Tag Archives: Paul Dickov

Tactics Page – Richie Wellens has been let down

tactics doncaster rovers
Richie Wellens legs have gone.  There, I’ve said it.  We were all thinking it.  He is now well into his 30’s and he is no longer the mobile midfielder who dominated games alongside Brian Stock and Paul Green in those halcyon days gone by and, worse still, he no longer effects game as he once did.

Richie Wellens is the best central midfielder at the club.  There, I’ve have said it and we were all thinking it too, though its no longer socially acceptable to say it.  His quality on the ball, passing and ball retention is better than any of his peers at Doncaster Rovers.  His legs have gone but he could still win us games if we were tactically more able to accommodate him.

Statistical analysis shows us that on average possession of the ball changes around 400 times a game an around 30% of regained possession in the opponents third of the pitch lead to a shot on goal.  It is simple to acquire statistics such as this, however the true meaning of statistical analysis in football is to find the truth behind the numbers and the relevance to one’s own cause.

In this example then the numbers can be assimilated to indicate that when Doncaster Rovers lose possession of the football,  James Coppinger, Harry Forrester and Richie Wellens should press their opponents as high up the pitch as possible. They are the talented ones, they are the ones who you want in possession of the ball in the opposition half so it stands to reason that this is where we should look to regain the football.
richie wellens drfc
It is simple to point to the way Barca have become the gold standard in pressing high up and turning over possession, this ethos has become the norm among most of the modern day elite.  Richie Wellens should be employed to do his work in advanced positions, not go box to box and not sit in front of the back four.  He cannot create chances, thread neat passes through to the front men and be effective from a starting position in his own third, he no longer has the mobility.  The issue is that because we do not have an effective holding midfielder alongside Wellens, nor an effective tactical approach. As a result he is persistently forced back in order to try to get a grip on a game.  This means we have no mobility going forward, and the back four are suppressed into areas deeper than even our leaden footed centre halves would prefer.  I have lost count of the number of times I have pleaded with the two banks of 4 to “get out” or to move 15 yards forward, and it all stems from the central midfield area, or what should be the engine room.  There is no point in Wellens acquiring possession on the edge of his own area, he can’t have an offensive impact from there.

Richie Wellens is what his is now – in the last third he is an effective mover of the ball and can hurt teams.  We have been asking him to be the central mdfielder of 8 years ago at which point he becomes another ‘also ran’ fading into the inadequacy around him. The team should play higher up the pitch, press higher up and we should employ a more effective and more mobile holding midfielder to get through more of Wellens running (Keegan is ok to a point and has been missed, but he is limited and against better more mobile teams he is found wanting).
wellens wembleyWellens has been tactically let down by Paul Dickov, as have the rest of the team who are regularly becoming less than the sum of their individual parts.   It’s easy to see why Wellens so regularly cuts such a frustrated figure in an increasingly rudderless Rovers midfield and why the opportunity for something else would be such a draw for a player who can still offer more than he is currently allowed.

Wellens has attracted a great deal of criticism from some quarters for considering voting with his feet. I for one could not blame him for refusing to accept a seemingly increasing culture within the club of mediocrity.

Paul Dickov – End of the road for Doncaster manager?

I wrote this piece last season for PopularSTAND fanzine.  Four months on i believe its words are as relevant now as then.  Following a pre season of ‘no distractions’ off the field (the excuse put forward for the last 2 seasons of mediocrity) we find ourselves having taken two steps back and with a centre back playing at right back, a left back who isn’t good enough to play left back installed as a right winger and one goal from open play (that was on purpose) in 5 games….

Here it is (from April 2015)


simeoneI caught a preview on the Champions League quarter final first leg between Madrid’s neighbours Athletico and Real on the radio the other day.  It contained a warning for the free flowing Galacticos as the European correspondent noted a genuine physicality to Athletico; advising that they seemed to become more aggressive with each derby – Real should steel themselves for a genuine battle. The reasoning behind this was clear and appeared so obvious it barely merited saying (though as often is the case with TalkSport, it was anyway) “Diego Simeone – well, he’s built a team in his own image hasn’t he?”

Throughout his illustrious playing days the Athletico manager was known for his aggression and strength in midfield.  He was a battler who would roll his sleeves up and fight, but when the battle was won, he could play as well.
It seemed reasonable to consider the virtues someone extolled as a player would constitute the bear minimum he’d expect as a manager?  Reasoning I couldn’t translate to the Rovers. Our own manager, nicknamed ‘The Wasp’ and ‘The Pest’ during his own playing career, was the kind of player you hated if he was playing against your team; throwing himself into challenges; full of commitment, energy and bite.  He could be awful on the pitch, a right pain in the arse, but no one could say he lacked the desire to win.  So why then, given these qualities are what personified his playing days, do they seem lacking from his own team so regularly?  I don’t think things are quite a simple as that, it’d be easier if it were, I think things are deeper than commitment; that should be a given at this level.  There is however, more crucially, a lack of direction from the dugout at present.

I’ve a confession to make: when Sean O’Driscoll was sacked I thought the correct decision had been made. I’m aware of other factors, ‘experiments’ and what not, but let’s look solely at football for now; I thought that on the pitch he’d lost his way, becoming almost obtuse in his team selection as he refused to change things which weren’t working and hadn’t worked for months.
Paul Dickov drfcThe difference between him and Paul Dickov is that he had his way and wouldn’t deviate from it.  Our current supremo hasn’t got a way and hasn’t displayed the finesse required to find one. He hasn’t had the conviction to hang his hat on a style or a system and go for it, instead lurching from one failure to the next. Occasionally a couple of draws and a win will see one fling extended but it won’t last. Concede space, two holding midfielders, one up top, two wide men, two up top… It’s dizzying.  Little wonder the players seem ponderous so regularly.

At home we seem happy to concede two thirds of the pitch when we lose possession then, should we reacquire the ball, seem content to sluggishly play it square before whacking it up field for whichever ill equipped forward has got the nod up front.  It does not work and it is mind numbing to watch. Surely at home there should be an obligation to at least try to be mildly entertaining?

Let’s be honest, League One is poor, as it was the last time we were here.  It doesn’t require too much free thinking to direct a side to compete at this level; a team has to work hard, be organised and mobile. Dean Saunders assembled a side which was just that: big and strong at the back, good delivery from wide positions with runners getting in and around an effective big man, and whilst it was not always great to watch, he ultimately delivered the Championship.

Whilst in the process of writing these words, the local papers have reported that Paul Dickov has conceded, “As the manager I have to put in place a system, or maybe two, that we’re going to stick to” whilst also appearing to have been reluctantly awakened to this void by one of his own senior players, further explaining to the Free Press, “I don’t want to elaborate on it too much, but I did have a long conversation with Copps”.

Publicly conceding the need for a philosophy, a style of play and a direction for his team, comes as a startling admission and suggests prior to this he has had neither. This begs a important question – what have we been doing for the last 21 months then?

The recruitment is just as baffling.  Why, when your holding midfielder is injured do you bring in a forward from Rotherham?  Why sign people like Razak, Ikpeazu and Clarke-Harris who have offered nothing, when we have gained less than if these opportunities had been afforded to our own promising youngsters (especially given the development of youth was an important part of the ethos identified at board room level this summer).  Recruitment should be better, with players acquired to do a specific job, in a specific system, not simply because they are the best available at any one time.

If we had an identity; a way of playing and stuck to it, I’d find things far more palatable. Over a season you see which areas needs improving, who’s not up to it. The players settle into familiar roles and the individual parts become the whole. Over time, a direction emerges and, dare we dream, things improve.  We should be pressing high up the pitch and not surrendering the majority of it.  We should be playing at a high tempo; working hard and controlling games in our own back yard, using the quality we have to dictate games, playing on the front foot and giving the supporters something to get behind.

tactics boardTwo years on, that for me is the unacceptable element to Paul Dickov’s reign. Building for the future with kids, realistic budgets, sensible expectations are all things I can buy into but a team without identity is one I cannot.  What is the Dickov style? How do his team’s play? I still don’t know and, to be honest, I’m growing increasingly weary of waiting to find out and maybe the same could be said for him.  The way that gates are beginning to decline, I’d wager I’m not the only one losing patience with boring, directionless football.

Rightly or wrongly, O’Driscoll paid the price for sticking to his philosophies, something I can’t help looking back on admiringly, especially now, and by rights, Dickov should be on borrowed time because he still hasn’t one of his own.

For the record, Athletico delivered the kind of performance TalkSport’s expert suggested they would.  Even star striker Mario Mandzukic left the field bloodied and battle wearied.  Whether they progress following the second leg in the Bernabéu is up to the footballing gods, but how they will play is much more clear.  Like the other top teams, they will play their way, not least because they have a manager who will accept nothing less.


Check out PopularSTAND here, and better still treat yourself to a copy next issue on the 3rd October v Barnsley.

Is Paul Dickov really the man for a Doncaster Rovers return?

doncaster roversI was sitting bored, like many before me, a number of hours into an aeroplane journey. I’d read a newspaper, watched a couple of movies and listened to some music, but now I was bored. Bored of doing nothing. We’d hit a little turbulence so the familiar seatbelt signs were in operation and even a trip to the toilet was off the table. The plane rocked gently from side to side and with more nervous energy than I’d like to admit I explored my seat for something of a distraction. I settled, somewhat underwhelmed, for the airlines generically cheesy inflight entertainment magazine in the hope that it would distract me from the planes increasingly forceful agitation.
I flicked through the pages of adverts interspersed with scandals bad gossip before coming across an interview with Ronnie O’Sullivan. The world championships were due to start shortly in Sheffield so snooker was relevant enough for Virgin to speak to its premier exponent.
The article proved to be a decent read with one of sports enigmas, and one of O’Sullivans answers stuck with me long after the plane had landed and luggage had been claimed. He said that for a number of years during his early career he never really achieved much, certainly not what he was capable of. He said that from playing against, and losing to Stephen Hendry, the man who’s crown he would go on to take in the following years, he was able to see first hand that the difference between Hendry, a true winner, and the rest of the field was that when a match got down to its crucial frames were the pendulum could swing one way or another, Hendry changed his approach and played aggressive snooker, taking on risky pots and forcing the issue against his opponent. When the going got tough, Hendry went for it and O’Sullivan suggests it was the acquiring of this attitude that changed him from potential great, to the best there’s ever been. It stuck with me because I was surprised that someone with such natural talent, so far above his compatriots in terms of ability, considers the crucial caveat to success to be that of attitude and a mental approach to winning.

When Doncaster Rovers went to Leicester on the final day of the 2014 season the season was well and truly in the final frame. The only certain thing was that if they won, Rovers would be safe and avoid relegation from the Championship. Anything less would depend on results elsewhere.

Paul Dickov drfcI must admit that I was a little surprised when Paul Dickov’s teamsheet arrived and showed his side would line up with 5 at the back, with Lucas Neill as a sweeper.
I was even more surprised with this when I saw Leicester had gone with Nugent (a striker who has many pluses to his game, but blistering pace is not one of then) and Phillips (a man who was playing his last game before retiring at 40 Years of age and had never had any pace during any of his 20 previous seasons) up front, hardly threatening to run in behind a back line to bring a sweeper into play.
Anyway, the parking of the bus was understandable to a degree. Keep it all square then if results are going against us have ‘a right go’ late on. That was clearly the plan.
The problem was it was the plan of a side with the worst away record in the league and how often have we all seen similar performances from a team who defend doggedly before falling behind only to find the die is cast for the game and the ability to change tempo and direction is never really viable.
Still it was Paul Dickov’s plan and but for a dodgy penalty or a lump of injury time in Lancashire it would’ve worked, but I can’t help think it would’ve been more through luck than judgement. The truly baffling things happened after we fell behind. 15 minutes to go and we are 1-0 down. We might’ve well have lost 10-0 as 1-0 as in each possible outcome in the relegation lottery, that was fact and was known before the game. 0 points meant 0 points and we had the worst goal difference of them all so the moment Nugent’s penalty hit the net was the moment the bus needed to crank up the gears and get moving. We needed a goal at this point, one goal as a minimum and what was the response from the bench? Nothing.
Nothing for 7 minutes when with 8 minutes of the season remaining Dickov replaced the left back. With another left back. Even now the dust has settled, I cannot comprehend that decision. Assuming Husband wasn’t fit to continue there was still already 3 other fullbacks already on the pitch. Why not throw on a forward and change things at the back? It makes no sense to me to make such a short sighted and naive decision at such a crucial time (one which ultimately denied us the opportunity to have Theo Robinson on the pitch, the only player we have with any pace). Indeed it was not until 2 minutes later, with only 6 minutes remaining that two forwards were introduced.
In a game we needed to get something out of, we managed 2 shots on target.

The most frustrating thing of it all is that it feels as though we went down with a whimper. Not just on the final day but from winning at Leeds in March and being almost safe (we were 8 points clear of relegation at that point. I was almost confident), we managed only 1 point from the remaining 7 games and scored only 4 goals in the process. Going down from such a strong position at the end of March is the most unpalatable thing of all.
Certainly we can point to key injuries at key times, a small squad, financial disparity, terrible refereeing decisions regularly dished out to ‘small’ teams but there is also a lack of tactical guile which punctuated the season.
Rovers conceded the first goal 26 times this season in games which went on to yield 1 win, 3 draws, and 22 defeats. There was too often no plan B from the bench and too often games slipped us by with a familiar sense of inevitability.

Should the responsibility rest with the manager? Yes.

Should he be sacked just because he couldn’t keep Doncaster in the Championship? No, even Stevie Wonder could’ve seen it was a tough ask.

Is the run of form from March, and 1 point from 21 acceptable? No, absolutely not.

I am sure he is a genuine, hard working guy. There is enough evidence to suggest the players play for him and the dressing room is a settled enough place. Paul Dickov’s tenure has seen some astute signings (Sharp, Meite, Wellens, Tamas et al are all from good stock) and he was notably given the financial backing from the board to do so. There does remain however a huge question mark over his tactical nous. Ultimately he has been lacking all season in this crucial area. Granted however, it’s easy to be tactically astute when your sides better than the opposition and the simple fact is we haven’t been good enough.

I only hope that one can learn how to be a better tactician. God knows there have been enough lessons throughout this season for him to be going on with. Mr O’Sullivan has shown us albeit in a different sport, that it’s possible to work out how to win matches through losing them. Hope springs eternal, especially for a Rovers fan, but I still can’t help but think if Ronnie O’Sullivan had picked the team at Leicester the final frame, and the final reckoning might’ve been very different.

Doncaster Rovers Manager History

Doncaster Rovers managers
A definitive list of all those to take the hot seat at Doncaster Rovers from the 20’s to present day.  Doncaster Rovers manager;

Arthur Porter 1920-21

Harry Tufnell 1921-22

Arthur Porter 1922-23

Dick Ray 1923-27

David Menzies 1928-36

Fred Emery 1936-40

Bill Marsden 1944-46

Jackie Bestall 1946-49

Peter Doherty 1949-58

Jack Crayston 1958-59

Jackie Bestall 1959-60

Norman Curtis 1960-61

Danny Malloy 1961-62

Oscar Hold 1962-64

Bill Leivers 1964-66

Keith Kettleborough 1966-67

George Raynor 1967-68

Lawrie McMenemy 1968-71

Morris Setters 1971-74

Stan Anderson 1975-78

Billy Bremner 1978-85

Dave Cusack 1985-87

Dave Mackay 1987-89

Billy Bremner 1989-91

Steve Beaglehole 1991-93

Ian Atkins 1994

Sammy Chung 1994-96

Kerry Dixon 1996-97

Dave Cowling 1997

Mark Weaver 1997-98

Ian Snodin 1998-99

Steve Wignall 1999-01

Dave Penney 2001-06

Sean O’Driscoll 2006-11

Dean Saunders 2011-13

Brian Flynn 2013

Paul Dickov 2013 – 2015

Darren Ferguson 2015 – present


Doncaster Rovers manager history