Musings from the South Stand #24
Here we are again then. The fixture list looks rather different, the kit is red and white again, yet the surroundings remain largely the same despite a recent change in branding. This Saturday, faithful Doncaster Rovers fans will make the pilgrimage back to Lakeside to witness their team in the first home game of the 2022-23 League Two campaign, and this writer will be taking his seat back in the South Stand with hope for better than we’ve seen over much of the last 18 months.
On the Edge of the Line
Of course, the season got underway in earnest over in West Yorkshire last weekend, and though no goals were scored in the curtain-raiser against promotion hopefuls Bradford City, we still learned quite a bit about this latest iteration of Doncaster Rovers football. You can read my full match report over at the Popular Stand website, then allow me to dig in to one particular element of the game that will be worth keeping an eye on as we navigate the coming months.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp once labelled his players “mentality monsters” for the way they approach and overcome the (rather more lofty) challenges that they face as a team and club, and this is a facet of the sport that Rovers have struggled mightily with for some time. Gary McSheffrey then will be proud of how his team stood up to a hostile and bitter atmosphere at Valley Parade following the early flashpoint that saw Liam Ravenhill avoid a red card for breaking the leg of Bantams midfielder Emmanuel Osadebe.
Save for Lee Tomlin’s half minute of madness – the less said of which, the better – the team faced adversity head on and weathered a considerable storm on and off the pitch to earn a confidence-boosting point which puts them on the board for the campaign. It is fair to say that last season, Rovers would likely have been turned over in a second half dominated by the hosts, but on this occasion mentality shone through and some dogged defending coupled with expert game management from players and manager alike got an ugly job done.
If we can channel that determination going forward, and keep moments like Ravenhill’s and Tomlin’s to a minimum, this club might just find the sweet spot to allow mental fortitude a leading role in our resurgence.
Rolling with the Punches
It is not just in match situations that this club needs to find its resilience, however. Part of bringing the good times back to Doncaster Rovers for Gary McSheffrey and James Coppinger is how they adjust to issues that crop up, and no issue gets more airtime of late than the injury bug. This is understandable because the team has felt snake-bitten by ailments since the start of last season, and it appears we are continuing the trend in 2022-23 despite a significant change in fitness department personnel.
Excepting the long-term absent trio of Jon Taylor, Ben Close and Tom Anderson – the latter of whom did make a surprise return off the bench at Bradford – Rovers now have a clutch of key players in the treatment room despite the season being only a game old, and that has to be a concern. Ollie Younger has an unspecified problem, Tommy Rowe suffered a neck spasm prior to last weekend and Luke Molyneux, Reo Griffiths and Charlie Seaman all suffered impact injuries in pre-season games.
Molyneux and Rowe are particular misses, with Molyneux a marquee signing brought in to bring the creative spark in the final third, and Rowe a virtually irreplaceable cog in the midfield that leads by example week in, week out. Shorn of their qualities from his midfield, McSheffrey had to rely on unproven teenagers at Bradford and with Close still no nearer a return from a serious knee problem, it looks likely that Rovers will need to dip into the loan market to bolster numbers.
Josh Andrews is the only loanee on the books at present, so there is room to manoeuvre, but the squad is already approaching its maximum capacity and so any further additions now will need to be astute. A creative, front-foot midfield player and cover at full-back must be the priority when looking over the state of the squad and its injured crop at present – we wait to see what moves can be made in the remaining weeks of the transfer window.
No matter which 11 players take to the field in Rovers colours this weekend, let’s enjoy a hopefully more fruitful season than we had to suffer through last year. Opponents Sutton United will be making only their second ever visit to Doncaster for a league fixture, fresh off a promising maiden EFL campaign, so it is sure to be a competitive game played hopefully in the right spirit.
This Rovers side already look fitter and more unified than we saw before the summer and their connection to the fans felt renewed at Bradford. They will be just as keen to get off to a winning start at home as those in attendance, so let’s enjoy getting back to that unique feeling of convening to watch our football team play come 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon.