• Adam Stubbings

Road to Cardiff: Heffs and Price inspire Rovers into JPT Final

Tomorrow (Sunday 29th March) we will be doing another Retro Rovers Rewatch, live-tweeting the 2007 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final against Bristol Rovers. Follow us on Twitter at @DRFC_ITEN to get involved and dig out your DVD/VHS copies of the game if you have them to watch along with us!

Today, we take you through the cup run leading up to that memorable day in Cardiff by charting Rovers' run through the competition's Northern section, culminating in a crazy two-leg tie against Crewe.

The 2006-07 season was a significant one for Doncaster Rovers. A campaign that would begin at Belle Vue for the final time, with Dave Penney in charge, would end in the brand new 15,000-seat Keepmoat Stadium, and Penney would depart to make way for Sean O’Driscoll. A cup run was certainly not needed to make this time in the club’s history any more significant but we got one anyway, a welcome bonus that came to define this transitional period in Rovers’ rise up the pyramid.

Heffernan Drives Rovers On

The Football League Trophy has not often been seen as a glamorous tournament, but it has always given clubs in the lower tiers of the English professional game a chance of a big day out and a trophy to lift. Not helping the aesthetic appeal was the new sponsorship deal beginning this season that saw the competition renamed from the LDV Trophy to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, often derisively labelled the “Paint Pot Trophy” by fans pouring scorn on its importance.

The regionalised nature of the competition often throws up derby matches too, although the closest Rovers got to one in this run was in the 1st Round trip to Huddersfield. Lewis Guy netted the late winner in a 2-1 victory after Terriers legend Andy Booth had cancelled out Jason Price’s opener. Rovers’ line-up that evening included such luminaries as Anthony Griffith, Theo Streete and the often-forgotten Rovers goalkeeper John Filan, an Australian coming to the end of his career who played only a couple of times for the club on loan from Wigan.

Price would go on to play a significant role in the Northern Final of this competition, but it was strike partner Paul Heffernan who really shone throughout the run to Cardiff. The 1st Round was the only one he didn’t score in, as a clinical double helped see Sean O’Driscoll’s side past Hartlepool at Victoria Park, with Price adding a third. “Heffs” was at it again in the Northern Quarter Final against Accrington, in one of the last games ever at Belle Vue.

A typically ruthless turn and shot by Heffernan from the corner of the penalty area put Rovers ahead early and Sean Thornton soon doubled the lead with a volley from the edge of the area. Those two goals in front of the Rossington End had Sean O’Driscoll’s side in control, but although Accrington were newly promoted into League Two, they had a strong team (boasting current League One stand-outs Joe Jacobson and Shaun Whalley, as well as now-Newcastle keeper Rob Elliot) and played a characteristically physical style under John Coleman.

Return Of A King

Rovers did come through though, despite losing Sean McDaid to injury after a nasty tackle, setting up a coincidental twist of fate in the Area Semi-Final. Barely a week after the Keepmoat Stadium was opened – Rovers triumphing 3-0 against Huddersfield on New Year’s Day 2007 – Darlington were the visitors, managed by Dave Penney. Penney had done more than most to take this club into its new surroundings and now became one of the first to see it in action, albeit from the away dugout.

A crowd of 8,009 – the largest attendance of the tournament outside of the Area Finals – witnessed Rovers play some truly excellent football and win the tie with two quality goals from their reliable forwards. First, a cross from Price on the right wing put it on a plate for Heffernan to finish off on the volley in front of goal, and then Price himself sealed a place in the Northern Final with a powerful rifle of a shot, the ball rising off his left boot on the edge of the area and into the roof of the goal.

The Area Finals are played over two legs, with Rovers fortunate enough to earn the second leg at home in the Northern Final against Crewe Alexandra and both ties would prove to be memorable, pulsating encounters. At Gresty Road, Heffernan worked his magic again to draw a foul and convert the resulting penalty, putting the visitors ahead, and Brian Stock scored a trademark long-range missile from a full 35 yards to double the lead.

Crewe though would not go quietly, and came back after the break with goals from Darren Moss and Ryan Lowe, now manager of Plymouth, drawing Dario Gradi’s side level. 15 minutes from time Heffernan notched his fifth goal of the tournament to put Rovers back ahead, striking from Mark McCammon’s headed knock-down from Stephen Roberts’ deft ball into the area. Crewe’s top scorer Luke Varney would deny O’Driscoll’s men a vital win however, netting four minutes from time to earn a 3-3 draw and leave the contest finely poised.

Price Is Right On Target

Although Rovers had the upper hand for much of the 1st leg, it was a different story when the teams met again on Lakeside. Quickfire goals before half time from Varney and Lowe from close-range left the home crowd stunned and Crewe on the verge of a place in the final. That led for much of the second half to a much more frantic and desperate style of play than would become normal in O’Driscoll’s Rovers side, and there was no surprise when Heffernan proved the man to spark the team into life.

Following a sustained spell of pressure and a mass conversion of bodies in the box, defender Stephen Roberts stabbed a pass through a crowd to Heffernan, who turned towards goal and placed a shot perfectly into the corner past Crewe keeper Ben Williams. That goal galvanised Rovers but they found themselves frustrated in their efforts until the 80th minute, when Price kept the ball alive on the right touchline and nutmegged Billy Jones into the box, being hauled down as he tried to go past the full back and in on goal.

Drama unfolded from there. Heffernan stepped up and put his penalty coolly to the left of the goal, with Williams going the other way. As the players celebrated in front of the South Stand however, referee Trevor Kettle ordered a retake for encroachment against James Coppinger, although replays showed he was barely a toe inside the penalty area. Heffernan duly put the ball on the spot and showed nerves of steel, sending the penalty high into the right of the goal this time despite Williams guessing right, levelling the scores.

Sean O’Driscoll is a cool customer himself, but was seen to wipe his brow in relief after the second penalty was converted, and he would do well to keep his emotions in check a few minutes later with the game heading for extra time. Rovers now looked like the most likely winners, earning a corner in the 87th minute off Paul Bignot which was cleared as far as Coppinger on the right.

The blonde mop-topped winger headed it back in towards the corner of the six yard box where Price swivelled and shot, barely making contact. The ball ricocheted back off the defender and Price wasted no time with his second bite at the cherry, scoring with his left foot to send the Keepmoat into raptures and Rovers through to the final in Cardiff. This moment question marked the first time the new stadium really felt like a home, and Price had given its residents the first genuine night of glory in its short history.