Rovers squeezed out of EFL Cup: 5 Takeaways

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A short stint in the EFL Cup for Rovers this season, but there are signs of encouragement despite another late defeat.

Toe-to-toe with the Tricky Trees

A few short years ago we were on a level playing field with Tuesday’s opponents Nottingham Forest, but hard times have fallen on Rovers since then and this meeting would be a stern test of our abilities. Unlike in Saturday’s flaky performance at Accrington, we stood up to that challenge and did very well to match our opponents throughout most of the game, growing in stature as the minutes wore on. Forest may be a team in transition, but they are still an established Championship side so it was pleasing to see us keep up with our rather more illustrious opponents, particularly after the familiar inconsistencies we witnessed at the Crown Ground last weekend.

Whilst there was some sloppy play in the opening 45 minutes, Rovers probably edged the play after half time and would have been well deserving of the extra time that beckoned until Jamie Ward slammed home the 91st minute winner on the counter for Forest. Yes, it as another late goal that sunk us as concentration levels dipped and the rain poured down, but ultimately the quality of the visitors showed and it was probably not a bad thing that our players were spared an extra half an hour of football with several league games coming up in the next couple of weeks.

The Wright Stuff

Joe Wright was back from injury to make his competitive debut in the back line here and he demonstrated throughout exactly why Darren Ferguson fought hard to bring him to the club in the summer. Wright is strong, tall and young, but crucially he isn’t afraid to go forward with the ball at his feet. The much feted “cultured centre half” is not something we are used to seeing in the red and white hoops, but things may be about to change and if Wright can cement his place in the starting line-up then the prospect of playing 3-5-2 for the rest of the season may not seem such a daunting one for fans any longer.

Wright was composed, looked to get the ball forward in an effective rather than rushed manner, and he was also solid without the ball. The defence looked miles better for his inclusion, and watching him play against Forest had me thinking about just how formidable our central trio could be in League Two when Mathieu Baudry is back from his achilles injury. With these two strong, skilful players either side of Andy Butler, we can be a force to fear in the fourth tier this year.

Oh, Mandy

Liam Mandeville again made an impact from the bench against Forest, the 19-year-old forward netting our equaliser and injecting some much needed energy into the attacking third. He did the same thing at Accrington on Saturday, adding some guile and intelligence to our attacks and bringing the goods to boot, crossing for Andy Williams to turn home and make it 2-2 in that game. Here, he showed tenacity to put away a close range effort from a corner that brought us deservedly back on level terms with our opponents, and looked threatening throughout.

Mandeville was deployed on the right hand side in the Accrington loss, but instead played at the point of the midfield three on Tuesday night, setting up attacks for the forwards. He isn’t blessed with great pace, but has intelligence to find space and could be an asset if he continues to improve. We are crying out for a versatile goalscorer, and based on his words in interviews Fergie clearly believes Mandeville can fulfill this role so that we don’t have to dip into the loan market again. He has a couple of weeks to prove we don’t need attacking reinforcements, and he’s going about it the right way so far.

Safe hands, please

After Saturday’s defeat I singled out Ross Etheridge for criticism. Fergie may be unsure over his goalkeeping choice at the moment but after watching Marko Marosi get his chance against Forest, I am no longer unsure. Marosi is yet to demonstrate much when called upon in his brief appearances since signing two years ago from Wigan, and he looked suspect again here. His kicking was alarming in the first half, and his handling not all that much better either. Whilst I can’t fault him for either goal, and thought he had a very good half in the Newcastle friendly, I don’t believe he will make it at the club and stand by my assertion that we should have released him in the summer instead of giving him a new deal.

Etheridge made some big errors against his old team in our opening league game, but I believe he can develop into a superb goalkeeper for us and would like to see him restored to the starting line-up against Crawley. It will do nothing for the young man’s confidence if he is dropped after only one appearance, but it isn’t something that would surprise me either given Fergie’s track record. Perhaps the gaffer was too hasty in ditching Thorsten Stuckmann altogether, as Etheridge would surely benefit from prolonged training alongside an experienced pro, rather than somebody he actually has more professional experience than despite only making his professional debut in January of this year.

Fergie’s had a look, what’s the verdict?

Darren Ferguson said he wanted to get a look at a couple of his players by giving them run-outs in the EFL Cup, so what has he gleaned from doing this? Marko Marosi failed to impress when given the chance, but another given his opportunity here was Tyler Garratt. Garratt comes highly rated from the Bolton academy, and was asked to play in two different positions against Forest. In the first half he unfortunately struggled to cope with the high demands of playing in the troublesome left wing back position, and looked out of his depth. Shifted inside to play in the back three after half time however, he looked much better and helped keep our defensive shape well.

As a result of this, Riccardo Calder was brought on to play left wing back instead and, unlike his performance against Accrington, Calder looked much more comfortable fulfilling his defensive duties in that position here. Perhaps applying a more cautious approach due to the higher standard of opposition, Calder too stuck to his role in the defensive line well and only broke forward when the opportunity really presented itself. It was encouraging to see him improve so quickly, and bodes well for the Aston Villa loanee. Harry Middleton also got a start in midfield, but looked like a passenger and may need some more time before reaching full fitness. His replacement Liam Mandeville did a far better job at contributing to attacks and tracking back.

Two games down and still no victory, but our first home league game of the season awaits on Saturday as Crawley Town come to the Keepmoat. Despite being one of the favourites for relegation, Crawley won their opening fixture against Wycombe so will be in confident mood so won’t be laying down for us. Rovers need to finally show what they are capable of and get that vital first victory, and add three points to the board before our slow start becomes an early slump.

RTID.

Stumped by Stanley: 5 Takeaways

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Doncaster Rovers began the season with a narrow defeat away to Accrington Stanley, who finished fourth last season in League Two. It wasn’t the start we’d hoped for at all, but for better or worse here are five things we can take away from the curtain raiser.

2 + 2 = 4, not 3-5-2

Darren Ferguson loves the 3-5-2. This is clearly his preferred formation, but the problems with it last season cost us dearly. Back then, he had a great excuse for why it wasn’t working however, and that was that he was deploying it with the wrong personnel, not players he had signed himself to fit the system but rather a team he had inherited and therefore would need time to adapt to the new formation. Now he has had an entire summer to recruit appropriately and teach the ways of 3-5-2, but injuries have meant that we are still plugging squares pegs into round holes.

Fergie cannot be blamed for the injury crisis, but he can be blamed for his stubbornness causing a detriment to our performance at Accrington. The 3-5-2 was used despite the lack of several players key to the set-up, and it showed. Riccardo Calder had an impressive pre-season but struggled mightily in his defensive duties whilst playing in the pivotal wing back role, whilst captain James Coppinger looked muddled and helpless in the centre of the park playing in the midfield three. Both were hauled off after 66 minutes for their ineffectiveness, but by then we were 2-1 down. The defence struggled to deal with the fast pace of Accrington’s attacks, and without two new signings brought in to play in a back three – Mathieu Baudry and Joe Wright – as well as Craig Alcock, Fergie should have played safe and opted for a flat back four.

The manager needs to play to the strengths of what he has available, not ask players to do things they aren’t capable of. We saw this with Calder and Coppinger, whilst Mitchell Lund in particular also struggled with his positioning on the right hand side of the defensive three. In addition to the losses of Baudry, Wright and Alcock, Luke McCullough is also out meaning that Fergie is realistically without four of the players he has planned to play this 3-5-2 with. On Saturday this meant academy graduate Lund and three young loanees filling the positions vacated by the injured quartet, and it showed as we were vulnerable time and time again from Stanley’s attacks.

Keep it tight

Time and time again last season, Rovers were caught cold by goals at the very start and end of games. Such problems downright plagued us, and led to costly defeats in the run that ultimately consigned us to relegation. Late goals caused defeats at home to Blackpool and Peterborough along with an agonising 96th minute goal costing us victory at Rochdale. These all add up and despite a summer of training, the players still seem incapable of keeping things tight both at kick off and when trying to close out a game.

The opening few minutes were a disaster for Rovers at Accrington. First a great opportunity to go in front inside the first two minutes was squandered when Andy Williams saw his penalty saved by debutant Aaron Chapman, then we were undone minutes later by a through ball as Rommy Boco broke the defensive line and slotted home coolly to put the home side in front. Then, having fought back to level twice, Rovers failed to hold out for a draw by conceding a 91st minute winner from Sean McConville that meant all our efforts on the day were worthless.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Williams

Andy Williams was our top scorer last season, notching 16 goals after a highly anticipated move north from Swindon Town. Williams stated that he wanted to be playing in the Championship, and clearly has the finishing ability to do so, but having found himself leading the line for Rovers in League Two this season, this match proved a microcosm of his time at the club so far. Williams missed a penalty early on, not the first time he has done so, and from there seemed to do his regular ‘gone into my shell’ act.

The head goes down so quickly for Mr. Williams, one setback can knock him off his stride for weeks on end, and so it was again at the Crown Ground. He hit several tame shots at goal when we had carved out good opportunities, and had a constant tendency to stroll back from an offside position taking himself out of potential counter attacks on more than one occasion. Despite this Williams did score his first goal of the season, but it was another tame effort that only just crossed the courtesy of a ridiculous fumble from Accrington keeper Chapman.

Williams is a very talented player and is one of the national favourites to win the Golden Boot in League Two this year. He is fully capable of doing just that, especially in a team with as much attacking intent as the new-look Rovers seem to have, but his biggest enemy remains his own mindset. He needs to learn to shake off knock-backs much better, and keep his concentration for a full 90 minutes. If Gary McSheffrey is fit soon, then Williams should at least be released from the burden of penalty taking, something he never looks wholly confident in doing, and if you couple this with a good scoring run early in the season, then Williams will be a huge asset for Rovers in 2016/17.

Bright Spots

It was not all doom and gloom in the summer sun this weekend, far from it in fact. We did manage to score two goals and had lengthy spells of dominant possession against one of the better teams in the division last term, and several players earned rightful praise at full time. Tommy Rowe has been hailed as a major coup for the club, signing on a permanent deal after an encouraging loan spell in the spring, and he showed what he is capable of here, netting Rovers’ first equaliser with a very well taken strike into the corner early on.

Debuting striker John Marquis also committed himself very well, putting himself about and putting in 100% effort alongside Williams up front. Marquis showed excellent hold up ability and threatened with the ball at his feet in the penalty area too, and it should be noted that he followed up Chapman’s fumble for our second goal by slamming the ball into the bottom corner to make fully sure the goal stood. Matty Blair also demonstrated lightning pace down the right flank and adapted to unfamiliar defensive duties solidly.

Goalkeeping Woe

One man who did not have a good afternoon on his Rovers debut meanwhile was Ross Etheridge. Playing on the ground he had made his name at last season, Etheridge struggled to find his feet and was beaten too easily for Accrington’s goals. Matty Pearson’s long-range pot shot should not have troubled him, yet an awkward bounce fooled him completely, a flat-footed sprawl not enough to keep the effort out of the net, and in injury time the winning goal exposed a positional flaw for Etheridge. McConville’s hooked effort sailed over and past Etheridge into the far corner to snatch a point away from Rovers, and he will be hoping to improve from this point on.

The only consolation for young Etheridge is that he was still the best keeper on the pitch in this match. Aaron Chapman turned in arguably the worst goalkeeping performance I have seen in 17 years watching the sport, enduring a nightmare afternoon right from the get go. A sliced clearance in the opening seconds set the tone, and with the game barely a minute old Chapman bundled Matty Blair to the floor for a penalty. He did redeem himself to make a save from Andy Williams’ low effort, but his struggles were still not over. More dodgy clearances followed, along with a strange collision with one of his own defenders, and the icing on the cake came when he dropped Williams’ tame shot over the line to make it 2-2. All the work he’s done in pre-season to beat Elliot Parish to the #1 spot was undone in comical fashion here, but he did still end up on the winning side.

That is all that matters at the end of the day: no points for Rovers in the season opener. Fortunately the schedule means we have a great chance to put this defeat behind us and push on with four games in the next fortnight to prepare for. Tomorrow night we face Championship side Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup, and then it is on to our first home game of the league campaign when Crawley Town head to Lakeside. Let’s hope lessons are learned from our 3-2 loss at Accrington by that point.

RTID.

Not-so-friendly Newcastle: 5 Takeaways

Rovers welcomed Championship big hitters Newcastle United to the Keepmoat Stadium on Wednesday night, but a chance to test our new-look squad against quality opposition ultimately proved to be a costly exercise for Darren Ferguson’s squad as no less than four players went off injured, causing serious problems just weeks before the opening game of the season.

It was my first chance to see the team in action this pre-season, so for better or worse here are five talking points for the team following the 2-2 draw.

Bad Luck, or Bad Tackles?

In truth, probably a bit of both. Joe Wright looked assured and capable in the back line for the first half hour of this game but took a bad tumble when he got his feet caught up in the turf, and despite a valiant effort to carry on eventually had to be substituted. It appears to be a recurring toe injury that won’t trouble the former Huddersfield man for too long and hopefully he will be fit for the start of the campaign. Young Joey McCormick also suffered an injury seemingly innocuously, dislocating his shoulder and causing the Reds (or All Blacks as they were last night) to finish the game with ten men. This is a harsh blow for the youth team prospect who only recently returned from a bad injury to his other shoulder, but in truth this isn’t much of a blow to the first team ranks.

The same cannot be said for the loss of Craig Alcock or Harry Middleton however. Unlike the seemingly incidental injuries to Wright and McCormick, two first team regulars were victims of reckless, unnecessary challenges from Newcastle players and now face prolonged periods on the sidelines. Perhaps borne out of frustration out of what was a very poor, disjointed and slack performance by their team, Newcastle flew in to tackle after tackle and it was Middleton who suffered first. Pulling out of the impact of a 50-50 challenge near halfway but wasn’t afforded the same courtesy by the opposing player, who collided full force with the midfielder. Darren Ferguson says Middleton will miss the start of the season and could have damaged his knee ligaments, which would mean a lengthy spell out.

The stretcher was called back into action only minutes later when Craig Alcock was hit with a bad challenge from behind, scythed down unnecessarily. Ankle ligament damage is reported to be the verdict which again will mean a lengthy lay-off, which comes as a huge blow to the back line. Alcock is easily one of the better players in the squad and is also versatile, capable of playing anywhere in the back 4/5. With Mathieu Baudry already out due to an achilles injury, Fergie now has no choice but to go into the transfer market for additional reinforcements at the back. The only plus from this game is that Mitchell Lund, Alcock’s essential understudy, stepped up and played superbly on the right hand side after coming on as a first half replacement for Wright, and might be able to carve out a spot in the starting XI once the season gets going.

All in all, a disastrous night for the club on the injury front despite the positive performance and result against strong opposition. The club moved today to unfortunately cancel our next game away to Kidderminster due to the injury crisis, but still have games against York and Coventry to prepare for before we head west to Accrington Stanley for the first league fixture.

Shaping Up

Tactically, Rovers looked like they are beginning to gel, with real evidence of training ground work being applied on the Keepmoat playing surface. The team kept their shape really well both in and out of possession, and the 3-5-2 formation which has been derided for much of the last year by Rovers fans looks like it might be able to work. The one caveat to this is that the right personnel are deployed within it, as Matty Blair struggled in the right wing back slot in the first half and Tommy Rowe was somewhat nullified as part of the three man midfield. These are the kinds of things that can be worked on between now and the trip to Accrington though of course.

The defence held together strongly and their were clear outlets for the players to utilise with the shape employed. After a switch to our other recognised formation, the Diamond, Rovers were able to play some intricate passing sequences and create chances, although the personnel largely consisting of youth teamers at this point in the game lessened the effectiveness. The defence proved it could be adaptable in the face of the formation switch and the injuries forcing changes to personnel every few minutes, but there are still kinks to work out.

Battling Qualities

Whilst this was only a friendly and not a true marker of our level of competition, Rovers competed for every ball with a much more capable side than themselves and weren’t afraid to try and play football when they had the chance. The players were always looking for options, trying to make things happen and matched their opponents physically at both ends of the field. If these qualities can be taken forward into the real thing, then we will already be on a much better footing than we were for most of last season. Leaders were absent throughout the last campaign, but the permanent signings of Tommy Rowe and Gary McSheffrey, as well as Baudry and fan favourite Andy Butler, mean we have some experience and leadership back in the ranks.

Safe Hands

Although Andy Williams netted twice in the game (one an excellent penalty past the clearly insane Matz Sels), and the match sponsors electing to ignore all rhyme or reason to give Blair the accolade, my Man of the Match pick for the game was a joint decision between the two men who guarded the goal for Rovers, Ross Etheridge and Marko Marosi. Etheridge has a presence about him, showcased his shot-stopping abilities and, save for one brainless moment in the first half, demonstrated good distribution to set up attacking plays. Marosi, a man I considered done at the club six weeks ago on this site, showed he could still be a capable stand-in by pulling off some excellent saves in the second half. He was mightily unlucky to concede both goals that got Newcastle back into it, making a tremendous save from Isaac Hayden only to see the same player score a deflected effort from the resulting corner, then falling foul of another wicked deflection to let in Ayoze Perez’s late equaliser, which came against ten men.

I was not the biggest fan of Thorsten Stuckmann, who departed the club today, but feel some apprehension about us not having an experienced keeper around to help bring Etheridge and Marosi along. However on this showing I am happy to relax and be satisfied that we are okay for now on the goalkeeping front.

Calder: Pre-Season MVP?

Arguably too early to slap that tag on anyone, but loanee Riccardo Calder has impressed in both games this week against high level opposition. Calder showed plenty of desire in his spell at the club last year but offered little-to-no end product. In these last two games he has looked a threat and was always the most likely to make something happen in the second half against the Magpies. Calder is versatile and looks well suited to the left wing back position, more so at any rate than Cedric Evina, whose defensive capabilities are lacking to say the very least.

On we go then, the season now in sight. Reports last week said the club were in the process of bringing in three more players to round out the squad – two Premier League loanees and one permanent addition – but one or two more may now need to be brought in to solve the club’s mounting injury crisis. Sadly it appears unlikely that any of these players will be former loanee Keshi Anderson or club legend Paul Green, but we will have to wait and see who Fergie, Gavin Baldwin and co. manage to entice to join us in our push for promotion out of League Two.

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Dates For Your Diary 2016/17

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It’s been a quiet few weeks for a change at Doncaster Rovers but now, with the players returning for pre-season training on this sunny day in Cantley, it’s time to fully focus on the season ahead.

Unfortunately for us it is a season to be spent in League Two after a miserable collapse in the second half of last season that saw us relegated from the third tier, but the summer has been encouraging so far with seven additions, all thought to be good acquisitions by manager Darren Ferguson as we push for an immediate promotion back out of the basement. Positive noises continue to come out of the club, and a renewed sense of optimism is finally creeping in around DN4.

So, with six weeks to go until the big kick off, we take a look at some of the key matches in the calendar that Rovers fans have picked out from the fixture list unveiled last Wednesday.

Accrington Stanley (A) – Saturday 6th August

The only place to start is the opening day. A match with a tremendous amount of intrigue surrounding it even at this early stage, Rovers will be given a stern test on their return to League Two by a team that came within moments of earning promotion to play in the third tier for the first time since 1960. In the end, Stanley missed out to Bristol Rovers and then lost out narrowly in the Play Offs to eventual winners AFC Wimbledon, but will not be taken lightly going forward after such a stellar season. In addition, Rovers have signed two men who played a role in Stanley’s rise to prominence – goalkeeper Ross Etheridge, who took the #1 role midway through the campaign and held it until the end of their Play Off run, whilst centre half Joe Wright, a Welsh under-21 brought in from Huddersfield, spent part of last season on loan at the County Ground making 20 league appearances. Both players will be keen to impress on their debuts, and it coming at a familiar ground should only add further fuel to the fire for them.

Morecambe (A) – Saturday 10th September

As everyone begins to get used to our new surroundings, as well as our newly assembled squad, a trip to the seaside beckons to take on Morecambe, an old rival of ours from the Conference days. As well as an opportunity to catch some late summer sun, it is an opportunity for Rovers supporters to tick off a new ground as the Shrimps have traded in their crumbling old Christie Park ground for the shiny new Globe Arena, something we can obviously relate to. Indeed we haven’t played Morecambe since leaving Belle Vue, our last meeting coming in the successful 2002/03 season, a 1-1 draw late in the year when both sides were already set for the inaugural Conference Play Offs, with Morecambe following in our pioneering footsteps and earning promotion via the post-season lottery in 2007. They have plied their trade in League Two ever since, and will welcome us for a first ever Football League meeting holding a historial five match unbeaten run against us stretching back to the year 2000.

Hartlepool United (H) – Saturday 19th November

Into November and Rovers welcome Hartlepool United to the Keepmoat Stadium, hopefully from a strong position in the league standings. We’ll get keen focus on Soccer Saturday no doubt, but this fixture could see the return of two men who were pivotal to our last championship-winning season, as Billy Paynter has since resurrected his career as a centre forward for Pools, and former club captain, caretaker manager and talisman Rob Jones recently handed an extended contract with the club. Aside from those two, new boss Craig Hignett has been busy in the transfer market signing up several of the better performers from the National League to bolster his ranks. Padraig Amond, a 30 goal striker for promoted Grimsby, has joined the club as has team mate Aristote Nsiala, a highly-rated defender, and Nicky Deverdics, a player I touted on this blog as someone who Darren Ferguson should target last month, has returned to his North Eastern roots to join from Dover, who made the Play Offs against all expectation in 2015/16.

Grimsby Town (H) – Saturday 17th December

A busy Christmas period kicks off with what sadly is one of our most local fixtures this season owing to the fact that we are the only side in League Two plying our trade in Yorkshire. Grimsby ended their six year absence from the Football League with victory at Wembley in the Play Off Final back in May, their fourth successive attempt at going up through the post-season. As previously mentioned, they have lost key players already this summer as they seek to build on that success, and the loss of Amond could be key, but the Mariners can still call on young striker Omar Bogle, who netted twice in the win over Forest Green that secured the club’s promotion, and will surely strengthen further between now and August. This could be a battle between two sides pushing for the top spots by the time it comes around, and we have seen all too starkly in recent times what a bad run at the start of a busy period of games can do to the playing squad, so that must be avoided when Grimsby make their first ever trip to the Keepmoat here.

Mansfield Town (A) – Saturday 31st December

After a trip to Notts County on Boxing Day, Rovers will make another short journey across the county border to take on Mansfield on New Year’s Eve, probably the first tie that all fans scanned the list to pick out when fixtures were released. There is a lot of history both footballing and otherwise to inform this rivalry, with hangovers from the miners’ conflict remaining to this day. On the pitch, the two teams engaged in now famous battles during the 2003/04 promotion season, Rovers taking a big step towards promotion with a thrilling 2-1 win at Field Mill in our last league visit there in 2004. Who will ever forget Gregg Blundell’s brace to bring us from behind? Since that day, Mansfield have spent a few years out of the Football League themselves, but returned as Conference League Champions in 2013 and will be hoping to push on from a mid-table finish under Adam Murray last year.

Newport County (A) – Saturday 11th February

Early 2017 brings a host of home fixtures against familiar opponents such as Crewe and Portsmouth, as well as the long old poke to Yeovil, but another new ground can be ticked off by fans when we head to South Wales to face Newport in February. The Exiles live up to their name as they currently play their home games at Rodney Parade, the home of the city’s Rugby Union team, and came close to dropping back out of the Football League in 2015/16 finishing 22nd. The club have clawed their way back from oblivion over the past two decades after going out of business in the late 1980’s, but prior to that collapse were constant companions of Rovers in the league schedule, spending most of the 1970’s and 80’s in the same division. One thing to caution against here though is the potential for the game being postponed, not only due to the time of year but also as Rodney Parade doesn’t have a great record at getting all its’ games played on time through tough winter periods.

Blackpool (H) – Monday 17th April

Our League One collapse went to the point of no return thanks to an abysmal run over Easter when we were beaten by relegation rivals, first falling embarrassingly to already doomed Colchester 4-1 on ‘Good’ Friday, then losing to a late goal at home to Blackpool on Easter Monday. As if sent down by the Gods, our shot at redeeming that atrocious sequence comes with identical fixtures this season, with Colchester away likely to move to Good Friday in 2017 and Blackpool heading back to South Yorkshire a few days later on Easter Monday. All three sides will want to make amends for their lacklustre campaigns in 2015/16, and by this point in the year we will know whether ourselves or the Tangerines are at all close to doing so. We will be 42 games deep by the time the teams take the field for this fixture, coming off the back of that Colchester game as well as back-to-back local derbies with Grimsby and Mansfield. Will we be spurring the players on for that last promotion push, or decrying their lack of spine after yet another tragic collapse?

Hartlepool United (A) – Saturday 6th May

It all comes to a head on May 6th, with the return fixture against Hartlepool. The Pools fans are notorious for their co-ordinated fancy dress routine on the last away trip of the season, but sadly we haven’t been given these fixtures the right way round to enjoy the sight. Maybe we can try and give them a taste of their own medicine by turning up to Victoria Park in full ‘Where’s Wally?’ regalia, or at least bring along a few inflatable palm trees for a summer party. Either way, we need to be hoping that the Rovers fans are packing out the away end in order to hail the sealing of promotion, or at the very least a Play Off place as our first season back in League Two wraps up. Anything less will be seen as a monumental failure, and I doubt we’ll be seeing Darren Ferguson at this game if that is the case. As of now, in June of the summer before, there is plenty of reason to believe that we will be in the shake-up come the trip to Hartlepool, and positivity needs to remain in place from the boardroom right down to the concourse in the South Stand from now until this day in May.

RTID.

Meet the New Recruits

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at Doncaster Rovers. For the first time perhaps ever the club have sprung into action early in the transfer window, with manager Darren Ferguson clearly eager to put together his own squad after largely having to make do with what was left by Paul Dickov in the past two summers throughout his first six months in charge.

This is an unprecedented turn of events for our club, as it has become the norm to expect a hastily assembled crop of players to come together in the fortnight leading up to the opening match of the season in August. Last term this saw us begin the season without a recognised right back, Dickov electing to give Luke McCullough the position despite being too slow and unaccustomed to the role to play there. The squad also severely lacked depth, and youth team graduates still learning their craft were given too much responsibility too soon. These were just two of the many factors that contributed to our relegation, but starting off with a self-imposed deficit in key areas is always a bad way to go about doing business, and so it proved in 2015/16 for Rovers.

No such pondering this time however, as Ferguson has sought to follow up on his and the club’s promise by bringing in immediate reinforcements as he seeks to build a team capable of promotion at the first attempt from League Two. Five players have signed within two weeks, all with pedigree fit for the division and beyond. Indeed two of the captures have already been hailed as coups and optimism is beginning to creep back in to the beleaguered fanbase. So let’s take a look at the first recruits of the summer and try to determine where they will fit in to Fergie’s plans.

Rowe Factfile
Tommy Rowe

Attacking midfielder Rowe has already become a popular figure with the fans due to his successful loan spell towards the end of the season. Rowe was the first new signing announced and represents a statement of intent from the club that they mean business when it comes to putting the wrongs of this season right. Rowe netted 3 goals in 10 appearances but it wasn’t enough to save our bacon in League One, however he demonstrated undoubted talent and leadership on the pitch to help turn our wretched form around.

Rowe was released by Wolves after an injury-hit spell at the Midlands club and reportedly had offers from clubs in higher divisions than ourselves, but enjoyed his loan spell and knows the manager well from his time playing under him at Peterborough. At 27 years old he is hitting his prime as a player and should be expected to become a linchpin for our attacking midfield. This signing came only a day after the club put out their latest statement, in which they stressed funds were to be made immediately available to the manager to boost the squad. They came through on that directive sharply and it has only continued in the days since.

Blair Factfile
Matty Blair

Another attacking player, Blair has been brought in from Mansfield Town on a free transfer, turning down a new deal with our cross-county rivals to pen a contract with Rovers. Blair will also be 27 years old when the season kicks off, and has extensive experience in the fourth tier. Coming up through the non-league ranks, Blair made a name for himself with a series of star-making performances at York City as they won the F.A. Trophy and the Conference Play Offs in 2012. He netted the opener at Wembley in the Trophy Final then scored the winning goal to take the Minstermen back into the Football League just over a week later, finishing the campaign with 20 goals.

Blair is a winger by trade and it will be his pace down the flanks that make him an important part of our side. For too long we have played in a pedestrian manner, but a signing like this shows the change in philosophy that Darren Ferguson wishes to deploy. Much like our other new recruits so far, Blair has been persuaded to leave his previous club despite having to stay in the same division but has spoken of the club’s aim to challenge for automatic promotion in the coming season and has clearly been influenced by the prospect of playing under Fergie.

Etheridge Factfile
Ross Etheridge

Young goalkeeper Etheridge enjoyed a break-out season at Accrington Stanley, the surprise package of League Two. He broke into the first team in January and helped John Coleman’s team to a hugely commendable 4th place finish, making 23 appearances in all and keeping 9 clean sheets, including one on his debut against Bristol Rovers. Rovers would eventually pip Accrington to the last promotion spot at the death on the final day, and Etheridge kept goal for a narrow Play Off defeat to AFC Wimbledon, who earned promotion on Monday at Wembley.

A graduate of the Derby County academy, Etheridge has already shown in his short career that he has tremendous potential and is somebody who can be nurtured, is an imposing 6’3” and has been praised by Accrington fans for his shot-stopping abilities, despite concerns over his present distribution skills. Rovers have moved quickly to address the goalkeeping situation having made former #1 Thorsten Stuckmann available for transfer, with out of favour Slovakian Marko Marosi the only other senior keeper on the books. This is also an example of our ability to poach players from divisional rivals, as Etheridge turned down a new deal with Stanley to come to the Keepmoat Stadium.

Baudry Factfile
Mathieu Baudry

Arguably the most impressive pick-up so far, French centre half Baudry is the true ‘coup d’etat’ of the window and addresses the most desperate need in the Rovers squad. Our defence has been nothing short of a shambles for the past year and numerous different defensive combinations have failed to cut the mustard. The 28-year-old Le Havre native was the captain at Leyton Orient, was an integral part of the side that came within one game of promotion to the Championship just two years ago, and only rejected a new contract at the club in order to find a club at a higher level. Instead he has elected to stay in League Two with Rovers, showing once again that we have the pulling power needed to secure big signings for this level.

Whilst popular centre back Andy Butler remains with the squad, Gary Mackenzie is being moved on and Luke McCullough finished the season playing in midfield, plus may attract suitors if he is able to shine at Euro 2016 as part of the Northern Ireland squad, so additions in this position are vital. Baudry is undoubtedly going to be the centrepiece of our new back line, and his reputation as a ball-playing defender suggests that Fergie may opt to return to his preferred 3-5-2 formation if he can get the players to fit that system. In addition to this Baudry is a born leader and that is a trait that precious few Rovers players have possessed in recent times.

Joe Wright
In addition to Baudry, the problem area of central defence has seen another recruit brought in this morning, our youngest signing of the summer to date. Joe Wright is a promising player who made his first appearances in professional football this past season, spending the year on loan at Accrington alongside Ross Etheridge. Wright is a graduate of the well regarded Huddersfield Town academy and has been capped at U21 level by Wales. He made 22 appearances for Stanley as they competed at the top end of League Two, and has now joined on a two-year deal despite interest from other clubs.

With this capture, our fifth of the window already, Darren Ferguson has moved rapidly to fill the gaps at the back and address our weakest area. Baudry and Wright, along with Butler and McCullough, mean we have the makings of a robust, formidable back line that has been sorely lacking in recent times. Wright is an imposing 6’4” tall and should help us to become more adept at both defending and attacking set pieces, and will add strength to what has been a fairly timid defensive front throughout the past two seasons.

And what of…

McSheffrey Factfile
Gary McSheffrey

Another familiar face who continues to be discussed, but is yet to sign, is Gary McSheffrey. After spending time on loan at the club towards the end of the season McSheffrey, who lives locally, told the BBC that he was set to join Rovers on a permanent contract, having been released by new Scunthorpe manager Graham Alexander. However this has become somewhat of a protracted saga, ridiculous as that is to say when a player hasn’t signed before the end of May, because the veteran forward flew out to Ireland to complete a coaching course before penning the deal and is yet to return.

In 7 appearances last season McSheffrey netted 1 goal, on his debut, then provided no less than 6 assists as our form finally turned around thanks largely to the input of McSheffrey and fellow loanee Tommy Rowe, and we undoubtedly missed him for the final few games that sealed our fate after getting injured. The debate over McSheffrey is whether he will be deployed on the wing or in a more central attacking role if he is to sign, but it is a nice dilemma to be discussing as it shows the versatility and flexibility of our players and formation. The 33-year-old has had an extensive career at a very good level and can still be an asset on and off the field going forward.

With over two months to go until the start of the new season, things are already shaping up nicely for Doncaster Rovers after a disastrous couple of seasons. In my last post I ambitiously stated that we needed to sign a dozen players to have a squad capable of challenging for promotion, yet already we have signed nearly half of that amount. We are far from finished, with needs at full back, centre midfield and striker still to be addressed, whilst areas such as goalkeeper will also need further additions, but as we all get set to go on our summer holidays we can feel decidedly more relaxed about the club’s future than we have been able to in the past 12 months or so.

RTID.

 

Thanks to Shaun (coppsismagic) for the graphics used in this article.