Ray Jest's Reliving Rovers: 1969/70 Part 7A
Rovers fan Ray Jest takes us back in time to relive classic seasons from the archives, and is currently documenting the 1969/70 campaign, with Lawrie McMenemy leading the side back in the Third Division. Check out the previous instalment here, then read on to see how Rovers got on into December as they fought to stay in the hunt for promotion.
The following Saturday 13th December saw McMenemy’s side travelling across to Prenton Park the home of Tranmere Rovers.
Lying in 15th position in the league, Tranmere were having an average season although their points tally of 19 left them just 6 adrift of Rovers in 7th place.
It was expected that this would be a test of Doncaster's resolve with the cup defeat to Fourth Division Chester still fresh in their fans minds.
Laurie Sheffield was out injured for the game, in fact McMenemy only had eight fit players on the pitch at start of play. John Flowers played with a painful shoulder, Stuart Robertson was still not fully over his groin injury and Stephen Briggs was considered to be just slightly fitter than Tony Marsden.
It was then a patched up Rovers eleven that took to the field at kick off.
As can be expected, Tranmere were immediately on top as Rovers struggled a little with their formation and with just eight minutes on the clock Doncaster found themselves a goal down.
The game had only really just started and Tranmere had put together a couple of good attacking moves with Doncaster's dogged defence standing up well, but a quick break down the right caught them off guard and with two or three of the defenders stood still claiming for offside, Crossley played a ball across the edge of the area to Derek Smith who flashed a low shot past Ogston's despairing dive.
It was a hammer blow to Rovers so early in the game, but credit to the team who did not let their heads drop and gradually fought their way back into the game.
With Flowers playing at times as a makeshift attacker, and Regan having one of his best games, the visitors began to wear down the Tranmere defence and it was these two who would give Rovers a half time lead.
With 35 minutes on the clock, Haselden raiding down the right put over a low curling cross and Regan diving full length managed to flick the ball over the advancing Tranmere goalkeeper Thomas and into the top corner of the net for Doncaster's equaliser.
As half time neared, Doncaster intensified their attacks and 8 minutes after the equaliser Flowers once again moving forward from his midfield position made room for himself on the edge of the box before hitting a calmly steered a shot into the bottom left hand corner of the Tranmere goal.
So half time arrived with Rovers finding themselves in front and in truth apart from the opening 10 minutes or so Doncaster were well worth it. Tranmere's players walked off shell-shocked to say the least.
The start of the second half saw Rovers further depleted as Robertson would take no further part having taken a bad knock in the first half. His place was taken by young Stewart Gray.
Tranmere came out for the second half determined to get level and for much of the half Doncaster were under the cosh as their opponents created attack after attack.
Wilcockson, Clish and Gray were powerhouses in defence, throwing their bodies in the way of shots and breaking up the opposition play. Ogston as well was called in to play and pulled off some brilliant saves to keep Tranmere at bay.
It seemed a certainty that another goal would come, the only shock was that it was Doncaster who scored it.
With time running out fast, Tranmere pushed everyone forward and this inevitably left gaps in their defence. A loose ball fell to Gilfillan and his slide rule pass put Usher away down the wing. As he closed in on goal he rifled a left foot shot towards goal, and it looked as if Thomas had it covered but Briggs managed to get there just before him and deflect the ball into the net.
It was almost the last kick of the game as no sooner had the referee blown for the restart than he blew for time.
It was just what the doctor had ordered for Doncaster and the Chester game was well and truly dismissed from their supporters minds.
The win kept Doncaster in 7th place, just 2 points behind Bradford City and Torquay in 3rd and 4th places. Hopefully this would now prove the spur to push Rovers forward towards the top positions.
Wilcockson Gone, Christmas Ruined?
The following several days though would see what many fans believed was the finish of any promotion push for Doncaster.
On Thursday 18th December, Rovers fans awoke to the news that none of them wanted to hear: Harold Wilcockson had been lured away to Sheffield Wednesday.
Wilcockson, who many thought was the mainstay of a rugged Rovers defence, had played his last game for the club the previous Saturday at Tranmere.
A deal had been agreed between Wednesday and Rovers for Wilcockson to move the short trip across South Yorkshire, with Wednesday players Ian Branfoot and Archie Irvine moving the other way to join Rovers.
Headlines read "Wilcockson is the defender Wednesday need" and "Wilcockson gets his big chance".
There was no denying the fact that Wilcockson deserved his shot at the "Big Time", the underlying worry was what effect it would have on the Rovers camp.
Rovers would begin their campaign "Post Wilcockson" the following Saturday with a home fixture against old foes Rotherham United.
Christmas they say is a time for giving and on Boxing Day Friday 26th December Rovers duly obliged against their near neighbours.
The gates of Belle Vue swelled to a crowd of 19,742 spectators, helped by a huge contingent who travelled the short distance across South Yorkshire.
It was the best Third Division gate of the day and Rovers best of the season.
Doncaster, minus the presence of their departed defender, dominated the opening exchanges with many of the Rovers fans wondering if Wilcockson was being missed at all.
Rovers were in control of the game so much so that Rotherham were limited to breakaways.
One breakaway almost worked though as Ogston was called on to make a superb save from Watson and seconds later David Lill mis-kicked in front of an open goal.
But that was the full extent of Rotherham's first half attacks.
Neil Warnock was booked for retaliating after being brought down by Flowers.
The two players exchanged in the deal that took Wilcockson to Sheffield, Branfoot and Irvine, both made their debuts.
Irvine showed some really neat and promising touches despite not being in the game too often. Branfoot on the other hand was much more involved and was a large part in why Rotherham were kept at bay in the first half.
It was 38 minutes before Rovers took the lead. Regan robbed Hudson of the ball and played a neat pass to Clish, who carried on his run towards the penalty area before slotting a delightful pass into the path of Irvine.
Irvine shot towards goal but Furnell in the Rotherham net parried away his shot.
Unfortunately for him his parry sent the ball high into the air and before he or his defence could recover Briggs leapt high into the air to head the ball home into an empty net.
At the break, Briggs' goal was all that separated the sides and the Rovers faithful took time to enjoy their half time cuppas.
They perhaps would not have enjoyed them as much if they had known what was to come in the second half.
Rovers had led 1-0 at half time in five of their last eight matches. Of these Rovers have only won one and three of the others had ended in draws.
The second half got underway with Rotherham seemingly intent on putting their first half display firmly behind them and it showed with an attacking force that pushed Rovers onto the back foot.
In a rare Rovers attack, Irvine had a shot turned round the post by Furnell, but the rest of the half belonged to the visitors.
Rovers repelled attack after attack by Rotherham but just as it looked as if they had weathered the storm, the visitors got their deserved equaliser.
David Lill and Jim Mullen had been having a field day in the second half putting the Rovers rearguard under persistent pressure, and it was Mullen in the 62nd minute who outpaced his marker after receiving the ball from Warnock and sent over a perfect cross for Lill. He took it in his stride and hammered an unstoppable shot past Ogston.
Rotherham now really had their tails up and put more and more pressure on the Rovers defence.
With time running out and the Rovers fans screaming for the final whistle, Branfoot allowed himself to be robbed of the ball by Mullen whose cross was met by Leigh Brogden - on for the injured Trevor Swift - to head home and give Rotherham victory.
It was hard to take for the Rovers fans as victory on the day would have put them just one point behind 4th spot with games in hand on the teams above them.
If there was any credit to take it was that Flowers, who did the work of three men truth be told, had his best game of the season so far, whilst Robertson had given a hard tackling display at the centre of Rovers defence.
Thanks to Ray for his contributions and we would like to field enquiries from other Rovers fans with an interest in writing about the club if they wish to join the growing ITEN community. Please get in touch with us via our website or social media pages, or else we can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
All images featured in this article come courtesy of Ray's personal scrapbook, collected from various contemporary news sources.