Key player: Fejiri Okenabirhie
Like last season, much of Doncaster’s attacking play may run through, and be to the benefit of, Fejiri Okenabirhie. He’s had to work hard to reach this point. Failing to make the grade at Arsenal, he joined the youth ranks at Stevenage and had various non-league loans at the likes of Farnborough and Royston Town. He eventually established himself as a Football League striker at Shrewsbury, before joining Doncaster for an undisclosed fee back in January 2020.
Last season he really came into his own. Nobody at the club managed more than his 18 goal contributions (14G, 4A) last season, and some Argyle fans may remember him scoring a consolation goal at Home Park back in October. He also missed a sitter in that game, so perhaps his finishing isn’t what it could be.
Still, he’s 25 now and perhaps beginning to reach his prime. If he hits the ground running this season, big things may await for the Hendon-born striker.
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Manager: Richie Wellens
It’s been a rollercoaster few years for 41-year-old Wellens. Having retired from professional football in 2017, he swiftly took up a coaching position at Oldham, for who he had two spells as a player. It wasn’t long until he took up the manager’s role following John Sheridan’s umpteenth departure from the club. It wasn’t to be a successful tenure. In fact, Oldham’s subsequent relegation saw Wellens leave the club before a full year in the role.
He joined Swindon midway through the 2018-19 season, and despite starting with a 4-0 defeat, he managed to steer his side to a comfortable 13th-place finish. Better was still to come. Many Argyle fans will remember the promotion battle with Wellens’ Swindon in 2019-20. In the end, both sides went up, but it was the Robins who did so as champions on points per game at the end of a truncated season.
That high was followed by another low for Wellens. Given Swindon’s struggles away from the field, it was no surprise that he wanted to leave with his stock high. However, Salford proved to be a poor career move. He did manage to guide them to victory in the delayed EFL Trophy final – a title they held for a whole 24 hours as the 2020 and 2021 finals were held on back-to-back days – however with some indifferent league form he was dismissal just 139 days into the role.
He’ll be grateful to have been given another shot at League One with Doncaster, but the pressure will be on to deliver.
Creator: Tommy Rowe
Tommy Rowe was another player who featured in our list of potential free agent signings on the wing following his release from Bristol City this summer. In the end, however, he was always likely to jump at the chance to rejoin Doncaster. The 32-year-old, who made 144 appearances during his previous spell at the Keepmoat Stadium, brings with him the ability to play on either side of midfield whilst also being very capable at left back.
He’s generally operated as a winger since coming through the academy at Stockport, and made his biggest impression at Peterborough, making 199 appearances in all competitions. A move to Wolves proved a step too far, and he had loans at Scunthorpe and later Doncaster, who he would join permanently in 2016. He rejected a new deal to have another shot at the Championship in Bristol two years ago, but finds himself back in Doncaster ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.
He’s been dropping further back into defence as the year has gone on, but he still has the ability to be a useful creative option, particularly at League One level.
Key signing: Ro-Shaun Williams
More talented players may exist on Doncaster’s list of incomings this summer than Ro-Shaun Williams. However, he could prove to hold the key to the side’s success this season due to the holes he has the potential to plug.
See, Rovers had a dismal end to the 2020-21 season, going from potential play-off contenders at one stage to being forced to settle for 14th place by the end of the season. Much of that was down to the defence.
Doncaster’s attack wasn’t necessarily bad in their run-in – even during an awful last twelve they still managed to average a goal every game. However, they were always left in the lurch by a defence that manage to keep two clean sheets in 15 as the season drew to a close.
Williams may provide the answers. Rovers already have Tom Anderson and Joe Wright, who were near ever-present in the heart of their defence last season. But adding 22-year-old Williams provides some much-needed competition whilst also offering an option at right back when required. He could be just what Wellens needs to get his side back on track.
Doncaster’s season is one of the harder ones to predict. In theory, Wellens looks a shrewd appointment, particularly given his successes at Swindon when they weren’t a mess off the field. However, it’s worth noting that Wellens has had difficulties succeeding away from the County Ground, and whilst Doncaster feels like an ideal fit, there is no guarantee of immediate success.
Losing Reece James to Blackpool is a blow, but Doncaster seem to have recruited well, bringing in the likes of Ben Close and Jordy Hiwula to go alongside Williams and Rowe. Add that to the talents of Okenabirhie, and Rovers may well feel internally they have a decent shot at aiming for the play-offs this year. Granted, they had a poor end to last season, but many of those games were played in empty stadiums with nothing on the line, and much has changed since then.
However, with some big clubs set to challenge at the top end of the league, a place in the top half may be a more realistic target. It’d still mark progress from last year, would be Wellens’ highest ever finish as a manager, and would give them a great platform to launch a real promotion assault in 2022-23.
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