As Billy Sharp slotted home his second goal at St.Mary’s he pretty much summed up the season Doncaster Rovers are having. Less than two months ago Sharp was a Rovers player.
Those two months seems to have gone by very slowly indeed and Rovers are now five points off safety with eight games to play. The games are running out and the great escape seems more unlikely with each passing day. Doncaster Rovers look as good as condemned to be leaving the Championship in the next month after four great seasons of entertaining football and punching well above their weight. But it was only sixteen months ago the club were being described as the ‘next Blackpool,’ so what has gone wrong so much for Rovers to now be fighting against all odds to stay in this division?
Let’s begin on the opening day of the season; away at Brighton and 1-0 up at half time after a great first half performance. The second half saw injuries to both James Hayter and Sharp and Rovers were defeated by a 99th minute Brighton goal. That would be as good as it got as one point was picked up from the first seven games of the season and Sean O’Driscoll was sacked, despite Chairman John Ryan declaring the day before that his job was as safe as Sir Alex Ferguson’s.
Things were beginning to get stale under O’Driscoll, however in his defence he did have a very much depleted squad, and little money to bring in anybody of a calibre who could lift the confidence which had been shattered after a nineteen game winless run. Although the manager may not have left on very good terms with the club, he will be remembered by many fans as bringing the glory days back to the town of Doncaster after fifty years.
Who was chosen to take over from the tactical mastermind? Dean Saunders, a prolific goal scorer in his career but with little managerial experience at Wrexham, and whether that was much a success can easily be debated. He had been with the Welsh club for three seasons. In his first two seasons, despite bringing in around thirty different players and expected to win promotion back to the Football League, they could only finish in tenth and eleventh respectively, in his third season it finally began to tick and they claimed fourth spot but lost out in the play-offs. Before he left his post, Wrexham were sitting top of the Conference.
Saunders started his managerial career at Doncaster very well, picking up seven points in his first three games and lifting the Rovers out of the Relegation zone. If that didn’t make Rovers fans smile, they had signed Pascal Chimbonda and were being linked with El-Hadji Diouf, Frederic Piquionne and even Carlos Tevez! People were beginning to ask questions on how this was making sense and soon enough a man with the answers stepped into the limelight to receive his praise from the Rovers faithful; transfer agent Willie McKay. However this was not met with the optimism that the club would have hoped for and since making that interview for a Sunday newspaper, a divide has been created at Doncaster Rovers between the fans that will take a very long time to heal.
Since then Doncaster Rovers have signed Chris Kirkland, Damien Plessis, Mamadou Bagayoko, Habib Beye, El-Hadji Diouf, Carl Ikeme, Frederic Piquionne, David Button, Herita Ilunga, Herold Goulon, Habib Bamogo and Lamime Diatta. There was even talk of the club pushing for the play-offs, but it’s fair to say this has quite panned out how anybody expected. Despite the big names coming to Rovers, the team have struggled to shake off that losing mentality and have been stuck in a relegation fight ever since.
It isn’t as if Saunders and McKay haven’t been genuinely trying to help the club, but the same can’t be said about some of the players, and that doesn’t just include the players that have come here since the pair decided to help the struggling South Yorkshire club.
Relegation would be a blow to Doncaster, the chairman has already stated that the club are operating at a loss at this level and should they go down the loss in TV revenue would mean financial losses in the region of £6 million. I fear for the stability and safety of the club after relegation, wondering what will happen if Rovers do go down.
Some are speculating this will be the end of the ‘McKay experiment’, others believe it will continue, while some fans are unsure and refusing to accept that relegation is a possibility. Some supporters blame Sean O’Driscoll for the current predicament, some are blaming McKay’s transfer policy, questioning whether it is right to allow one player to train with Rovers for two days a week and spend the rest of the week in France.
Are Doncaster Rovers going down the right path? I don’t think anybody knows the sure, especially when earlier this season the club’s future was left in jeopardy when two of the biggest shareholders resigned from the Board of Directors, leaving Chairman John Ryan as the last man standing.
No one can question Ryan’s commitment as a fan of Doncaster Rovers or his loyalty as a Chairman. If ever there was a man who could take on the role of being a Chairman of a business and lookout for the interests of the supporters before his back pocket, and support the team as a boyhood fan, it is John Ryan. And while he remains at Doncaster Rovers, many fans will feel more comfortable with whatever happens because they know everything John Ryan does is in the best interests of the club.
So our future may look bleak, but Rovers still have a fighting chance of surviving this season and I will see it out to the very end. Hopefully that the rest of the Rovers faithful will be doing the same, cheering on the boys, loud and proud until the final ball is kicked. Keep The Faith. R’over and out…
Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers blogger
Lee tweets at @mr1croft