Paul Goodwin: Squad depth still a concern but top six is within Rovers’ reach

Key men like Paul Keegan must stay fit for Rovers to prosper.
Key men like Paul Keegan must stay fit for Rovers to prosper.

Can Doncaster Rovers go the distance?

They have the ability to beat anyone in League One on their day.

The first XI, on paper, is as good as anything in this division.

There is a belief in the dressing room that promotion is attainable.

All hallmarks of the season just gone; a season that ended so disappointingly.

The main concern going into the new campaign is the same too: is there enough strength in depth to mount a genuine promotion challenge? Have Rovers got enough in their ranks to see the job through this time?

Bar the defensive lapses against Wolves, this year’s pre-season build-up could not have been further from the almost farcical last minute preparations of the previous two campaigns. Paul Dickov’s men are in a good place both physically and mentally.

A quality over quantity recruitment policy should help Doncaster become a more difficult side to play against on a more consistent basis.

Thorsten Stuckmann has already shown plenty of promise, while you would expect Richard Chaplow and Andy Williams to come good with more game time.

For the majority of pre-season Rovers were well organised and inventive on the ball. There is a more settled feel about the team shape and tactics.

However, one of last term’s major flaws was the failure, or inability, to replace key men at key times - and it was something that caught up with Rovers in the end.

They missed the leadership and presence of Rob Jones during a shaky start, the energy and forward runs of Dean Furman during the Africa Cup of Nations and the defensive shield provided by Paul Keegan when their play-off bid went up in smoke.

And after a summer that has seen ten players with first team experience move on and currently six new players come in, the doubts about the squad’s depth (which also existed last season) still remain.

Heaven forbid, Williams gets injured.

Why no replacement for Reece Wabara?

And do Doncaster possess anyone else who can play the anchorman role quite like Keegan or the playmaker one like Wellens? Question marks remain.

The maths of the summer certainly makes one thing clear: it’s time for Rovers’ young players to become men. The likes of Mitchell Lund, Harry Middleton and Billy Whitehouse could all have important roles to play over the next nine months.

If they can quickly adapt to the rigours of League One, if Dickov can make clever use of the loan market, and perhaps most importantly, if Rovers can keep key men fit, this season does not have to be like last season.

They might need reinforcements along the way, but a top six finish is well within reach.

Prediction: 5th