Will Easter bring the Rovers Resurrection?
Signs of life in another loss for Rovers last Saturday, but all hope hasn’t quite gone yet in the pursuit of League One survival.
Another dark day fell on the Keepmoat Stadium just before 5 o’clock last Saturday, when Ricardo Almeida Santos slotted home the winner for Peterborough and consigned Rovers to their fifth defeat in a row. It was a game that had started so brightly as James Coppinger marked his return from injury with a goal inside the opening 5 minutes, ending a run of nine matches in which we had conceded the first goal.
Despite that early goal and a much improved performance across the field, it was the same old story at the end of the day. Defensive disaster costing us dearly, as repeated warnings went unheeded and a cross from wide undid the back line once more. Several players stood off to allow the cross, and Aaron Williams duly slotted home a bobbling ball at the back post, outpacing Craig Alcock to get on the end of it and making Thorsten Stuckmann in the goal look silly as he failed to collect what seemed a routine take.
It would only get worse for Stuckmann who spilled another shot later on only to be spared the embarrassment of another goal, then a moment of sheer madness from the German compounded the afternoon and served as a microcosm of the entire season as a shanked high ball into the area in injury time ultimately led to the winning goal. Heaved to the back post, Stuckmann, under no real pressure to do so, charged away from his line to try and claim it, flapping at thin air and allowing the Posh two bites at the cherry to tuck away a precious winner into a net guarded only by three outfield statues. More embarrassment to go with the endless numbers of ‘soft’ goals conceded during this miserable, pathetic winless run, now stretching to thirteen league games over almost three months.
Now or Never
If this was a ‘must-win’ game, against one of the only sides in as poor form as ourselves, then the Easter Weekend double header is the ultimate in crucial games and could either serve as the catalyst for an escape from the drop, or the death knell that consigns us to stay in the bottom four and drop down into the basement of the Football League.
Rovers head to Colchester on Good Friday, the side who have sat bottom of the league for most of the season and are facing almost certain relegation. The U’s have won only once in 23 league games, a shock 2-1 win at Bradford a couple of weeks ago, and even found a way to lose to Rovers back in October as Darren Ferguson secured his first home win as manager with a 2-0 win courtesy of goals from the now departed Conor Grant and top scorer Andy Williams, who was enjoying a rich vein of form at the time that we could sorely do with now.
Perhaps even more important is the Easter Monday ‘six-pointer’ with Blackpool, who won at Crewe to leapfrog Rovers and drop us into the relegation zone last Saturday. It may be a miracle that we even avoided the bottom four for so long on this awful run, but now we find ourselves in there we must not let ourselves be cut adrift by losing to relegation rivals. It is paramount that we win this game and show the teams around us that we can still compete, and can get out of this. Not only would a pair of wins over this weekend likely get us out of the relegation zone, it could also suck more teams into the fight such as Fleetwood and Chesterfield, and it goes without saying that the more teams in the mix, the better chance Rovers have of avoiding the trap door.
At time of writing, there is little over 24 hours for the manager to bring in new players on loan. The squad has been crying out for experienced heads throughout this run, with too many young players being asked to lead the way. Harry Middleton, Liam Mandeville and Mitchell Lund are promising academy graduates but their form has been very up and down, and it could be argued that too much has been asked of them too soon. In addition, Fergie brought in a host of teenage loanees from Premier League teams with only a handful of professional games between them, and whilst Everton midfielder Grant, now injured for the season, had a good spell early on, these players have largely failed to live up to their pedigree. Lynden Gooch has also left due to injury having failed to make much of an impression, and Riccardo Calder is managing only short contributions from the bench at present.
To remedy this, Fergie brought in Wolves midfielder Tommy Rowe last weekend and he made an encouraging debut from the bench in the loss to Peterborough. Rowe is a player all too familiar with the manager and his methods having played under him in the successful Posh side that also had Craig Alcock in it, and he may well be just the driving force needed in the middle of the park. Scunthorpe forward Gary McSheffrey also joined this week, a vastly experienced player who knows what it’s like to be fighting at the wrong end of the table. There may be further additions yet also, with the consensus agreeing we are crying out for more solidity in defence, particularly with Luke McCullough joining up with the Northern Ireland national squad meaning he will miss at least one of these pivotal Easter fixtures.
So, crunch time again for Doncaster Rovers. There is only so many times we can sit here and say “we must win this one” before time has run out and we find ourselves facing an embarrassing rebuilding job in League Two, duking it out with the likes of Barnet, Newport County and Forest Green Rovers.