Desperate Darren Must Lift Rovers Now
He may not be able to lift a cow with one hand, but Darren Ferguson needs to find the solution that lifts Doncaster Rovers up the League One table and away from trouble immediately, starting with a huge ‘six-pointer’ against relegation rivals Shrewsbury this weekend.
The fact that we even have ‘relegation rivals’ is a damning indictment of the way this campaign has faltered since the turn of the year. A convincing 3-0 win at Roots Hall against Southend welcomed in 2016 in style and there were genuine aspirations of a play off push, hopes that were only boosted by an excellent display in defeat against Premier League Stoke in the F.A. Cup the following weekend.
Since then however Rovers’ form and confidence has fallen off a cliff. No win in eight league outings, a four match losing run in the midst of that, and some of the most abject performances of the season all coming at the worst time. The 1-0 home loss to Sheffield United was one of the worst derby games one could ever hope to witness, and there has been little sign of a turnaround in recent games.
So what does Ferguson and his unbalanced squad have to do to turn it around?
Strikers Must Find Their Shooting Boots
It goes without saying that Rovers need to remember how to score goals if they want to get out of this mess, but short of sounding like Michael Owen it needs to be analysed where things have gone wrong for the formerly prolific Andy Williams and his strike partner Nathan Tyson. Tyson has been battling injury of late and looked less than fully fit upon his return against the Blades, but since then has reverted to his usual energetic self, just without the finishing touch. One thing you will always get from Tyson is endeavour in abundance and a will to succeed, but things just haven’t fallen his way of late. His partnership with Williams, the club’s top scorer with 14 goals, has proved fruitful for Rovers this season but the goals have dried up.
Williams is now 7 games without a goal, his longest scoreless run since signing in the summer, and as a confidence player his touch and finishing ability have worsened in that time. It is clear that he only needs a goal or two to regain that confidence, but doing so hasn’t been easy to work out. The inconsistency, forced or otherwise, in selection of the midfielders behind him has not helped, and he has often cut a frustrated and isolated figure up front, particularly in Tyson’s absence.
Curtis Main has left the club on loan, and Dany N’Guessan continues to be say searching for his working toes, leaving Williams to carry the centre forward burden largely on his own. Youngster Liam Mandeville scored a cracker against Walsall but really he can’t be considered a worthy replacement for Williams yet, and instead it is up to the first choice strike pairing to rediscover their chemistry in order to recapture goalscoring form.
Without question the defence has a lot to answer for of late. Far too many sloppy goals are being conceded game after game, and a back line devoid of pace is also devoid of guile and leadership. We don’t know what Andy Butler has done to lose his place in the side, perhaps he claimed in front of Fergie that Cloughie was a better boss than Sir Alex, or maybe the hapless duo of Luke McCullough and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair have saved all of their best tricks for the training pitch, but surely Fergie sees that he needs to bolster the heart of the defence and the best way to do that is to Butler back in
ATS, or Swifty as some have opted to name him recently, continues to look clueless in possession and too quick to ‘hump it long’, whilst McCullough for all his ball-playing ability and international pedigree continues to be the cause of soft goals, is beaten again and again to balls he should be winning and has even completely lost the ability to judge the bounce of a ball on the Keepmoat’s (admittedly firm) pitch.
Another young midfielder has been brought in on loan this week, Riccardo Calder from Aston Villa, leaving many to wonder if Fergie has actually noticed the glaring holes in our team at the back, but at least the signing of this winger addresses the loss of James Coppinger to injury, and may provide some balance and an injection of creativity to a midfield sorely lacking. This doesn’t cover up the fact that we are in dire need of an upturn in defensive performances if we are to stay in this league.
One thing that is evident from lacklustre, soulless performances of late is this: there is little to no leadership in the squad. Fergie has valiantly blooded several youth team graduates into the side this season but has this had a detrimental effect on the mental fortitude of the team? Harry Middleton’s performances have regressed throughout the last month or two, but he has often showed maturity beyond his years. Despite this, there is often a lot of young talent on show at the expense of experience, with critics pointing to veteran club legends Richie Wellens and Rob Jones being jettisoned in the transfer window.
In Fergie’s defence, Jones had become an injury nightmare and Wellens was extremely inconsistent, but they were clearly experienced men able to pick a team up by the scruff of the neck and throw them forward. Jones did this almost literally in our title-winning campaign of 2012/13 and a replacement for that kind of vital leadership has not been forthcoming. Coppinger is the godfather of the squad but has been plagued by injuries since New Year, leaving only really Paul Keegan to pick up the mantle.
Nathan Tyson was stand-in captain at Swindon on Tuesday, and his words in the wake of that match should encourage all fans. Tyson is the sort of leader we must turn to now, in the absence of any other experienced players willing to put the team on their back, and go into the Shrewsbury game and all 12 that follow it ready to fight for our lives.
“We’ve got to go out there and be nasty on Saturday, it’s a huge game…I believe we can dig out results, but we have to stand up and be counted.
“I want to be a winner and I have to keep fighting.”
So, can the players stand up and be counted? Can the fans stand up, sing loud and back them? If the manager, the players and the fans all show what they are made of starting right now, then Doncaster Rovers can beat the drop and build again.