If ever there was a game to highlight just how invaluable a certain Richie Wellens can be - then Stevenage was it.
For Championship side Doncaster were on the receiving end of a 3-2 ‘giant killing’ at the hands of League One Boro, a match where the gaping Wellens void was clear for all to see.
The 33-year-old is currently a free agent following the conclusion of his short-term deal with Doncaster.
And QPR are rumoured to be in the mood for a January swoop to snatch the former Leicester City midfielder away from Rovers.
However, manager Paul Dickov - who said he was ‘raging’ following the ‘inept’ display by his side in the Stevenage defeat on Saturday - was adamant Wellens wants to stay with Doncaster and had spoken to the stand-in skipper on the morning of the FA Cup third round defeat.
When Wellens is on the ball, Rovers are a different team.
He makes the side tick, he links up play expertly, he’s coolness personified on the ball and he’s direct - something that was missing in Doncaster’s performance as the 3,899 support watched Darius Charles come off the bench and score a 90th minute match-winner to make it 3-1 before Liam Wakefield’s looping effort at the death.
With an FA Cup exit to League One opposition now the reality for Dickov’s men, alongside 13 league defeats and a position which sees them languishing in the relegation zone, it’s obvious that the natives are getting restless.
The good thing is, so is Dickov.
The Scotsman told reporters after Saturday’s loss that he would not stand for that type of performance, one which lacked any kind of intensity that they displayed against high-flying QPR three days previously.
Dickov also said he’s not afraid to ship players out to get others in.
The first ‘in’ on his list has to be Wellens.
Changes need to be made, there’s no doubt about that. Players need competition and with the lengthy injury list, at the moment maybe the fierce competition isn’t quite there.
However, despite a dour display against Graham Westley’s Boro, there are still some positives to take from the game.
Mark Duffy can be a game-changer on his day. His first half was admittedly better than his second but he was one of the most direct players who wanted to hit the byline and get the ball into the box.
More work does need to be done on the final ball, but the signs are there.
Dave Syers was back in the frame. His recall from Scunthorpe United was obviously on the back of Wellens’ absence but he is another young, bright talent who now has the chance to stake his claim.
Then there were the introductions of Harry Forrester and Billy Paynter.
That double substitution gave Rovers and their fans a lift and boos from the crowd turned to cheers when a Forrester thunderbolt in the 72nd minute brought the game back to 2-1.
However, yes, I agree that a performance like the one on Saturday is unacceptable. The manager knows that and so do the players.
Prior to kick-off I’m sure most Rovers fans expected a win. Afterall, they were playing against a lower division opposition who were in a similar boat to Doncaster league-wise.
But this was the FA Cup.
Anything can happen - just ask York City fans to rewind back to the 1995-96 season when they thumped Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford in the League Cup. The Red Devils later went onto win the Premier League and FA Cup double that season.
Now, obviously I’m not saying that Rovers will go on to win the league, however, cup upsets do happen. It just so happens that it’s occurred at a time when confidence in the club as a whole has arguably dipped since the departure of chairman John Ryan.
I repeat, I agree that performances like the one against Stevenage cannot happen again.
Forgive me now for going back through the turmoil of Saturday but here goes...
Following a dour first half which lacked any sort of punch, Stevenage shaded proceedings in terms of possession.
They soon turned that pressure into the opening goal when appeals for offside were waved away and a Paul Quinn slip allowed Francois Zoko time to pick his spot and slot past Ross Turnbull.
Rovers were on the ropes as Westley’s men tried to double their advantage with a couple of half chances before a bullet header from Peter Hartley saw Dickov’s outfit trail 2-0.
The disapproving murmurs rumbled around the stadium as their fans were staring down the barrel of an FA Cup third round exit, however, a superb Forrester goal allayed the disappointment momentarily.
But a devastating counter-attack culminating in a Charles match-winner was enough to send Boro into the hat for the next round and a last-gasp Wakefield effort not enough as Doncaster were left to pick up the pieces.
Turnbull was later lucky to still be on the pitch when he clattered into Michael Doughty in the final stages of the game as Boro were on the attack.
But overall, Stevenage deserved their win and it’s now upto Dickov and his players to rally and move onto Blackburn.