Player, Influential: #3 Tom Anderson
Since the season is on hold due to the developing coronavirus pandemic, we thought we’d take the 2019/20 season as it stands and spotlight a few of the most influential players in Darren Moore’s young Rovers team.
Last week we looked at captain Ben Whiteman, so this week we turn to the back four and focus on defensive rock Tom Anderson.
Tom Anderson has made himself indispensable. The towering centre half has had to push his way to the front of the pecking order in his two years at Doncaster Rovers, but he has done that and then some. Brought in initially as an emergency loan option by Darren Ferguson on the last day of the January transfer window in 2018, Anderson earned a more permanent deal in just a handful of outings in the second half of what proved a consolidating campaign for the club.
After a shaky start that saw Rovers ship seven goals in his first three games, the 6’4” defender notched a brace in a 3-0 win over Fleetwood that cost Uwe Rosler his job, then followed up with a heroic effort in the first derby with Rotherham at the New York Stadium. Anderson had led the efforts to repel the Millers’ aerial bombardment throughout the game but suffered a horrible fractured cheekbone injury in a collision with goalkeeper Marko Marosi.
The lengthy delay to treat him coupled with his absence from an already depleted Rovers defence eventually saw a 1-0 lead turn into a cruel 2-1 defeat with Rotherham’s winner coming in the 13th minute of extra time from the penalty spot. Many feel that, had Anderson remained on the pitch that day, Rovers would have celebrated a famous win over their bitter rivals. He had however done enough in that display and the Fleetwood fixture to merit a permanent deal and so he was signed from Burnley that summer in Darren Ferguson’s last act as manager.
Proving His Worth
Anderson went on to play in exactly half of Rovers’ league games under Grant McCann last season, but had to wait for his chance. It took an injury to Joe Wright midway through the 2018/19 campaign for him to get an opportunity, but he grabbed it with both hands once again. He memorably scored in the FA Cup upset win at Preston and was a key figure in the club’s run to the 5th Round, starting every game although he had fallen down the pecking order by the end of the season and didn’t feature in the Play-Off tie with Charlton.
Once again though, Anderson had shown his value to the team and another managerial change was about to bring a big upturn in his fortunes. Darren Moore was an accomplished centre half in his playing days and seemed to relish being able to help the Burnley native progress his game further. The departures of Andy Butler and Paul Downing last summer enabled Moore to build his rear-guard around Anderson, putting him into a leadership role complementing captain Ben Whiteman and veteran James Coppinger further forward.
It has worked to perfection, as Anderson has played almost every minute in a defence boasting the third best record in League One this season, keeping ten clean sheets along the way. Indeed, if not for a red card in a 1-0 defeat at Wycombe in December, Anderson would have played the full 90 minutes in every competitive match Rovers have played in 2019/20. Couple that with the fact he has probably been the team’s most consistent performer, barely putting a foot wrong, and you start to understand the scale of progression he has made since the arrival of Moore.
It was welcome news then on New Year’s Day when the club confirmed that Anderson had signed a new deal tying him down for another two years. The manager clearly sees him as an integral member of the squad he is trying to build, and rightly so. It was appropriate timing too as the club was in the midst of their best run of the season, and owed much of their success to the collective superiority the defence was displaying.
A run of five clean sheets in seven games propelled Rovers into the Play-Off picture and saw Anderson deservedly earn a nomination for the Player of the Month award. That nod is about as much recognition as he has earned from the wider footballing world however with his name barely registering on most pundit’s Team of the Season lists, despite such an excellent and consistent campaign.
The ignorance of the masses is the club’s gain, as Anderson going under the radar should keep the vultures from circling for now, but it is surely only a matter of time before he starts to attract attention higher up the pyramid, much as Whiteman and Kieran Sadlier have in recent months. At 26 years old, the big man is still approaching his prime and the combination of strength, intelligence and leadership is one that marks him out as a top prospect at Championship level in years to come.
Whatever the case, those who doubted Tom Anderson in his early Rovers days or raised eyebrows at his ungainly manner have been proven thoroughly wrong. There is simply no denying the credentials of the man at this level and his importance to the Doncaster Rovers team has grown exponentially in the two years since his arrival. Anderson exemplifies the do-it-yourself attitude that endears players of his ilk to the fans and it is to be hoped he becomes a stalwart of the side following in the footsteps of Andy Butler before him.
Long may opposition strikers find themselves running into a solid brick wall wearing #4 in the red and white hoops.