The Underdog Bites Back
The faithful hold their breath awaiting full time against Wigan.
In perhaps our most impressive moment of the season, the rank outsiders toppled the big, bad favourites to spark new life into the relegation battle. Doncaster Rovers won a football match.
Yes, let me just repeat that for posterity. Doncaster Rovers WON a football match.
It’s a feeling we haven’t had since 2016 was barely a day old. A feeling that the home faithful haven’t tasted since the outrageous late, late show against Crewe on 12th December. By coincidence, that’s the same day that Wigan, our vanquished opponents, last lost in the league prior to their trip to South Yorkshire on Saturday.
All of this makes it even more impressive then that we managed to do it. I didn’t honestly think we had a hope in hell, comparing our beloved side to a miserable, shaggy dog in a fight between a boy and a beast. We weren’t even as likely to win as the boy, that was my point. Yet we did, and now we must use this to go on and make a real fight of things at the business end of the season.
League leaders Wigan suffered a shell-shock on their visit to the Keepmoat on Saturday, matched for ability and physicality from minute one by a determined and steely Rovers side that looked anything but a side without a win in sixteen outings.
Perhaps the most important thing that happened in the game was the Latics’ opener just before half time, a simple goal that typified the defensive woes we have long suffered this season, yet a goal that also put seeds of complacency into the heads of the visiting players as they supped their half time tea.
Whether this was the case or not, Rovers came storming out of the blocks after the interval and netted twice from corners, Andy Butler showing the will to win that has been so absent in all of the players in the last few months to get to the ball and convert twice, and Rovers also had one cleared off the line in the same five minute spell as the goals that turned the game on its head.
From there, I felt the equaliser was inevitable. Wigan applied pressure in wave after wave of well-crafted attack, demonstrating clearly what has taken them to the League One summit this season. Yet Rovers repelled everything that came their way, a back line standing firm and resolute for a change. Yanic Wildschut threatened constantly, but no end result came for the Latics and in the end the game imploded for them as we began to reach the nail-biting final minutes that have seen us collapse so many times of late.
Andy Butler, two-goal hero and man of the match, cleared another Wigan attack and the ball eventually fell to Gary McSheffrey, who had had a blistering second half, who got clean through and just into the box before David Perkins unceremoniously hauled him down to earn his marching orders.
Controversy threatened to follow as McSheffrey, the designated spot-kick taker, was forced to go off after receiving treatment to his head for for the foul but Andy Williams, who vehemently tried to stop the physio coming on, had to step in himself to face the pressure of ending his three month goal drought. But end it he did, striking the ball cleanly down the middle to fool Jussi Jaaskelainen and seal a famous, and massively unlikely, victory.
That leaves us here. My first opportunity to write about a Rovers victory in months, and that unfamiliar feeling of optimism and positivity on a Monday morning after the weekend’s work. But we must use this result wisely and kick on, the perfect opportunity to do so right around the corner.
We go to Chesterfield tomorrow night needing a second win in four days to stand any chance of survival. The gap to 20th may have shortened from eight points to six, but it is still an almighty ask of us after putting ourselves so far into the mire. Darren Ferguson knows what momentum can do for you and the only way to make it count now is to go ahead and take three points again.
The Spireites were soundly beaten by Sheffield United at home on Saturday, but recently they have picked up and moved clear of trouble, now sitting close to 50 points. But a loss here could drag them right back into matters with only a handful of matches left, and they have failed to put away relegation rivals on home soil in previous weeks.
Add to that the fact that we haven’t lost to our sort-of local rivals in eight matches, and thumped them 3-0 at the Keepmoat back in November in one of Dean Saunders’ final games in charge (you’re welcome, Chesterfield), then we should feel more than capable of defeating them again here. All some of these players need is a bit of belief in themselves, and with the defence holding firm in the second half on Saturday against top quality opposition, a consistently selected midfield finally gelling together, and Andy Williams finally finding the back of the net, the signs are good for Rovers to keep this season alive in Derbyshire tomorrow night.