Clear Your Schedule: 5 Big Games in 2017/18
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Blackburn Rovers (A) – Saturday August 12th
Whilst the Gillingham game just under six weeks from now will be the first chance for many of us to see the Reds in action following our promotion last term, it is a trip to Ewood Park one week later that offers up the first real excitement of the season on the fixture list. Blackburn are one of only half a dozen clubs to boast a Premier League title to their name, and will be seen as the big fish in a medium-sized pond when they embark on their first campaign in the third tier since 1980. It has been a miserable few years for the Lancashire side, falling from a top half finish in the Premier League to this point in only seven years under the much-maligned Venky’s ownership, and the media will not hesitate to talk up how humbling it will be for them to play their first home game of the season against “The Likes of Doncaster”.
We do have a slight bit of recent history with our fellow Rovers however, playing alongside each other in the Championship three seasons ago. In our last visit to Ewood, the home side ran out 1-0 winners courtesy of a Rudy Gestede strike, but it is testament to how much things have changed at both clubs that only two of Donny’s squad from that day remain at either club now (James Coppinger and Luke McCullough, for those keeping score). The reverse fixture played out on Sky TV at the Keepmoat Stadium earlier in the 2013-14 season, goals from Theo Robinson and James Husband sealing our only win against Blackburn since 1951.
Scunthorpe United (H) – Saturday September 16th (TBC)
An asterisk goes alongside this fixture against one of our chief local rivals as it has been scheduled to coincide with the St. Leger Weekend, arguably the most important sporting event to take place in Doncaster each year. Whether that means the game being re-arranged or not remains to be seen, but several punters have already expressed their concerns at the two big meets being placed alongside one another on the same day. For this writer there is no contest, nothing quite lives up to a heated local derby, and this is the first of four that we have to look forward to in the upcoming campaign.
A vaunted seven game winning streak stretching back to a famous 4-3 win in 2010 against the Iron was unceremoniously ended with a pair of defeats last time our paths crossed in the league, a Paddy Madden goal ruining Christmas for everyone in December 2015 prior to a 2-0 reverse on a miserable Tuesday night in March of last year put another nail in our already lowering coffin on the way out of League One through the trap door. That night saw one of the most abject displays by Doncaster Rovers in any match and the manager and his players that remain from that performance come Leger Day will know how much they need to redeem themselves in the eyes of the fans.
Rotherham United (H) – Saturday November 11th
If there is any game that can surpass Scunthorpe for a feisty derby, then it is undoubtedly this one against our closest rivals. The Millers have been avoiding playing the Rovers for ten years now, enduring a miserable spell in the bottom tier for several seasons and nearly going out of business altogether before a change in fortunes saw a meteoric rise to the Championship under Steve Evans. Those heady heights of scrapping for survival in the second tier ended last season in fairly pathetic fashion, the U’s amassing only just enough points to beat our own ignominious record for lowest points in an EFL season set in 1997-98. The final score there, for anyone counting again, was 23 to 20.
In our last meeting, Rotherham were one of the first sides to visit our brand new Keepmoat Stadium in January 2007, losing an exciting contest 3-2 in a season that ultimately ended with their relegation to League Two. Arguably the most memorable moment of that match was a stunning 30-yard strike from future Rovers midfielder Martin Woods, a goal that probably led Sean O’Driscoll to sign Woods and also created the bizarre term “Martin Woods territory” that would be applied from the stands to any long-range set piece throughout his lengthy tenure in the hoops despite the fact he never scored from so far out for us.
Rotherham United (A) – Saturday February 24th, 2018
Whilst it will be in November that we renew our long rivalry with the Millers, the more intriguing clash comes in the reverse fixture two months later, as Rovers make their first ever competitive trip to New York…wait, sorry, that’s the New York Stadium in Rotherham, not quite as glamorous. There may not be a Big Apple to visit this season, but this bout will whet the appetite of fans on both sides nonetheless. Rovers have not actually scored a goal in Rotherham since 1992, indeed we have not won there since a 3-2 victory in 1985 when the late Billy Bremner was at the helm, so there is plenty of incentive to bring back three points from the dark recesses of South Yorkshire here.
Rotherham’s new stadium looks impressive from the outside, but from within it comes across like a touching, albeit slightly underwhelming, homage to the architecture of the Keepmoat. If you’ve never been, picture our lovely bowl stadium but with a weird slanting roof, and instead of a nice lake to walk round on your way in imagine you have the option of looking at the River Don on one side, or a scrapyard on the other. All joking aside, this will be one of the first games fans looked for when the fixtures were announced last week, and it will be good to restore what has historically been our biggest local rivalry after years trawling around the locales of Barnsley, Sheffield and Leeds.
Blackpool (A) – Easter Weekend, March 2018
For the third year running, the pesky computer has decided to churn out a tie with Blackpool at Easter. The good news however is that this year we will not play them at home. No, instead of an underwhelming home defeat immediately following a lacklustre performance away to Colchester, we get to enjoy the seaside as a make-weight for losing to the Tangerines. Both ourselves and Blackpool were promoted from League Two at the first attempt last season, meaning that Gary Bowyer’s side just can’t stand to see us leave them behind.
Our recent history at Bloomfield Road is not great, but it is impossible to tell at present where both sides will find their seasons heading by the time people are breaking out the chocolate eggs. Last season the Seasiders did the double over us, latterly in controversial fashion due to some bizarre refereeing late in the game at the Keepmoat that served to derail our title push, and Rovers can boast only two victories in ten meetings on the coast in the fixture this side of the year 2000. More worryingly for those who love omens, our last three meetings on Easter Weekend have all ended in defeats with not a single goal scored by the men in hoops. Let’s hope all that can change as we hurtle towards the climax of the 2017-18 season.
Wigan Athletic (H) – Saturday May 5th
Before we know it, this season that is yet to begin will come to a close, and this year it will end in a home game against Wigan Athletic, a side we last met just over a year ago as the two sides exited League One in opposite directions, only to return immediately. Wigan went up as champions but have yo-yoed back down again and gone through two managers since their last visit to DN4, but our long-time lower league rivals in the 20th century will be hoping this latest spell in the third tier is short-lived once more. Will this last-day showdown, like so many others involving Rovers in recent years, have everything riding on it? Rarely is there a dead rubber on the final day for us these days, and you wouldn’t bet against a third straight televised live game to close out the year come May.
You have to go back to 1996 to find the last time the Latics actually beat Rovers too, the champions-elect coming unstuck in April 2016 losing 3-1 to an uncharacteristically classy Donny side, who took the points courtesy of a rare Andy Butler brace and an Andy Williams penalty. Mere weeks before taking Euro 2016 by storm, Will Grigg also proved he could be on fire in cooler climates with a goal for the visitors, but the day belonged to Rovers despite the eventual outcome of the season. We are unbeaten in six games in this fixture notably including a shock LDV Vans Trophy victory at the JJB Stadium in 2002, a game that featured future England star Leighton Baines off the bench for a Wigan side that also had future Rovers striker Neil Roberts up front. They went on to win what was then Division 2 that season, whilst Rovers ended the year on a high note themselves with promotion back into the Football League.
Whether or not these five fixtures are the ones we look back on fondly or not by next summer remains to be seen, but as we wait to get our fix of football again over the next few weeks, let’s start our plans, preparations and excitement for what hopefully will be a successful year on the pitch at DRFC.