Editors' Choice: 2019/20 Season Highlights
As we continue to take your votes for the first annual ITEN End of Season Awards – finishing up this weekend and formally revealed in a piece next week – our small editorial team put heads together (easily done from two sides of the same sofa!) to discuss highlights and stand-outs from the curtailed 2019/20 season.
Read on for the thoughts of Lead Writer Adam Stubbings and Lead Designer Abbey Hinder on a season of steady progress for Doncaster Rovers…
Game of the Season
There were plenty of ups and down in the 38 league and cup games played under Darren Moore this season. First up, our team highlight the best games they saw in person over the last year..
Abbey: My Game of the Season might surprise you actually, it was the away game at Sunderland! I was nervous before we went and wasn’t really expecting a very good game as we weren’t our usual selves in the previous game against them and it was a bit of an unpleasant build up, but I really had nothing to worry about. I feel like we showed some real fight that evening and that’s what made it so enjoyable.
I know it was a draw but it felt like a win in so many ways. We weren’t intimidated as a team, everyone played to their best ability and it was a really good atmosphere high up in that away end at the Stadium of Light. I think it stands out as a good game to watch even though Rovers didn’t win because of the way the players performed on the night against a bigger side.
Adam: Mine is another that didn’t make the top three in the ITEN fan vote – I think the Peterborough home game back in September is the highlight for me. We’d been doing alright, nothing special up to that point, and had been conceding a lot of silly goals whilst Peterborough had the best attack in the league by a mile and had scored in every game so we were very much expecting a tough game.
We beat them 2-0, we played them off the park for most of the game – they had a couple of good chances but we kept them out – Seny Dieng had a really good debut making a great save from Ivan Toney and Rovers scored two good goals. It was a great team performance and obviously there has been a bit of rivalry with Peterborough over the past couple of years so that made it even sweeter.
The other one I wanted to mention was the last game we got to before the shutdown, which was Wycombe at home in March. They were flying high and we beat them 3-1, played really well and actually responded to conceding a goal for a change. Jason Lokilo had an exciting debut and you could see where Rovers were clicking as a team and you could see that the changes Darren Moore made to the squad in January were paying off by that point and it was a sign that we could really push for a Play-Off place but it was unfortunately not to be.
Goal of the Season
Rovers fans enjoyed an abundance of excellent goals throughout the campaign: strikes of all sorts and skills from players right across the team. Here we discuss some of the goals that people were perhaps not as quick to mention when discussing the best of this season..
Abbey: Niall Ennis’ first goal for Rovers against Lincoln was superb! Route One from Ian Lawlor, Ennis took it down with one touch and then whacked it into the top corner. Almost blink and you miss it, it happened so fast! I feel like there was such a huge amount of pressure on Ennis because he was so young and still learning in so many aspects, but we stuck him up front on his own because we had limited options and I feel that was a really nice moment for him.
I was rooting for him throughout the whole season to not bow under the pressure and I don’t think he did! He had that youthful enthusiasm, he never looked stressed by the responsibility and this goal summed that up.
Adam: My unquestioned Goal of the Season was Niall Ennis’ diving header against Bolton, I don’t think it gets talked about enough. We desperately wanted to beat Bolton after that debacle at the start of the season but it was just a class goal. We worked it down the right hand side with Halliday and Sadlier, Okenabirhie got the ball back-to-goal and fed it square to Coppinger.
Copps took one touch, as he does, looked to his left and saw Ennis breaking into space, but I mean, the vision was brilliant for him, and then he put this deft cross over a really narrow angle and Ennis put his whole body behind it for a diving header straight in and if you watch it back you can hear the crowd getting up because they can see what Coppinger has seen straight after he’s seen it, so to speak, and Ennis thumped it in with his head.
It was a fantastic goal and I don’t think it gets talked about enough because people always remember the long-range screamers as good goals – like the Ennis goal against Lincoln and the others in the fan vote – and I just think this was a really classy team goal, made in large part by Coppinger, but also with that great improvisation by Niall Ennis.
Young Player of the Season
Much has been made of the youthful nature of Darren Moore’s team thanks to a high level of squad turnover last summer and a reliance on loanees from Premier League academies. This policy has allowed a number of U23 players to shine in the hoops however, and we give our due to a couple of them here..
Abbey: This is dead easy for me, and will not be a shock to you or anyone who follows us on social media, but my Young Player of the Season is Ben Sheaf. He was an absolutely class player for us – very calm and considered. He’s got the playing style of someone much more mature than he actually is as he’s still young, and I thought he was quite consistent throughout the whole season.
Yes, we could see Ben growing and developing as a player and seeing the chemistry with Ben Whiteman coming along too was nice to see, so he had those elements to his game, but he certainly has all the markings of someone that you know is going to have a successful career and I think this has been a really good learning opportunity for him.
He’s definitely got the foundations in place as he’s very technical and skilled, maybe not as “gung ho” as a lot of fans wanted him to be at times, but if anything I think that the fact he wasn’t that sort of player was a massive benefit to the team because he was very considered in his play and most of the time that paid off, as evidenced by his high standing in the passing ranks.
Adam: The player I want to mention is Danny Amos because even though he only played in two or three games, he looks like a player who can come in and be a first team player now despite only being 20 years old. I can count on one hand how many players have through the Rovers academy and made it stick in the last 15 years – Husband did and got a move, Paul Green came through in the early 2000s and I’m struggling to think of anybody else – and I think Danny Amos shows a lot of ability and maturity in the way that he plays.
He’s not the biggest player either, he’s not that physical but I think when he had to come in and replace Cameron John at left back he did a really good job and if he’d been able to play in those last ten games I think we’d be sat here now saying we’re really chuffed to have him there going forward having played a dozen or so league games. Either way I think we can be quite content with him as one of our options.
Most Improved Player of the Season
A category not included in the main ITEN End of Season Awards, we highlight a pair of players who showed tremendous progress over the course of the season, having arrived in the summer and taken some time to adapt to the rigours of League One football..
Abbey: Brad Halliday is someone I’ve talked about all season, this pick is because of the sheer growth he has had since signing last summer. Since seeing him in those pre-season friendlies I’ve watched him grow into this fantastic young, energetic player who brings so much to the team. He gets himself in all the right spots on the pitch and is brilliant at times, I really rate him and it has been great to see him develop during his first season in League One.
Adam: Halliday definitely improved a lot from first coming in to the team especially because he was stepping up a level and he got a lot of stick at the start of the season which is a shame because he was green but he ended up being an ever-present for Rovers and rightly so.
I think another player worth mentioning is Madger Gomes. I liked the look of him in pre-season, if you remember he scored that good goal against Hull on a miserable afternoon weather-wise, and then he looked a bit like Bambi on ice in league games for a while but he steadily did get more involved and he was fantastic in that game at Sunderland where he came in having not played much for a couple of months.
He showed in that game what he could bring in terms of mobility, in terms of linking the midfield to attack and he’s another player who probably would have shone in those last ten games if he’d had a chance without the curtailment.
Player of the Season
It’s the big one! Who was the best player over the course of the season for Rovers? It’s looking like a landslide in the public vote but here we discuss the top contenders anyway..
Abbey: Tom Anderson. I don’t think that’s a shocking answer to many because he has clearly been one of the stand-out stars of our squad this year. He’s just phenomenal – all those comparisons to a brick wall are legitimate – he is a brick wall in our defence and what I really enjoy about him as well is that he has clear leadership qualities, he brings everybody around him in line and tells people exactly what he wants them to do because he has that vision and organisation to his game.
It’s that confidence to be able to say, “I’m confident and comfortable in my role so I’m going to help those around me,” so I think we should earmark him as a future captain. He’s taken after Andy Butler in that sense and brought that back line together to good effect.
Adam: Anderson is an obvious choice and I agree with everything you’ve said there. I think if not for Anderson being so consistently good, you have to give Ben Whiteman his due as well. I think without Whiteman, we are nowhere near as successful a team this season. By the end of this season things were starting to come together under Darren Moore and I think him making Ben the captain at 23 years old was a master stroke and one of the best things he could have done coming in.
I do think he’ll probably move on if not this summer then probably by next summer but he’s one of the few players I’ve seen at Rovers who I look at and think “he could play in the Premier League”. He was good when he came here but he didn’t really have a set position and he’s really grown into being, in my opinion, the best passing midfield in League One and I think he could step up to the Championship for any team in that league no problem next season. Obviously I hope he’s still at Rovers but if not I won’t be surprised nor would I blame him.
I just think his range of passing, his distribution, his vision and his mobility to get up and down the pitch (certainly helped by being alongside Ben Sheaf) are all top drawer skills. He chips in with goals and is a natural leader – I think we’ve benefited from having him and Anderson in the team together and those two have been a dream for Darren to try and build the rest of his team around and he’s one of those players, Ben Whiteman, who is just a pleasure to watch.