capable were brought in, the manager (then a Mr Dickov) was saying the right things in press conferences but on each occasion we couldn’t do anything more than accept mid-table mediocrity.
The lack of pre-season games has not given fans much time to see the action on the pitch, but even with the recent additions and our new injuries in pre-season the squad still looks very bare in the middle of the park. The noises coming out of the club seem to suggest that we will be using a combination of entering the loan market and using our development and young players as a solution. On the face of it, it doesn’t seem a bad idea but I probably only need to mention the names of Mitchell Lund and Lyndon Gooch as evidence that these solutions can have calamitous effects if you don’t build strength in depth. I fear that if this backfires on Fergie (again) it will be a blunder that would make Aaron Taylor Sinclair blush and point towards a season languishing in mid-table (or worse) of League Two.
The decision to bring back both Tommy Rowe and Gary McSheffrey on permanent deals is in my opinion a dubious decision. Whilst both players did shine towards the end of last season let us not forget that they were shining in a squad that couldn’t defeat a Colchester side that hadn’t won at home for 6 months and were 1-0 down to the Rovers going into the break, or even a Crewe side already relegated. Put simply, Habib Bamogo and Harry Worley would have been able to play in that squad and leave with ratings of 7 or above.
Tommy Rowe is certainly a player who knows both Leagues One and Two very well, but he failed to light up Glanford Park when loaned to Scunthorpe last season before being loaned to us, his career has been on a downward spiral since suffering an injury and breaking his leg in late 2014. We have to question realistically whether his 14 games for us last season were the last bit of shine in a darkening bulb, or whether it is the reignition of his career. As a club that finished the season relegated and not a single player out of contract, you do have to wonder why we have taken such a gamble and given Rowe a 3 year contract.
Onto McSheffrey, again someone else who we signed as a result of feeding off the scraps of local rivals Scunthorpe United. McSheffrey probably knows his best days when at Coventry are behind him and regardless of whether we win promotion or not, I do believe this season will be the start of a new era for McSheffrey as his career will take him into the lower depths of non-league football where he will probably continue playing until the age of 45. One thing McSheffrey does highlight however, is just how much we have fallen as a club, if you had told me 5 years ago that our salvation would lie in Gary McSheffrey I’d have probably told you where to stick it.
Finally, Ferguson has told the press recently that Coppinger will remain team captain because “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. Now Harry Forrester (arguably our most technically gifted player last season) was shipped out for what I can only imagine was showing a lack of interest towards the manager. Curtis Main was dropped as a result of not making an impact after only a handful of sub appearances and made his way to Oldham and helped them to survive. Meanwhile, we watched our club suffer relegation despite being tipped to finish in the play-offs. We were relegated for the most part thanks to the run of 17 games without a win, now during this abysmal run we lacked character, fight and spirit, we needed a leader, a man to rise up from the ashes of defeat. When everyone looked at Coppinger to make the step from Club Legend to God amongst men his leadership proved as reliable as Aaron Taylor Sinclair.
Maybe these are the ravings of a madman. But whether or not come May we’ll be celebrating promotion, the pre-season has thus far proved that not everything is going to be as straightforward as Fergie had hoped. This season will undoubtedly have highs and lows. If Fergie manages to deliver he may earn himself a place in Rovers folklore. Should he fail however, then he will only have himself to blame.