Luke Molyneux: How the 24-year-old bolsters Doncaster Rovers’ midfield ranks – scout report
Doncaster Rovers endured a torrid 2021/22 campaign which resulted in relegation to the EFL League Two after spending the majority of the season in the drop zone. There were several problem areas throughout the club over the course of the campaign, and one of the major issues was poor recruitment, which felt like it had no real structure or purpose, with panic signings seemingly becoming the norm.
With club legend James Coppinger taking on the role of Head of Football Operations, the fans have been treated to a breath of fresh air with their recruitment in the summer of 2022, making several exciting signings. One of those is Luke Molyneux, a 24-year-old attacking midfielder/winger who thoroughly impressed at fellow League Two club Hartlepool United in 2021/22.
Molyneux’s aggression and attacking efforts did not go unnoticed, and neither did his tally of 12 goals across all competitions. With Rovers struggling in attack last season, bringing in a midfielder with an eye for goal could be a shrewd piece of business.
This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of his performances in a Hartlepool shirt with the goal of giving fans a preview of what he may add to Doncaster Rovers’ tactics this coming season. There will be an analysis of three key areas of his game – firing from range, contributions in the build-up phase, and his ability to perform under pressure in attacking duels.
Left-footed Molyneux came through the ranks at former Premier League club Sunderland but failed to make an impact, featuring just six times for their first team, including his debut in 2018 under the old Real Sociedad boss Chris Coleman. A short loan spell at Gateshead in the National League was vital for his development in 2018 before he found a new temporary home in Hartlepool United.
Playing for the club in both the National League and League Two since their return, Molyneux recorded 108 appearances, netting 17 times. His stock rose significantly thanks to his consistent quality performances in 2021/22, earning him three impressive awards – players’ player of the season, fans’ player of the season, and goal of the season.
Throughout his career so far, Molyneux has featured more in a central attacking midfield role than anywhere else. However, he has strong experience in a number of other roles including striker, right winger, left winger, and a deeper central midfielder, adding an element of versatility to the Doncaster squad.
As you can see from his 2021/22 heat map, he was most present on the right flank but also featured in the above positions too. His pace and aggression can be a real issue for defenders when he’s operating from the right flank, and he tends to bag more goals too. Considering the current state of the Doncaster squad, his responsibilities will likely mostly focus on playing as a right winger or central attacking midfielder.
Firing from range
As mentioned in the introduction of this scout report, Luke Molyneux contributed with a healthy amount of goals for his side last season, bagging 12 goals in all competitions – not a bad return for someone who spends a lot of time as a midfielder. If you actually go back and watch his 2021/22 clips, you’ll see that most of his goals are thunderous left-footed drives from range. Below is an analysis of two examples of this – how he manages to get himself into a position to score these exciting goals on a regular basis.
This first analysis shows Molyneux giving chase to a long through ball from a teammate, where he finds himself one-versus-one with the Exeter defender. With an awkwardly bouncing ball and the direction of the initial pass sending him away from goal, you’d think he’d have his work cut out in terms of keeping the move alive. However, he manages to control the ball dead at his feet and position himself in a one-versus-one showdown with the defender, proceeding to drop his shoulder and quickly cut inside before unleashing a powerful shot past the keeper. As the following analysis will prove, this was not a one-off action.
The build-up to this goal differs from the first, showing a scenario where Hartlepool have the ball in the attacking third with the opposition defence momentarily pinned into their box. Molyneux shows good tactical understanding and positioning with the movement he makes (seen the first image of this analysis), presenting himself as a strong passing option with good space around him to work.
Upon receiving the ball, he follows his attacking instincts and drives forward towards the box – the defender’s positioning and pressure force him slightly wide. Again, Molyneux shows quick feet and superb balance to check inside leaving the defender no chance to get close enough to put any sort of tackle in. Another powerful, well-placed shot beats the keeper and Molyneux shows his ability to turn a half-chance into a stunning goal.
As mentioned, there are numerous examples of him scoring these kinds of goals in a Hartlepool shirt – well worth checking out if you’re a Doncaster fan excited about their new signing: or if you just like long-range goals!
Contributions in build-up
As a midfielder, obviously Molyneux’s responsibility to the team does not end with his goals – he is tasked with assisting goals and being generally involved in build-up phases. His creativity, vision, and all-around technique make him a real threat on the ball, as you will see from the analysis below.
In instances where his team have possession in high and wide areas, he will often provide support from a slightly deeper position with the knowledge that when he receives the ball, he will likely have more space to work in. In the first image of this analysis, you can see that he doesn’t have this luxury thanks to immediate pressure from an opponent. Molyneux utilises a clever turn to escape the pressure, giving him the aforementioned space. As he achieves this, though, the opposition striker provides defensive reinforcement and drops in to limit Molyneux’s time and space.
You could only think that, without this renewed pressure, Molyneux would drive into the open space to get close to the edge of the box before unleashing a trademark left-footed drive. With that option out of the window, he spots the well-timed run of his teammate and executes an inch-perfect cross into the striker’s feet – the ball was easy to control as he found himself in a one-on-one situation with the keeper, before calmly slotting it away. Tremendous vision and execution of the pass from Luke Molyneux followed the initial good awareness and impressive footwork.
This next analysis provides evidence of Molyneux’s pure dribbling ability as he finds himself in a good old-fashioned winger-versus-fullback 1v1 situation. Molyneux reads the fullback’s move as the defender believes that the new Doncaster man is about to drop the shoulder and cut inside. He wasn’t prepared for the opposite, and Molyneux anticipated this, instead driving toward the byline knowing there will be an attacking presence in the box.
As you can from the second image, he isn’t afraid of using his weaker right foot and does so to good effect in this scenario – firing a low cross across the face of the goal, with the ball being buried by a central teammate. Yet another example of Molyneux turning nothing into something using his explosive power and ability to craft opportunities.
This final analysis of his contributions in build-up play really highlights his composure, vision, and pass execution. While he managed to keep the ball under pressure in the first image of this analysis, the challenge did force him away from the goal. His moves that follow, though, emphasise his awareness and chemistry with teammates as he is able to carve out an inch-perfect pass into the path of a midfield teammate who made a bursting run – all while still facing away from goal.
He doesn’t sit and admire his pass then either, instead making a return run inside the box to receive the ball back from his teammate. While the pass does arrive, Molyneux, on this occasion, couldn’t get the ball from under his feet fully which lowered the velocity and overall impact of the shot that followed. However, it was another good sign of his creativity and confidence on the ball.
Using offensive duels in his favour
Any player who sees a lot of the ball in an attacking sense is going to be no stranger to an offensive duel – any attacking player worth his salt will find creative solutions to turning offensive duels into rewards for his team. Below, we look at three different examples of Molyneux coming under challenge but being able to find a way out.
Here, we see a somewhat rare example of Molyneux pinning the centre-back in an old-school centre-forward fashion after the ball was fizzed into him from the halfway line. With the ball bouncing as he controlled it, turning this scenario into something of promise becomes much more difficult.
The run of the highlighted teammate which sees him go past Molyneux definitely lends a helping hand to the 2021/22 Hartlepool player of the year, and also gives him something to aim for in way of attack. The ball bounces off Molyneux’s foot into the air at waist height as he controls it but manages to execute a lofted pass into the path of his teammate who successfully collects the ball. A tricky and unusual situation for Molyneux to be in, but he displayed good adaptability and creativity to make something of it.
One element that was somewhat missing from Doncaster Rovers’ performances and tactics last season was their ability to think smartly outside the box, something which Molyneux brings in abundance. Something so simple, yet effective, is an attacking player’s ability to earn his team set-pieces in dangerous areas, especially when the attack prior to the foul looked to be fading away.
Above is an example of just this. Molyneux already evaded the challenge of another opponent, only to be met by a second. With the ball not under full control but enough to remain the dominant one in the phase, Molyneux adjusts his body orientation to shield the ball knowing the opponent will put in a heavy challenge. This earns his side a free-kicks in a dangerous area, from absolutely nothing.
This final analysis shows Molyneux again evading a challenge but this time in deeper territory, where he can use his individual victory to launch an attack for his side. As the ball is popped into his feet at the halfway line, he is tightly marked by an opponent, making it hard to control the ball comfortably and progress the attack. Despite good pressure, Molyneux rides the challenges before using his quick feet and acceleration to gain vital space. After turning to face the left flank, he is able to fire a pass into his midfield teammate who has acres of space himself, with plenty of well-positioned support on the left wing.
At 24 years old, it’s obvious that Luke Molyneux still has potential left to fulfil, and some areas of his game to develop i.e., using his right foot more frequently (as he is already comfortable when he is forced to use it), releasing the ball sooner in some midfield transitions, and general developing of his overall game.
However, he is an exciting talent who can provide a fresh aspect to a Doncaster Rovers team who are aiming for an immediate return to League One. His ability on the ball – creativity, vision, passing range, dribbling ability, and the ability to bag goals from range, all come together to make him an important player, a difference maker. There’s a reason Hartlepool fans were devastated to see him go – the same reason that Doncaster fans can’t wait to see him in their red and white hoops.