Taking Stock: A Defining Week for DRFC

This article is written by Adam Stubbings, self-appointed Editor-in-Chief at ITEN and a lifelong supporter of the Rovers. You can find him on Twitter here, or by contacting the site directly via the comments section.
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Three wins in eight days have taken Doncaster Rovers to the brink of promotion out of League Two, an achievement that would mark an immediate return to the third tier and the first step in a five-year plan to take the club back into the Championship, a level we have proven we can compete at in the last decade.

Darren Ferguson has repaid the faith shown in him by the board last summer by moulding a talented squad of players into a group of winners, something which under predecessor Paul Dickov seemed impossible, and now the Reds stand with a clear task ahead: win the next two games and ensure that sweet success of promotion before Easter has even come.

The Express keeps rolling at Orient

Defeat at Carlisle on Valentine’s Day forced Rovers fans to admit that the club were going through a blip, but optimism remained that we could overcome that tough period and re-assert our position as clear favourites for the title, and in the seven games since that loss, Fergie’s boys have proven their mettle by avoiding another reverse, stretching out a seven game unbeaten run with three straight wins to push the club within touching distance of the season’s aim. A battling win over struggling Cheltenham was followed three days later by another home win, this time against Kevin Nolan’s resurgent and bullish Notts County, before a potential banana skin at crisis club Leyton Orient was side-stepped comfortably this past Saturday.

Make no mistake, for just over an hour the beleaguered O’s made life difficult for Rovers despite their obvious deficiencies, and whilst fans had to watch on as glorious chance after chance went begging, eventually the quality told and Rovers ran out 4-1 winners thanks to a double from John Marquis and a superb cameo off the bench from Gary McSheffrey. That result puts us 17 points clear of 4th place, a gap maintained last night when 5th place Luton squandered their game in hand by drawing away at Newport, and with only 24 points left on the table it now looks increasingly likely that Rovers will be toasting promotion in the coming weeks.

The timing of our trip to Orient was poignant, coming with both sides in polar opposite situations. Whilst we fly at the top of the division, Orient are on the brink of dropping out of the league altogether and potentially going out of business, a position we as a club and community know all too well. In many ways Orient owner Francesco Becchetti has shown himself to be the Italian version of reviled former Rovers owner Ken Richardson, and it is hoped that he will be made to sell the club he has driven into the ground by the summer so that Orient’s fans can rebuild their club and make a push to emulate ourselves in returning to the EFL stronger than before.

Taking to Alfie

Others will take the plaudits for our promotion this season should it happen but the part played by new signing Alfie May should not be overlooked when the history books are written. May has been an instant hit at the club and has all the makings of a fan favourite player for years to come, demonstrating bags of enthusiasm, determination and crucially, clear ability to earn his place in the starting line-up mere weeks after leaving the humble surroundings of non-league football down south. May notched his first goal against Luton last month and has put in a string of strong performances since, fitting in to our side well and showing his willingness to learn and improve as the games wear on.

In an interview with the Doncaster Free Press this week, May stated that he is living the dream, espousing his affinity for the way he has been welcomed in by all at Doncaster Rovers, whilst also showing the genuine emotion and desire that so often is accused of being absent in footballers these days. May goes on in that article to say “I said to one of the boys the other day, I’m nothing.

I’m still nothing.

I might be here but I’ve still got a lot to learn and to show people how much I want it.

I want to get goals and progress.

That is everyone’s dream.”

This attitude is exactly what will endear Alfie May to the Rovers fanbase and, if he can add those goals and that progression he speaks of, that will go a long way to establishing the diminutive cockney with us all for years to come.

Showdown on Sky

78 points in the bag and a chance to wrap up promotion away at local rivals Grimsby on April 1st, the tenth anniversary of our fabled JPT triumph at the Millenium Stadium, looming large, Rovers must ensure we head to Blundell Park in as strong a position as possible. This Mothering Sunday, the Sky Sports cameras will be in South Yorkshire to broadcast the top-of-the-table clash with Plymouth Argyle, our closest challengers in League Two, for a match that has a lot riding on it. Victory for Plymouth will bring them right back into the title race and ensure we have to wait a little bit longer for promotion, but a fourth straight win for Fergie and co. would put us at a surely insurmountable nine points ahead of the entire division, and potentially in with a chance of sealing promotion six days later at the seaside.

Further adding fuel to the fire are the events at Home Park in the reverse fixture back in December, one of only two defeats suffered by Rovers in their last 23 league games, when Liam Mandeville missed a penalty late on and received abuse from opposing keeper Luke McCormick for his troubles, an event which led to venerated Rovers captain James Coppinger being dismissed for defending his young team mate with a well-placed hand on the throat of convicted criminal McCormick.

The Argyle stopper was jailed in 2008 for causing the death of two young boys in a crash caused by McCormick’s reckless drink-driving. He was returning home from the wedding of former team mate David Norris, who hit the headlines himself for appearing to mark a goal for his then-club Ipswich with a “handcuffs” gesture in support of his friend. A week later, Norris came to the Keepmoat for a televised tie with Rovers and was mercilessly jeered for his behaviour. That abuse from the stands is nothing compared to what McCormick can surely expect in DN4 this weekend, but the hope is that the outcome of this game is the same as then: a home win for Rovers live on Sky.

The pre-match team talk has written itself for this game, our players will have the events of the reverse fixture firmly in their minds come Sunday, and the increasingly laughable comments from Plymouth’s manager Derek Adams and the local press down in Devon will have done nothing to dissuade the growing bitterness encompassing this clash, but Darren Ferguson is a staunch professional and he has drilled into his players a focus and steel that should be able to see us through in first position, beginning the final push against Plymouth that shouldn’t take in many more stops before the finish line now.

RTID.

5 Things to Savour from 2016

This article is written by Adam Stubbings, self-appointed Editor-in-Chief at ITEN and a lifelong supporter of the Rovers. You can find him on Twitter here, or by contacting the site directly via the comments section.

imag1602It’s fair to say that this year has not been the greatest. Doncaster Rovers suffered relegation from League One following a shambolic winless run shortly after the turn of the year, Donald Trump became the most powerful man in the world and beloved celebrity figures dropped like flies. On a personal level, illness has derailed my entire life for the past couple of months (resulting in sparse updates from ITEN) but one thing is keeping me going, and it isn’t just the mountains of Christmas food still waiting to be devoured in my kitchen. After a turbulent year, things are finally looking up again at DRFC. So, as we get ready to wave goodbye to 2016, here are five things that we really can savour from the past 12 months at our beloved football club.

1. The Stoke Game

It may feel a very long time ago now, but this year actually got off to a bright start, and hope was growing around DN4 that we could push for a place in the League One Play Offs. It all went wrong shortly after we entertained Premier League side Stoke City in the 3rd Round of the F.A. Cup, welcoming the BBC Match of the Day cameras for probably the biggest cup tie of the last ten years. Although it ended in a narrow 2-1 defeat courtesy of a brilliant Jon Walters strike, Rovers matched our much higher ranked opponents for large spells and could have caused an upset. Nathan Tyson’s goal will live long in the memory, as will the superb atmosphere generated by the Rovers faithful. Who can forget that awesomely executed ‘DRFC’ tifo display in the South Stand? Despite all that followed, this was a day to be very proud of our little football club.

2. Fortress Keepmoat

Almost exactly a decade ago now, we moved across from humble Belle Vue to the shiny new Keepmoat Stadium, and the jokes that came with that name are all well ingrained in our brains now. Opposition fans jibe that it is the ‘Keepquiet’ due to the often lacking atmosphere, but the construction company’s name also conjures up visions of an inpenetrable fortress from which visiting teams fear coming to play at. As I have remarked with my dad on numerous occasions since 2007 however, this has really never been the case since the move and our home form has been lacking for a long time. Even in our last title-winning season of 2012-13, it was a club record unbeaten away run that spurred us on to that achievement set against some frankly dismal home form.

Now though, we finally can call our homestead a fortress. The 1-0 win over Grimsby Town a week last Saturday ensured we enter the new year boasting an unbeaten home record in the league this season, and you have to go back to late March to find the last time we were beaten at the Keepmoat (bar an EFL Cup loss to Nottingham Forest at the start of this campaign). This run stretches the length of 14 league outings, including 10 wins, and is a big reason why we sit top of the pile at time of writing. This change in home fortunes is a breath of fresh air and we can all enjoy this achievement for as long as it lasts, already our best ever run in our new home.

3. The Fergie Revolution

I will admit that the jury was still out for me on Darren Ferguson at the end of the season. The attitude, effort and quality (or lack thereof) in the winless run that ultimately led to our relegation last season was alarming and I was one of many who doubted whether Fergie was really the right man to take the club forward, but a strong summer of recruitment demonstrates that the manager just needed the time and tools to implement his own methods and few would now disagree with the decision from the ownership to both appoint and retain him in spite of our drop into League Two.

The early signs were not good, but Fergie had been left with an incomplete and uneven squad by previous boss Paul Dickov, a nice man who just got it wrong both on and off the pitch. Andy Williams aside, summer signings ahead of last season were just not good enough and Fergie could only really work with what he had upon taking up the reins early in the season, and whilst his first transfer window yielded only a couple of fairly benign loanees, it was the arrival of Tommy Rowe and Gary McSheffrey in the spring that really sparked the upturn in our playing style and overall quality. It came too late to save us from the drop, but Fergie and his staff jumped into action as soon as the summer began to repair the damage and has since implemented his trademark brand of attacking football, spear-headed by impressive acquisitions like Rowe, Matty Blair and the incomparable John Marquis.

4. The Emergence of Liam Mandeville

Complementing the excellent recruitment strategy is our renewed push to promote youth talent into the first team ranks, and there is no greater example of this paying off than with the recent rise to prominence of striker Liam Mandeville. 2016 will be a year to remember for the teenager from Lincoln, beginning it by scoring a classy strike in a game with Walsall back in January. It took some time for him to develop after that, but an injury to talisman Andy Williams earlier this season gave Mandeville his chance and he duly took it, notching six goals in as many games and winning the EFL Young Player of the Month Award. Fans are now gushing with praise for this exciting talent, and the future looks very bright indeed. Not since Paul Green have we had this level of player come through the academy, it is another welcome change to things at DRFC.

Let us also not forget that the squad now has several players in it to graduate from the academy. Harry Middleton has gone from strength to strength and been a key part of our early season form, whilst full back Mitchell Lund was making great strides before suffering a horrible injury against Yeovil a few months back. Will Longbottom and Reece Fielding both look like good prospects too, and Fergie has also looked towards youth in his transfer strategy by bringing in Alfie Beestin and Tyler Garratt, plus coming close to tying up a deal for non-league sensation Alfie May in the coming days.

5(00). Copps’ Big Year

The legend grows. If anything from 2016 is likely to stand out in Rovers history years from now, it is the achievement of James Coppinger breaking the all-time Doncaster Rovers appearance record and hitting 500 games for the club. The former Newcastle and Exeter midfielder has become an icon in his 13 years here but even with all his abilities few thought we would be witnessing such a display of talent still now. Aged 35, Coppinger has been arguably our best player this season, firmly justifying his decision to continue playing. He has hit six goals already in 2016/17, among them some truly special strikes, and won the League Two Player of the Month Award for August after an excellent start to the season.

One day on from being handed that award, Copps captained Rovers on his 500th appearance, becoming the first man to reach that milestone in our history, and duly shone in an emphatic 5-1 win away at Morecambe that will stand forever as one of his and Rovers’ greatest performances. Coppinger netted a fine strike to cap the win after having a hand in two of the earlier goals, celebrating his achievement by being hoisted onto the shoulders of his team mates in salute with the fans. That result sent out a marker to the rest of the league, particularly as Morecambe were flying high at the time, and we haven’t looked back since. He is now the man who can do no wrong, a grace he has more than earned, and even in being sent off at Plymouth a few weeks ago he endeared himself to the Rovers faithful, being dismissed for defending Liam Mandeville against the goading of the opposition goalkeeper.

So, 2016 may not have been the best year in our history, or indeed been much of a good year for the wider world, but there are still some things we can smile about and look back on fondly, and there are plenty of reasons to eagerly anticipate what lies ahead in 2017.

RTID.

Two FA Cup draws everyone wants…and the one Rovers actually got

This article is written by Lizzie Robinson, our first guest contributor at ITEN. Lizzie is a Rovers season ticket holder who can be found on Twitter here.

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The first week of November is special for many reasons. Obviously, it is a time to acknowledge Guy Fawkes’ attempted attack on parliament by burning effigies of him on bonfires and setting off as many fireworks as possible (no pyro, no party and all that). However, it is also the first week of a tournament that thoroughly excites football fans throughout the leagues. A cup that is treasured by all the nation’s teams, from those relegated out of the National League right through to those who are Champions of England. The FA Cup allows fans from this wide variety of clubs to begin to speculate wildly about the prospect of a good cup run, the chance to visit a new ground, an opportunity to be analysed by Gary Lineker on ‘Match of The Day’, whilst in the process generating much-needed funds and an immense level of excitement for all involved.

As a Rovers fan, I couldn’t help but look back at our previous FA Cup endeavours before the draw took place for the first round. I wondered how it would pan out this year and whether it would live up to all that has occurred in the past…

To put it simply, it didn’t. Either way, here are two FA Cup draws Rovers fans wanted this season compared to the one we actually got.

A visit to a ‘quaint’ non-league ground

Although Rovers have had vast quantities of success in my lifetime, I’m well-aware that we used to be one of these teams I’m about to speak of. Nothing fills me with excitement more than going to a ground like this. When you visit them it feels like they’re the only places football is meant to be played at, in comparison to sleek, corporate grounds with no character and a lot of sponsorships plastered everywhere. However, not every non-league experience is as perfect as I’m currently making them out to be.

Doncaster Rovers’ trip to Weston-super-Mare is certainly unforgettable for all the wrong reasons, and it’s certainly more apt to refer to the place as ‘Weston Super Nightmare’ due to the tragic events that unfolded. Following a two-hundred mile journey to the coast, the headline-making tie ended embarrassingly with the TV cameras, players and disappointed fans turned away due to a measly puddle inside the six yard box. Everything about the outing was abysmal. The day was wasted, the in-ground food was pathetic and the travel time simply wasn’t worth the hassle. It’s safe to say I didn’t even consider attending the rearranged game.

Playing host to a ‘big club’

The concept of a ‘giant killing’ has very much become part of the FA Cup’s branding at this point: the idea of a little lower league team doing the unthinkable, the David and Goliath story everyone enjoys hearing. The whole thing is like poetry in motion, especially when it’s little old Donny who are given the chance to play host to the bigger clubs. It’s very rare we actually do any killing ourselves though.

One of the most notable encounters of this ilk was when we played host to Aston Villa. After smashing them 3-0 in the league cup four years prior, Rovers fans were ecstatic to be up against them again. Despite eventually losing 3-1 in the replay, the initial game is one that will be remembered by many, especially the absolute blinder Neil Sullivan had in the net. However, for me at least (a young’un in comparison to many fans), the most memorable big club tie was last year against Stoke. With the love of my life Paul Keegan donning the captain’s armband and Nathan Tyson scoring an absolute beauty, we genuinely seemed to match Mark Hughes’ men for most of the game. In addition, there was this atmosphere at the Keepmoat that has never occurred before. A sold out stadium is something that genuinely gives me chills even now – especially since I’ve attended the Keepmoat when only 1500 people were in attendance – and games like that have so many benefits for clubs like Doncaster Rovers. They’re the reason I always hope we make it to the third round.

Bloody Oldham Away

And now, the draw we actually got. The draw we knew we’d get. The draw we seem to get every single year in one cup or another. I genuinely think I’ve been to Oldham away in all competitions more times than I’ve visited some of my relatives. It seems to be a bit of a curse at Doncaster Rovers, to the point where I get unnecessarily hyped up about it before the draw even happened. That is because by this point, I don’t hate our constant trips to Oldham. There’s something about it that endears me. Perhaps it’s simply how naff the place is. Perhaps it’s because it’s always the first game I dig out my thermals for. Perhaps it’s because I distinctly recall the time Paul Keegan ran the length of the field to punch Joe Mills after a brutal tackle and didn’t even get a booking. Perhaps it’s because I’m just used to it and have become numb to the plethora of disappointments it brings. Or maybe it’s time to stop psychoanalysing myself. We all knew deep down that we’d draw Oldham again, and the best thing to do is to just accept it and enjoy the game regardless.

Enjoying anything about it was much more of a challenge than it should have been. The game itself is one that was certainly forgettable in many ways. In fact, I don’t really remember much apart from the blistering cold. The decision to stick Mathieu Baudry in holding midfield was less John Stones-esque tactical genius and more of a terrible, thoughtless decision that led to Oldham’s preventable second goal, especially taking into consideration the capability of our defenders on the bench. Tyler Garratt also didn’t impress, and was substituted for Cedric Evina – the better option unfortunately. However, scoring the penalty at the end of the game can only be a confidence boost for the young Liam Mandeville who, unlike Alfie Beestin, worked his socks off all afternoon.

It was certainly an FA Cup run to forget. Rovers embarking on a disappointing, mediocre trip to Oldham has become a staple of the FA Cup, a tradition you begrudgingly partake in year after year. Although I’d definitely change it if I could, as would anyone else in their right mind.

FA Cup Memories: From Just A Pub Team

A nod today to a fellow faithful Rovers website – Just A Pub Team – who yesterday uploaded some terrific footage from the DRFC archive that I thought people should see.

As F.A. Cup 1st Round weekend arrives, Just A Pub Team have uploaded the highlights from the first ever Match Of The Day visit to Doncaster Rovers, a snapshot in time of when Rovers really were a pub team having a laugh. In late October of 1999, Rovers hosted once rivals Halifax Town in the competition at Belle Vue in a featured game, shown below. Gary Lineker was the host of the programme, and legendary commentator Tony Gubba was down at OBV to call the action as Halifax, the team who had gone into the Football League at our expense little over a year earlier, came looking to avoid an upset.

On a personal level, seeing this footage brings back great memories (despite the result) as this was my first season watching the club, and the first Rovers team I can remember. I still remember the game well, stood on the Main Stand Terrace with my dad cheering on the boys in white (no red in those days) in what was the highest profile match I’d seen to date. It was my first “proper” FA Cup tie, and it had a lot to live up to after my maiden game in the competition had yielded a 7-0 win over Crook Town in qualifying a fortnight earlier.

The Rovers side that day, as you can see below, featured such luminary names as Dave Penney, Andy  Warrington and Simon Marples, whilst the opposition line-up threw up some interesting names too. Future Rovers’ Jamie Paterson and Lee Butler (looking altogether more svelte than we know him to be) played for Halifax that day, along with former Rover Steve Gaughan and the current Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.

Anyway, enjoy the video below, share it on around the Rovers fandom and check out Just A Pub  Team for some great club-related content.

Wycombe Woes & Cup Conundrums

imag1673After another frustrating afternoon on the pitch for Rovers, ITEN looks back at what went wrong in the 2-2 draw with Wycombe, and also looks ahead to a week of cup action.

Etheridge at the heart of recurring problems

There is nowhere else to start when assessing the failure to see off Gareth Ainsworth’s team than with the goalkeeper, unfortunately. Ross Etheridge was called upon to make his first start since August due to a knee injury suffered by Marko Marosi at Blackpool. Marosi has been impressive since replacing the young new signing after a tough start to life at Rovers, but Etheridge by all accounts did well as a substitute at Bloomfield Road and had a great chance to re-stake his claim for the starting berth here. Sadly, he blew it spectacularly and endured one of the most embarrassing afternoons by any goalie in recent memory.

Whilst there was a hint of a foul in the build-up to Matt Bloomfield’s first goal (a view shared at least by manager Darren Ferguson), Etheridge did not demonstrate the dominance needed in the air to claim the ball as his own when Joe Jacobson made light work of rounding Matty Blair to send in a floating cross from the left. The ball ended up on the floor and Bloomfield, sat on his backside facing away from goal, was able to hook in an easy finish. Minutes later, Etheridge jogged over during a drinks break to the sideline but was shunned by the rest of the team, all gathered around the manager. One can only imagine how frosty the atmosphere might have been in the dressing room at half time, but at least by then we had turned it round to deservedly lead.

However, it all went wrong again in the second half, and this time there can be no excuses. Etheridge, already called out for suspect diving in conceding routine goals to Accrington and Crawley in the opening week, fluffed a simple stop from a tame Paris Cowan-Hall effort and Bloomfield gratefully mopped up for his second to level it at 2-2, earning Etheridge an earful from Andy Butler so vociferous that the keeper could have felt it had he still been at Accrington. From there the crowd really turned on the hapless rookie and if you had asked me in the moment if I’d wanted to see him play for us again I’d have told you in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t want him in my Subbuteo team again.

But, the fixture list presents young Ross with a chance to earn redemption. Successive games in the cup mean Fergie may give him the chance to banish the awful memories of this game quickly and at least curry some favour with the Rovers faithful, even if it is nigh on certain we will line-up at Exeter a week on Saturday with a fit-again Marosi back between the posts. Etheridge isn’t the only one to blame, and shocking errors suitable only for the playground have plagued Rovers all season. It is a big negative that, despite having the best scoring rate in League Two, we also have the third worst defence now and this major flaw must be addressed immediately.

Rowe avoids Halloween scare

Tommy Rowe was arguably our best player in the first half on Saturday, integral to the turnaround that saw Rovers go in 2-1 up at the break. Unfortunately, the midfielder had to go off injured with a potentially nasty foot injury picked up prior to his fine equaliser, and for several days the rumour swirled that Rowe would be out for an extended period of time, possibly even the rest of the season. Thankfully, Fergie revealed yesterday that the knock is nowhere near as bad as first feared and he will in fact be fit again by the time we next go into league action at Exeter in 10 days time.

This is huge for Rovers, particularly with Andy Williams still sidelined. We have a wealth of attacking talent, enough to trouble any defence in League Two, but missing more than one of that front five (Marquis, Williams, Rowe, Blair & Coppinger) for any lengthy period of time would be tough to overcome due to the relative lack of established squad depth behind them in the pecking order. Rowe has netted four goals in his last six games, a tally that should be even better if not for two missed penalties in that time as well, and is clearly growing into the influential creative role that we expected him to take up when he joined from Wolves in the summer.

His commitment to get on the end of James Coppinger’s fine cross to level the score at 1-1 against Wycombe demonstrates his mental and physical edge over many in this division, whilst a dancing run through the heart of the Wanderers’ defence minutes later, all while carrying the injury that eventually forced him off, showcased his ball-playing ability neatly as well. He’s an all-rounder and all fans will have sighed one big collective sigh of relief when the all-clear was announced yesterday on Rowe’s foot injury. Losing him on Saturday severely affected our ability to attack effectively, and coupled with the introduction of Bayo “The Beast” Akinfenwa for the visitors, the game turned around in Wycombe’s favour swiftly after the break.

Off to Oldham again

For the fifth time in twelve seasons (seriously), Rovers have drawn Oldham Athletic in the F.A. Cup despite having nearly eighty other possible opponents. Disappointing as this may be, the game comes at a good time for us as more players return from injury and others are in need of the rest. Rowe will miss the game as is expected, and we could see veteran James Coppinger rested as well to avoid burning out the ageing legs of the midfield maestro, whilst Craig Alcock should be able to use the game as an opportunity to build up some match fitness having missed the entire early portion of the campaign.

It is a chance for several players to step in and stake a claim, including the aforementioned Etheridge, plus Tyler Garratt, Paul Keegan and Harry Middleton who have all featured infrequently (or not at all) due to injuries and others in the same position performing well. Next Tuesday is the final group game in the ridiculous EFL Trophy, hopefully our final outing in the disgraced competition versus Port Vale but, owing to our good form thus far, is likely to be the game that seals qualification for the knock-out phase. Don’t expect to see any match reports from those fixtures on this website any time soon mind.

Yes, this is a bit of a blip for Rovers and the small pockets of concern among the fans is understandable considering our last blip turned into a crisis ending in relegation. However, perspective is needed and a glance at the league table provides just that. Despite dropping (literally) two points on Saturday, and losing poorly at lowly Blackpool the week before, we sit in the automatic promotion places with a three point gap to Luton in fourth. We have picked up ten points from five games in October, highlighted by a superb away victory at Portsmouth, and have managed to keep on picking up points in the face of poor performances at home of late too. Indeed, it is worth noting we remain unbeaten at the Keepmoat since the back end of last season, our best ever run at the hallowed (or should that be hollowed?) stadium.

Keep on smiling, even if you’re off to Oldham again.

RTID.