Southend Game Holds Key to Future for Fergie & Rovers
Rovers fans had plenty to be proud of at Arsenal, but what about in the league?
With a tough September out of the way, Rovers welcome Southend United to the Keepmoat this weekend with plenty of work to do to get to where they want to be in League One this season. A tough run, not the first spell of adversity faced by manager Darren Ferguson in his near two-year tenure in charge at the club, has left us near the relegation zone and with a growing number of discontented voices in our fanbase. Whilst it may not be “Must-Win” territory just yet for Fergie or the club in their battle to consolidate in the third tier, the outcome and performance against Phil Brown’s side could well be a turning point in terms of the perception and belief in the manager charged with achieving that consolidation.
Shrimpers Present Stern Test
Phil Brown brings his side to South Yorkshire in excellent form, winning three on the bounce to move up to 12th in the table. The side look capable of emulating last season’s finish just outside the Play-Off places, with goalscoring talent present in Simon Cox, the controversial Nile Ranger and two former Rovers strikers able to change a game from the bench in Theo Robinson and Marc-Antoine Fortune. Last Saturday, a stellar Blackpool side were held off at Roots Hall to earn back-to-back home wins, and Southend’s last away visit yielded a 4-2 victory at Fleetwood, so they know how to put in a winning performance away from home too.
That may be a concern for Fergie and his boys, but the asterisk is that that game was finely poised at 1-1 until a red card suffered by Fleetwood after half an hour, allowing Southend the time and space to impose their superior numbers on the scoreline, and indeed the win over Blackpool was only sewn up thanks to an injury-time penalty save by goalkeeper Mark Oxley. That win at Highbury was also the only time Brown has managed to take maximum points from an away game, with three defeats and a draw including failing to win at struggling Gillingham and an absolute thrashing by a 5-0 scoreline at Rotherham in August.
Fergie Must Choose His Deputies Now
The manner of recent home defeats to league leaders Shrewsbury and local rivals Scunthorpe has increased the pressure on the manager as accusations of an inability to stop a bad run surface once more in the face of this barren spell that has yielded only one league win in nine outings. We weren’t clinical enough to make superiority count in the first period against the Shrews, before coming undone due to lapses in concentration straight after scoring and in stoppage time yet again. We have seen this pattern already in failures to hold onto leads against Blackpool and Rochdale, and it’s a matter that needs to be fixed now or else Ferguson’s credibility will fall through the floor. He has acknowledged these shortcomings in recent interviews but is yet to enact a positive change on the pitch, and if we see more of this mental fragility in the next few games it could spell curtains for the Scot’s chances of being allowed to arrest this slide himself.
If solid showings were let down by concentration lapses in those games, the loss to Scunthorpe represents an entirely different problem. After conceding from an early set piece, Rovers couldn’t find a way back into a game against a mediocre Scunny outfit, allowing midfield veteran Neal Bishop stifle our midfield play. Too many senior players withdrew into themselves through this game either due to adverse weather conditions or a lack of belief in themselves, and this cannot be allowed to keep happening. Fergie must nominate his most reliable faces among that squad and lean on them to drag the performances and results out of the rest of the team.
Andy Butler is perhaps the only obvious choice already stepping up to the plate in this regard, performing well since the opening day and helping Joe Wright come into his own too. Those two have been our most consistent players in the first dozen games or so of 2017/18, but it isn’t enough. James Coppinger retains his signature skilful mastery at this level but can’t be relied on to pull the team through every game anymore. He was kept on the pitch for 90 minutes against Shrewsbury despite being largely anonymous, and it meant he wasn’t able to feature from the start against Bradford a few days later. John Marquis has netted four goals but his performances have been less encouraging too, but players like Marquis thrive best when given an edict to grab team mates by the scruff of the neck and pull them up to perform.
Turn The Tide Before It Turns Against You
Excuse the water analogy in the face of taking on a coastal side, but the outcome of this game really could lead to Fergie either propelling himself and Rovers forward to dispel the dissenting voices, or be overwhelmed by the building wave against him. A first home win in the league all season would take us into double figures, further away from the bottom four and perhaps instil a belief to get results that has been missing entirely from our make-up of late. Win this and suddenly upcoming meetings with Charlton and Portsmouth look a little less daunting, and we may be able to sit more comfortably at the end of October saying we have finally adapted to our new level and be able to count on a settled side getting us through to the New Year in a decent position.
Lose again however, and the grumbles will start to become outright shouts. Ferguson has his doubters in the DRFC faithful, and that is not without good reason considering the lack of wins lately, especially with what transpired at the end of last season in the back of all our minds and indeed the fatal slide down the table to relegation last time we were in League One. We have five games this month and must get a minimum of 9 points to stay a nose ahead of the one point-per-game average. Anything less and we will probably be in the relegation zone and starting to consider a long slog against the drop between now and the end of the campaign.
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