• Adam Stubbings

Darren's Done: Rovers Reeling As Moore Moves On

Call it a shock, call it déjà vu – Darren Moore is the new manager of Sheffield Wednesday and Andy Butler is now in charge of the first team at Doncaster Rovers.

In a sudden turn of events, the week began with that blockbuster news leaving Rovers fans to ask how on earth the manager touted as the antithesis of Grant McCann in terms of character and long-term thinking has left just as swiftly as his predecessor. The club is now left to retool and rebuild once again in pursuit of promotion to the Championship.

All Sizzle, No Steak

When the club were faced with a complete overhaul of the playing and coaching staff in the summer of 2019, Darren Moore was the stand-out candidate to steady the ship. A popular former player with a strong reputation as a bright young coach, Moore came in and quickly took up the task of putting a competitive squad together in the wake of McCann’s raft of releases prior to his own departure for Hull City, and whilst it has been a constant work-in-progress in the 18 months since then, things felt stable.

Moore constantly spoke of the community ethos of the club and how his own philosophy married with that ethos, demonstrating what appeared to be a firm commitment to the long-term project that the Rovers hierarchy have been attempting to see through since returning to League One under Darren Ferguson in 2017. Although his standing in the game was only growing during his tenure, it felt as if Moore would not leave us in the lurch as soon as a shinier opportunity came knocking on his door, and that was a relief for fans scorned by McCann’s exit.

Ultimately though, it all meant nothing. Moore has arguably left Rovers in an even worse position than McCann did, because then the club at least had the entire pre-season to sort things out. Now Rovers are in the middle of a tough promotion race and are staring down a crucial period in which a dozen or more games could be the difference between promotion and another high midtable league finish. Moore has also just brought in a slew of carefully selected new signings yet they will now have to grow under a new boss.

Unwitting Self-Sabotage

Rovers have been on a wretched recent run of form, and the timing comes into sharp focus now. Having masterminded a brilliant run of nine wins in ten league games up to the start of February, the wheels well and truly fell off the wagon as Moore oversaw a damaging sequence of four defeats from five games – the sole point coming courtesy of James Coppinger’s last-gasp miracle strike against Hull – to leave Rovers on the verge of falling out of the top six.

Looking back, the loss of form – which could easily have begun in lacklustre performances that nevertheless resulted in wins prior against Lincoln and Fleetwood – directly coincides with when Moore’s name started to be linked with the vacant post at Sheffield Wednesday. He shot up the bookies’ market for the Owls job in late January and was evasive in press conferences regarding the speculation, because he knew that if the opportunity were to come his way he would more than likely want to take it.

That is fine of course because it is a short career and Moore is like most others – he is ambitious and wants to succeed at as high a level as possible. However, what is not okay is to let those personal considerations distract from the job at hand, and it will be hard to argue that distraction has not been a contributing factor to the alarming downturn in fortunes for Rovers in the last month. It is a form of self-sabotage to allow this to happen and could have a serious impact on the rest of the season.

Adapt or Perish

Darren Moore has brought a strong brand of technical football to Rovers in his tenure as manager but it was not without its drawbacks. Discussion around the recent defeats has largely centred on defensive ill-discipline but there have been tactical shortcomings highlighted by the manner of performance beyond just the awful goals conceded from crosses and set pieces. Moore is rigid in his belief to play from the back and build steadily through the team, and it has cost Rovers in recent weeks.

Indeed, Moore has lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation in near enough every single game he has picked a team at Rovers. The personnel have moved around the 11 positions on the field frequently but the positions and roles themselves stay the same, and teams have had an easier time studying the film ahead of games as a result. Accrington for instance totally nullified the passing game with a high press on the defence and it forced the one mistake that gave them the winning goal, and they aren’t the only beneficiaries.

The goalkeeper no longer even tries to send the ball long in a game no matter how much pressure is put on the defenders he passes to, and wingers will not use their initiative to take on a man in any situation regardless of scoreline or match scenario. Moore has persevered with the same Plan A to a fault, and one benefit of his departure may be a freshening up of ideas on the field to arrest the slide the team has been on of late.

Butler’s Big Chance

Moore is not a bad manager and he has certainly not done a bad job at Rovers. He has reshaped the squad in his image from a difficult starting point after McCann’s exit, and he has at times got the team playing some excellent football for League One and merits the praise for getting Rovers into the promotion mix this season. His development of certain players has also been superb and he has generally gone about things the right way on and off the field.

Today though he has consigned himself to a footnote in Doncaster Rovers history, if that. No promotion to remember, not even a Play-Off berth or any real long-standing benefits to the club, and he has probably tarnished the cult status he had as a player now too. Andy Butler on the other hand is a Doncastrian with passion for the club in abundance, a veteran of over 200 league games in the hoops and now with a chance to cement his legacy from the dugout.

He is a man beloved across the town for years’ worth actions on and off the field and has in front of him the opportunity to launch his managerial career in a big way. He takes over a team well equipped to push for a Play-Off place at least and already commands the respect of the players he will lead. He has been preparing for this role for some time and has cut his teeth in a difficult but rewarding post at Doncaster Belles.

If Butts succeeds in steering Rovers to a top six finish then he will surely get the job permanently in the summer, following on from Dave Penney as a former player-turned-manager of Doncaster Rovers. It will be hard to find a person in the town who doesn’t want him to succeed and that unity, togetherness and belief could take the club a long, long way.


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