Dates For Your Diary 2016/17
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
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.