• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #17: Turning Points

As the calendar ticks over into December of what has been the strangest year of most of our lives, Doncaster Rovers stand on the brink of a potential turning point in their season. Darren Moore’s side are through to the 3rd Round of the FA Cup following Sunday’s win at Carlisle, have a run of league fixtures ahead that give them a great chance to build some momentum and can at least begin to think about the return of fans after developments in the government’s strategy regarding sporting events.

The end of 2020 then brings with it potential for an upward turn in fortunes both on and off the field, and I feel duty-bound to try and look at that potential through a positive lens.

A Favourable Schedule

Although we must always carry the mantra that football is not played on paper, Rovers could hardly ask for a more balanced and reasonable run of games leading up to Christmas. Following this week’s trip to league leaders Hull, the team face five successive matches against clubs currently in the bottom half of the table – three of which are at home – before a festive double-header against two other sides currently within striking distance.

They will no doubt be tough games regardless – Swindon and Shrewsbury may still be feeling that “new manager bounce”, whilst Gillingham are always a tricky challenge and both Accrington and Fleetwood are in excellent form at the moment, but it is a clutch of fixtures that Rovers need not be apprehensive about. Indeed, they are in solid enough form themselves having gone six games in all competitions without defeat (excluding the ersatz U23s game against Wolves in the Pizza Cup) even if performances have not always been up to scratch.

The bottom line to this is that Rovers can realistically hope to win three or four games between now and New Year, which would set them up nicely for a Play-Off push in 2021.

Cup Coffers Boost

We are all aware of the benefits a deep run in the FA Cup can bring, having seen additional prize and television money from the team’s jaunt to the 5th Round two seasons ago put towards much needed improvements to the training ground as well as boosting the playing budget, so a place in the 3rd Round of the famous old competition is a welcome boost during this most trying of times. Rovers need funds wherever they can get them at the moment and the £25,500 winnings from seeing off Carlisle in Round 2 is very welcome.

It puts them in the running for a potential money-spinner as the Premier League elite join the competition, and the draw – which at time of writing hasn’t yet taken place – could throw up any number of possibilities. A home tie against a top side would surely bring with it significant TV revenue from a live selection, whilst a match-up against a side from a lower division represents a great chance to earn the £82,000 prize money that passage to the 4th Round would bring.

Whether it is to be Manchester United or Marine, or of course our perennial cup rivals Oldham, let’s be glad that Rovers have got themselves to this point, earning vital revenue in the process.

The Return of Fans

The government’s strengthened Tiers system, which comes into force later this week, includes provisions for sports teams to welcome fans back into stadiums dependent on a number of factors. Unfortunately, South Yorkshire remains in the Tier 3 classification it was in before the latest lockdown measures, meaning that no fans will be admitted to games at the Keepmoat for the time being, but we are just days away from fans being able to attend a Rovers game away from home.

Next Saturday’s trip to Northampton will include a thousand Cobblers season ticket holders watching on from the stands, marking only the second time since the beginning of this pandemic that the team has played in front of a proper audience. It is to be hoped that the restrictions in place will bring down the case rate in South Yorkshire and allow for limited capacity at home games in the near future, with the fact that the government has finally moved to put plans in place for supporters to return a huge step in the right direction.

Watching from home has been a tough experience once the season really got going, and home comforts are no substitute for the atmosphere and camaraderie of being in the live crowd. It has been almost nine long months for Rovers fans now but there is hope slowly dawning on the horizon now, and fans of all clubs able to welcome fans back in December will surely be very glad for it.