The Fox and the Hound
Will the grass be any greener in League Two?
A week ago I posted an article marking the anniversary of one of Doncaster Rovers’ greatest triumphs, but today I look back to a more ignominious day for the club.
Yesterday marks two years since we last played in the Championship. On May 3rd, 2014, Rovers bowed out of the second tier on goal difference after a last day defeat away to Leicester City. The Foxes were celebrating promotion as champions of the division, and their 1-0 win was the cherry on top for a side very much on the way up in English football. For Paul Dickov and his side however, it meant an immediate relegation back to League One in cruel fashion, after Paul Caddis’ injury time equaliser for Birmingham at Bolton sank Rovers and saved the Blues.
Two years on from that day and both Leicester and Doncaster are coming to terms with season-defining weekends once more. This time the two clubs couldn’t be further apart from one another, as Leicester were crowned Premier League winners in arguably the unlikeliest underdog story in the history of team sport whilst Rovers had their fate finally confirmed following a miserable defeat away to Crewe, themselves already consigned to the drop into the basement. Yet as we face up to our lowest position in over a decade and the end of a sorry season littered with failure, we may be able to look towards Claudio Ranieri’s side and learn a thing or two.
Leicester are a club who have in the not-so-distant past fallen to their own lowest ebb. In 2008 they passed Rovers on their way down to League One, their first time playing outside of the top two divisions since being elected to the Football League as ‘Leicester Fosse’ in 1894. They rallied from this pathetic situation, rebuilding their side and returning at the first attempt as League One champions. They continued to go from strength-to-strength over the next few seasons, regularly challenging for promotion before finally breaking through and dominating the division in 2013-14. After a tough first season back at the top table, their well-documented rise to the summit of English football has cemented them as one of the biggest surprise stories of all time, and they were crowned Champions on Monday night following closest challengers Tottenham’s draw at Chelsea.
So whilst Rovers may be slipping into the fourth tier for the first time since 2004, it doesn’t mean all is lost. There is a chance now to rebuild the playing staff and begin a fresh era with new methods across the club, a chance that if taken by the relevant people could set us up for another golden period like the one borne out of our near-demise in the late 90’s. If we can rebuild from the literal rock bottom that was our relegation to the Conference in 1998, then surely we can come back strongly from this latest setback.
There will be plenty of time this summer to speculate and debate what needs to be done for Doncaster Rovers to mount a serious promotion challenge in League Two next season, but until many of the details surrounding the fallout from relegation are confirmed we can at least point to one thing – the team needs strong leadership. For whatever reason, it hasn’t been there this season right from the off, and too often Rovers have sent out a team of men unwilling to shoulder the responsibility of their situation, or accept the errors that have led to our fall down the standings.
Is it down to the manager and his coaching staff? Or does he simply not have the personnel on the field to take charge and make the difference. Many have pointed to the departures of Rob Jones and Richie Wellens from the club earlier in the season as a big reason why this has been the case, yet Wellens had on more than one occasion been discussed as a dressing room disruption rather than a leader, and whilst Jones was undoubtedly a popular senior figure within the club, his playing days have been numbered for almost two years due to a succession of unfortunate injuries.
In addition to this, the players have failed to learn from their mistakes time and time again, as Cedric Evina demonstrated in committing a catastrophic defensive error leading to an opposition goal this past weekend. Truthfully Evina has been one of our better players throughout the year, but is one of the many guilty of costly errors over and over again. Combine this frailty at the back with a desertion in goal-scoring ability at the other end and there was only one outcome for us. It has been a wretched campaign, particularly since the turn of the year, and there is clearly a lot that needs to change.
It Doesn’t Take a Lifetime
Looking back to that ghastly day at the King Power Stadium in 2014, however, shows that it doesn’t need to be another ten years before we have something to celebrate again. Nobody in their right mind would have thought that Leicester would be capable of winning the Premier League within two years of beating us in that game, let alone doing it with the core of the same team. When they edged us out via a penalty to send us down, the spine of the team was exactly the same as the one that will lift the famous trophy up high this Saturday. Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez all played 90 minutes that day. Mahrez was fouled by James Husband to earn the penalty in fact, and he was crowned PFA Player of the Season last month, whilst fellow Foxes hero Jamie Vardy wasn’t even in the squad for the game.
Vardy did start the reverse fixture at the Keepmoat earlier in the season, as did Morgan, Drinkwater and fellow Premier League medal winners Andy King, Jeff Schlupp and Ritchie de Laet (Mahrez was yet to come to the club from Le Havre in the French second division) but the stand-out moment of that match came courtesy of Kasper Schmeichel, he who has conceded just 34 goals in an ever-present season atop the Premier League. Schmeichel came out to make a routine catch from a Rovers corner but somehow fumbled the ball and dropped it into his own net to gift us the lead and eventually the victory. Remarkable when you think about it.
The point I’m making here is that a lot can change in a short space of time in football. Less than three years ago, Rovers took on a team that would eventually go on to claim the Premier League – containing many of the same players – and won. We may be a League Two team next season, but it doesn’t have to be that way forever and providing the men in charge can make the right moves in the summer and execute a strategy to get us back out of that league, then the future could look a lot brighter than it does right now.
Until then, let’s go out on a positive note by defeating promotion hopefuls Burton live in front of the Sky cameras this Sunday afternoon. It’s the least we can do on our way out of League One.