• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #16: Wimbledon, FC United and Butler in Charge

In a surprising turn of events this Friday lunchtime, it was announced that defender Andy Butler was taking temporary charge of the Doncaster Rovers first team and would be the man in the dugout for Saturday’s FA Cup 1st Round game airing live on the BBC.

Thankfully, Darren Moore remains the club’s manager but has, along with his entire coaching staff, been instructed to self-isolate for two weeks after coming into contact with a positive Covid-19 case. Games have been coming thick and fast over the past month and losing your manager and first team coaching staff for a fortnight could prove disastrous, however the schedule has fallen kind with this situation for Rovers as Moore may not in fact miss a single league game.

This is thanks in large part to the squad’s growing number of international players, with Matt Smith joining Joe Bursik and Danny Amos amongst the ranks this month facilitating the likely postponement of next Saturday’s League One fixture with Oxford United. The only other game besides this and tomorrow’s trip to FC United of Manchester in the FA Cup is a Papa John’s Trophy match next Tuesday with Wolves U23s, a match of very little significance.

Rovers now enter a period of uncertainty with tricky waters to navigate and lessons to learn from recent matches, all without their leader present to guide them along.

Wimbledon Frustrate as Copps Spoils Dons’ Big Night

James Coppinger’s looping deflected strike earned Rovers a 2-2 draw away at AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night in a game that the visitors dominated without ever being able to control. The Dons, playing for the first time at their brand new Plough Lane stadium back in their home borough, took the lead twice against the run of play but were unable to close things out as Rovers hit back, first through Matt Smith and then through Coppinger.

Moore’s men have struggled to win games against sides who sit back and restrict their space in the attacking third this season, usually finding much more joy taking apart top sides willing to come out and play expansive football. This turned out to be the case again at Plough Lane as Glyn Hodges’ side sat in two banks of four and asked Rovers to break them down, which truthfully they never did.

Jon Taylor ran up blind alleys, Josh Sims was forced to cut back in front of the defensive line time after time and Fejiri Okenabirhie struggled to break into space at all, leading to a frustrating night. the side must find ways to adapt and get past teams of this style or else any hopes of promotion will fade fast in the competitive environment that is League One.

Butler Steps Into The Void

Wimbledon announced on Friday that their FA Cup tie with Barrow has been called off due to a number of positive Covid-19 cases amongst their first team squad, but nothing has been said to confirm that this is the source of our coaching staff’s contact with a case. None of the Rovers first team is self-isolating at this point but the timing of the two announcements raises questions. Whatever the case, Rovers are at time of writing still set for action tomorrow and it is Doncaster Rovers Belles manager Andy Butler who will have to step in.

The move is a no-brainer and actually a pre-planned contingency for such a situation arising, according to the Doncaster Free Press. Butts is highly regarded amongst the playing staff and although it may mean he himself steps aside from the playing squad for the trip to FC United of Manchester, it does mean that fans can be assured a capable and passionate coach is in charge for the game.

The tie going ahead means crucial television revenue for Rovers owing to the fact the game is the designated Saturday tea-time game on BBC Two, with the cameras hoping to show a giant-killing upset in favour of the Northern Premier League side, as mad as viewing Rovers as “giants” appears in anyone’s eyes. This one was already set to be a risky encounter but the added blow of losing Darren Moore for the game only adds to the growing number of banana skins on the road ahead.

Rotate...or Stick?

Having played twice a week for most of the season so far, it stands to reason that there would be a big temptation to rotate the squad and give regular starters a well deserved rest, especially against a side four divisions below Rovers. However, now that the schedule has opened up to allow a rest and recharge for the whole squad after this week, Darren Moore may feel that taking the safe option and putting out as strong a side as possible is the better option.

Regardless, surely this is a chance for Louis Jones to step in and show his worth. The performances of Joe Bursik have led to some fans calling for Jones to come in for league matches, and it cannot hurt to give him a run-out against FC United especially as he would have to come in anyway for the Papa John’s Trophy match next week. Fringe players such as Ed Williams may also be looking at the 1st Round tie as a chance to prove themselves worthy of a slot in the first team.

Looking further at utilising academy graduates like Lirak Hasani and Liam Ravenhill will also be a temptation, but if first team regulars are fully fit and ready then sticking with more established names may be preferable. It seems almost certain that Fejiri Okenabirhie will lead the line either way as he is the only fit striker on the books, whilst team leaders like Ben Whiteman and Tom Anderson also feel like guaranteed starters regardless of competition.

Whatever the decision, let’s look forward to enjoying the rarity of watching Rovers live on mainstream TV and look forward to the safe return of Darren Moore, Jamie Smith and Paul Gerrard in a couple of weeks.