David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Doncaster Rovers’

Winner Takes All

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Ahead of this week’s promotion decider in League One between Brentford and Doncaster Rovers, two fans from each club share their views going into this match, which sees the team with the best home form hosting the team with the best away form.

1. Which team do you think will be considered the favorites for this match, considering the Rovers terrific away form, the Bees’ equally exceptional home form and the fact that Brentford need to win to secure promotion whereas Donny can settle for the draw?

Dan Long (Brentford): That’s very tough. Both clubs have had an excellent campaign, Doncaster’s more inevitable than ours but credit to them for getting straight back in contention after relegation last season. Personally, I would see Doncaster as favourites for the game. They have it all to lose if they don’t at least achieve a draw and I think they will be massively up for it. They sold out their ticket allocation very quickly and they are a big team seemingly ready for promotion.

I think the underdog status will suit Brentford very well. We have come from behind to win on numerous occasions this season and I think the element of surprise may unsettle the visitors. The previous tie between the two saw Brentford dominate possession yet lose 2-1 and they will have to make sure they take their chances if they want to beat a strong Doncaster team on Saturday.

Lee Croft (Doncaster): I think most will see us as favorites; we go into the game having accumulated more points over 45 games than Brentford and the majority of them coming from away games. It’s funny actually, because we are usually the underdogs in situations like this and I’m not sure if being the favorites for this one is a good or bad thing.

2. Just how big a game is this for your club?

DL: Words cannot describe how big a game this is for our club. It is the most realistic chance of Championship football we have had since 2006 and I think most would say the quality and mentality of the team is far superior to Martin Allen’s in 2006. Having lost in the play-offs no less than SIX times since 1991, we are desperate for a positive result on Saturday.

LC: This is our tenth season in the Football League, and in that ten seasons we have won the League Two championship, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and the League One play-offs in 2007/08. We spent four years back in the Championship after 50 years and relegation last season was probably inevitable. That said I really want to see us back in the Championship, I think it will really deflate the club if we cannot achieve promotion, even more so considering we have been at the top of the table for the last eight games prior to last week.

3. Who has been your best player of the season so far?

DL: There have been so many stand-out performers this season; Tony Craig and Harlee Dean have been solid at the back, Simon Moore has been incredible in goal and Adam Forshaw has shown, time and time again, why he is too good for this level of football. But for me it has to be Clayton Donaldson. So far he has scored 22 goals, double his total for the whole of the last campaign, and finally showed Bees fans his full potential. Although the goal against Portsmouth was his first for six matches, he has continuously managed to pop with important goals and dealt with the tragic death of his mother like a true professional; a gentleman on and off the pitch.

LC: Chris Brown, of the three strikers (Brown, Paynter and Hume) Brown has scored the least but his work rate and ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play is second to none. He has scored some very nice goals this season and he won’t stop running the length of the pitch for the full 90. Our Captain Rob Jones is a close second though, the giant of a centre back and commander of the team has shown his resilience in his no-nonsense style defending and even managing to bag himself a few goals this season.

4. Which result this season made you think, “You know, we might actually do this!”

DL: There have been some amazing games this season, but it would have to be the 3-2 win against Portsmouth. They proved a very tough side to break down and showed their attacking threat with two great goals and equally impressive build up play. But the Griffin Park faithful sang their hearts out and the passion paid off when Bradley Wright-Phillips equalised five minutes from time. Just one minute later, Clayton Donaldson’s lofted finish sent the crowd into raptures. In my 10 years as a Brentford supporter, I can honestly say I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like that; going from settling for a play-off place to being in contention for automatic promotion in two minutes sums up our season in one word, crazy!

LC: The result away at Crewe a couple of weeks back, we were a goal down and weren’t playing great, by no means we were poor but we just didn’t look like a team at the top of the table. However when Paynter was subbed on two quick goals put us in the lead and we held on with a brilliant away crowd to cheer the boys home. Top of the table and two games to go put Doncaster into party mode, something we are hoping Brentford don’t end this coming Saturday.

5. What type of game are you expecting?

DL: I reckon it will be very tight. I would expect Doncaster to be highly defensive and to play for the draw but if a chance arises, I would say they would give everything they have in attack to try and nick a win. We have everything to play for and will go for all out attack. Donaldson has said he is ready to ‘explode’ on Saturday and with any luck, he can convert that energy into goals and take us up.

LC: Brentford have to win, we don’t. That will be key here. Brentford have to attack us, they have to put us on the back foot leaving us the option of defending for most of the game and the counter attack our only chance of scoring. That is what we have done all season, that is where Doncaster Rovers have been most comfortable and that type of game won us all three points at both Bournemouth and Tranmere and why we have the best away record in the Football League. I think it will be tight, but I am confident that the game will suit the Rovers.

6. What threats does your team possess?

DL: Donaldson is back from suspension, there are no major injury concerns and the stadium will be rocking. Bradley Wright-Phillips is on form and only Tony Craig is suspended. The biggest weapon we have is the crowd; we will have over 10,000 home fans and the players have previously admitted that loud support contributes to the way the game will be played. Saturday is no exception.

LC: Our biggest threat at the minute is probably our midfield. John Llundstram and Dean Furman are both on loan at the Rovers from Everton and Oldham respectively. Both centre-midfielders know how to pass the ball and have shown they have an eye for goal and can dictate the play when needs be: Couple that with a back-line and strike force where the majority of players are over 6”2, our biggest threat is our physical presence and a deadly midfield.

7. What do you know about the opponents, and how they will approach the game on Saturday?

DL: When I think of Doncaster, I immediately think of a Championship team. They should not be in League One and they have proved that with their league position this season. Some of the players they have are of a Championship quality and although the loss against Notts County last week came as a big surprise, I would expect that they will be fully confident it will spur them on that they can just play for a draw on Saturday.

LC: When Brentford visited the Keepmoat they played us off the park, if they had a decent finisher, it might have been a cricket score. However we managed to withstand most of the pressure and our only two shots on target in the second half were just enough to see us take the points. But if that is how Brentford play away from home (where their form is – without trying to sound offensive – not above average) then I am a little frightened to think how good they will be at home where they have only lost twice. Brentford will surely be looking to the home crowd to make a great atmosphere that they hope their team can rise to.

8. Did you know that promotion would come down to the final game, or was promotion never an expectation for you this season?

DL: I think I can speak on behalf of many fans in saying that although the dream was in the back of my mind, I never expected that it would become a reality. History shows that we have always been there or thereabouts but never quite had the luck needed to take us up.

LC: At the beginning of the season all I wanted was stability and I said anywhere in the top 10 would be a success. However, when you have been at top of the table in the latter stages of the season you do hope the team can hang on and win promotion. I had a feeling it may come down to the final game this season, but only because of the amount of games in hand the teams below us had.

9. Just how nervous are you about Saturday?

DL: Incredibly nervous because of the past (play-offs) but quietly confident. I’ve experienced a promotion with Brentford back in 2009 and I know how brilliant that feeling is. I hope all the times this season I thought I was going to have a heart attack have been worth it and this can be our year!

LC: I’m nervous, but I know that if we play to our advantages, Brentford will not know what hit them. If it is anything like the majority of our away games this season Brentford will have more of the ball, and probably more chances but are the most efficient team in the division in terms of converting chances and that could be the key difference come 5pm Saturday.

10: Finally, what do you think the score will be?

DL: It’s going to be interesting to see how it pans out. I think Doncaster will give it a good go and score first but I think the fans will play a big part and we will claw it back in the end. I’m going for 2-1 to us.

LC: I am struggling to predict it, but I have to go for an entertaining 2-2 draw, with us probably scoring late on as we have done all season. I wish Brentford all the luck in the future after 5pm, as a trust owned club I admire what they are trying to achieve.

Written by Dan Long and Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Brentford and Doncaster Rovers Bloggers

 Dan tweets at @_DanLong_Lee tweets at @mr1croft

In Rovers We Trust

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Compared to this time last season, Doncaster Rovers have transformed their image in a remarkable way. On the field we have recovered from the mess left at the end of last season, which saw the club have a team full of players brought in by Willie McKay in a shop window ‘experiment’ to build a whole new team. We now have one of the best away records in the Football League and currently sit second in the table, one point behind leaders Bournemouth, with the chance to be promoted and possibly become League One Champions this Saturday when we travel to third place Brentford in a winner takes all match for promotion.

Off the field, however, has seen the real transition. Towards the end of last season the club, in partnership with the supporters trust the Viking Supporters Co-operative embarked upon a journey of fan engagement in an attempt to restore the pride and support of the Doncaster Rovers fans after many supporters left the Keepmoat Stadium last season feeling disillusioned with the club.

The idea behind it is a pretty simple one: The business model of most clubs in the country dictate that the quickest way of putting bums on seats is by winning and success, but out of the 92 clubs in the country, only a handful are successful, which makes it very unsustainable. So Doncaster are determined to improve every single other aspect of the match day experience to try and make the match as enjoyable as ever, despite what the result might be.

This new approach to building a support base (and keeping that base) began with an incredibly huge fan survey covering as many aspects as the match day experience as possible, including pre-match atmosphere, the club shop, ticket office, concourses, choice of food/drink, travel, parking etc. The results of this widespread survey set the mechanics in motion and since we as fans have seen the bar at the Keepmoat Stadium renamed the “Belle Vue Bar” in honor of our much remembered home for 84 years. This has been decorated by memorabilia donated by the fan-base, and if you go in there on match day you can order a unique pint of ’1879′ – a Rovers beer named after the year we were formed.

An improved bus service has been put on for matchdays and a new catering contract has been put in place to improve the food and drink aspect. Cash turnstiles, singing and unreserved sections have been trialled at cup games this season and a smoking bubble introduced so that those of us who crave a cigarette after watching tense football can relieve our needs at half-time with a quick ciggie! To top it off Rovers fans were invited to submit designs for next seasons shirts, with fans voting on those shirts, meaning that both the home and away shirt next season will have been designed by the fans, for the fans.

When Dean Saunders made the switch to Wolves earlier this season the club interviewed an eight-year-old fan for the vacant managers job, showing everyone just how much this club has embraced the fan engagement concept, adequately named ‘In Rovers We Trust.’

Meanwhile back on the field the Rovers have had an encouraging season back in League One after a four year stint in the Championship. The main highlights of this season include doing the double over M180 neighbors Scunthorpe United. After conceding late equalisers at Shrewsbury Town, Tranmere Rovers and Bournemouth we managed to score minutes later to secure three points in all three games showing that this new Doncaster Rovers may not play the pretty football we were known for under Sean O’Driscoll, but we are much more physical, stronger and efficient in front of goal.

When Dean Saunders left the club, a day after we beat Colchester 1-0 at home and sitting second in the table, there was a lot of speculation as to who would succeed him. With names flying round such as Mark Robins, Steve Cotterill and even ex-player Mark Wilson being tipped for the job , few were surprised when Brian Flynn was named the man tasked with continuing Doncaster Rovers form to seal promotion to the Championship.

In his first game in charge as caretaker manager the Rovers were playing at Broadhall Way against old Conference rivals Stevenage and with 15 minutes on the clock it seemed the resilience of Doncaster Rovers left with Dean Saunders. However the Rovers got back on level terms and with seconds remaining Rob Jones headed home the winner. The next game at home to Leyton Orient saw an average but efficient 2-0 performance keep Doncaster on track to challenge Tranmere at the top of the league.

However Brian Flynn’s Doncaster aren’t unbeatable and we did suffer defeats to MK Dons, Bury, Walsall, Carlisle and Coventry. Struggling Portsmouth held us to a draw and we managed to get lucky to stop Yeovil winning 10 games in a row. Results against Hartlepool, Crewe, Bournemouth Swindon and Tranmere however have kept us in the mix and a win last Saturday would have kept us top of the table, going into the last game of the season against Brentford knowing that even a 1-0 loss would send us up.

Last Saturday, after a year of rebuilding, was the chance to sign off 10 years back in the Football League in style in front of our home fans. A huge fan engagement program off the pitch and a table topping side on the pitch was the ingredients of 11,000 fans making their way to the Keepmoat in the sunshine to romp the boys home. Unfortunately Notts County had other ideas and a wonder goal early in the game was just enough to deny Doncaster the chance to be promoted and after Bournemouth passed us into first position, it gave Brentford the chance to overtake us and put us third when they played relegated Hartlepool in a 5:15pm kick off.

Luckily for the Rovers the Monkey Hangers held on, with the draw making the headline game in League One next week the clash between the Bees and the Rovers at Griffin Park. Brentford have the best home form in the decision, boasting 14 wins and only two defeats. Doncaster Rovers meanwhile boast the best away record with 14 wins and an incredible 46 points picked up away from home and 35 goals scored, the most in the division.

Both teams have conceded the same amount of goals, with Brentford conceding just 21 goals at home (only Leyton Orient have conceded less) and the Rovers conceding the same away from home, the best defensive record away from home in the division. Brentford are known for fast attacking football, while some of Doncaster’s better results have come after withstanding lots of pressure from the home team and hitting them on the break.

If Brentford win then they are promoted with Doncaster left to play either Sheffield United, Swindon or Yeovil in the play-offs. If the Rovers win then Brentford could slip to fifth. A draw will be enough for Doncaster, but not for Brentford. In the reverse fixture Brentford had more possession and chances, but thanks to poor finishing the Rovers’ only two shots on target in the second were enough to secure the win. Its been seven years since Doncaster won the final game of the season and it couldn’t be more difficult to predict the result, but as the club named their famous fan engagement project; In Rovers We Trust.

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft

The only way is up

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

It was a difficult summer for Doncaster Rovers, so many players left and we saw no less than eleven players brought in. Old legends at the Keepmoat Stadium such as James O’Connor left for Derby, Brian Stock moved to Burnley and eight years into his Doncaster career James Coppinger left to join former boss Sean O’Driscoll at Forest, albeit on loan. El Hadji Diouf, James Hayter, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird and George Friend also moved on pastures new.

However we have seen the arrival of Rob Jones, Jamie McCombe, Paul Quinn, James Harper, David Cotterill, Dave Syers, Robbie Blake, Billy Paynter and Ian Hume. Although Rovers have a small squad for this season we can only hope and pray that we are not hit by injuries that have plagued our squads in the last couple of seasons, although Shelton Martis is still sidelined.

This season has already proved to be unclear on what we would go onto judge as success, but with the likes of Willie McKay and his ‘experiment’ no more at Doncaster Rovers, a good feeling has resurfaced around the Keepmoat Stadium despite relegation last season. In fact I spent numerous occasions this summer sat outside my front door waiting for my We Are Going Up Allan Johnstone Paint Trophy with excitement in my mind towards the game that weekend!

Nevertheless the season kicked off in good spirits as Rovers travelled down to Walsall and romped to a 3-0 win with goals from Chris Brown, Kyle Bennet and a 40 yard lob from David Cotterill in his first league game for the club. Despite winning this game comfortably, the Rovers were in truth nothing special that day, we didn’t look glorious on the ball and spent much of the match pinned back by Walsall. However our physical dominance and organisation proved enough to defend for long periods before winning the ball back, going up the other end of the pitch and doing the business.

The next game followed a similar pattern; we went down to an average Bury side and were lucky to come out on top, which probably would not have happened if  Bury hadn’t been down to ten men late in the second half. Chris Brown and Kyle Bennet came to the rescue that day as well, and despite not playing greatly, Rovers had two wins from as many games and the season looked like it would be a colourful one.

Unfortunately we couldn’t muster three wins on the trot as we were undone by Crawley, who proved that there are much tougher opposition in this division than Bury and Walsall. The performance was not significantly worse however and Rovers were only beaten by a late deflected goal.

The following week saw the club in in the second round of the League Cup against Championship side Hull City at home, and it looked like the Doncaster contingent should have stayed at home as Hull went 2-0 up inside 20 minutes. However Dean Saunders men proved that we can make a fight out of this season and pulled it back to 2-2 before Dave Syers found the net to secure the win late in injury time. Its very rare Rovers score in injury time to win a game and its even rarer we come from 2-0 down to do it, so credit to the Rovers for that passionate performance which gives us something to gloat about until we meet our East Yorkshire friends again.

The only other game we played was the following Saturday against then-league leaders Yeovil on their home soil. It had been a busy transfer deadline day with James Coppinger moving on but the club had to dust itself down and concentrate on their football. The main talking point was James Hayter who left Doncaster on a free last season to join Yeovil and he looked in fine form already for his new employers this campaign.

Almost as if it was written Hayter – at only 5’8 – managed to weave in-between Rovers 6 foot plus centre backs to head home against his former side. He showed no emotion in the celebration and ran back to the half way line as if he had missed, although the truth is he was showing respect to his former club, and for this I have the utmost respect for him. Yeovil added a second in the closing minutes before Billy Paynter netted his first goal for the Rovers this season, but it was all too little too late and we left the game with a seven hour journey back home and nothing to show for it.

We did have a game for Oldham planned at home but due to the Latics having three international players, they had the right to postpone the game. This may be considered a joke by some because it will create a fixture pile up, and if Doncaster were receive injuries due to this and can’t field an XI  for the rearranged fixture, we won’t have the grounds to call a postponement.

However that leaves the club with six points from four games and a game in hand above everyone else. All is not yet lost and a few good results in the next five or six matches will pin the side right back up into the mix for promotion and the play-offs.

In Rovers We Trust.

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft

R’over and out: A look back on this season

Monday, March 26th, 2012

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 16 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 19 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 50 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 10th and 11th respectively, in his third season it finally began to tick and they claimed 4th 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 andMcKay 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

Bad Luck. Worse Luck. Rovers’ Luck.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

16 games – that is how long Doncaster Rovers have gone without winning. 16 whole games, that is over 24 hours on the pitch since we picked up three points, to be precise we haven’t won a game since Tuesday 1st March 2011 – a period stretching over 5 months. In that time Rovers have suffered 10 defeats and only managed 6 draws but the good news is that we are only 4 games into the new season, and our defeats have come at the hands of Brighton in their new stadium, promotion contenders West Ham and Nottingham Forest as well as a 3-0 thumping by in-form table toppers Derby at Pride Park. Looking at these opening fixtures before a ball was kicked, I wasn’t expecting much. In those 4 games Doncaster have only scored one goal and conceded seven – Rovers fans are obviously frustrated at these stats, some even calling for the head of manager Sean O’Driscoll.

The fans have been promised by Chairman and saviour John Ryan that a “loan star striker” will arrive at the Keepmoat to fill the boots of the injured players and last week Chelsea reserve star Milan Lalkovic joined on an initial one month loan. This could be a perfect move for both parties involved as his goals for Chelsea reserves cannot go unnoticed, hopefully he can become something special for Doncaster before the month is over.

For armchair fans of Doncaster, or any non-Rovers fan looking at the past 4 results, you would say we are in danger, but those that have been at the games would say different. At Brighton and Hove Albion we were arguably the better team in the first half and in the second half injuries to our two top strikers and luck on the Seagulls side ensured we came away with nothing. After conceding the early goal against West Ham United we stood toe to toe with arguably the best side in the division, making easy work of keeping possession, however with one fit striker in the squad we slumped to another defeat. Nottingham Forest was the same, Rovers the better team, making good use of space and possession but some good saves from Forest ‘keeper Lee Camp ensured McClaren’s men took all the points home.

On Saturday Rovers travelled to Pride Park to face Derby County, the ground our last league win came and it is also interesting to note that in all previous three league meetings at Pride Park we had a 100% record. However Derby’s encouraging start to the Championship this season means they have a 100% record and it was the Rams who took full control of a depleted Doncaster Rovers side, sending them packing with a 3-0 win, the first real loss of the season where the Rovers fans came away and didn’t feel hard done by.

With main players still on the injury table including James O Connor, Martin Woods, Brian Stock, James Hayter, Ryan Mason and Billy Sharp Rovers could fade away very quickly, however based on the opening 3 games of the season I believed we played pretty well and were unfortunate to not have taken anything from them. Once most of the injured make their way back into the team we can turn this season around and start moving forward.

It could be the same story as our debut season in the Championship, where after going 12 games without a win (managing a mere 2 draws) and we were rock bottom of the table as everyone tucked into their christmas turkey, however after a 4-2 win against Nottingham Forest on Boxing day we turned our season around and climbed up to a very respectable 14th. During that time we won 7 out of 8 games including one draw in a remarkable run that saw us the most in-form team of the Championship. Out of the last 23 games that season, there was only Sheffield United who racked up more points than Doncaster.

Tomorrow we play host to Leeds United at the Keepmoat. Although it is only a Carling Cup match, a win here could help carry momentum through into the league ahead of entertaining Bristol City on Saturday, the last game before the international break. Leeds have also been slow off the mark this season – despite their Carling Cup win against Bradford City, they have only managed to pick up 4 points from 4 and although that is much better than Rovers’ return so far, question marks hang over Leeds and whether they can repeat their top 7 finish of last season. Doncaster and Leeds clashes have made for entertaining viewing in recent years such as at Elland Road last season where we played out a thrilling encounter with the home side, coming from 2-1 down to win 5-2. Memorable matches also include Rovers’ famous wins at Elland Road and Wembley, but they’ve never managed to defeat Leeds United on home soil.

Of course the priority at the moment will be the league game on Saturday against Bristol City and our season needs to get back on track fast. A win tomorrow may just boost morale and kick-start the season. Some think it may already be too late for the Yorkshire club, but in reality there is 126 points still left to play for. Sixty three hours of football remain until the final whistle is blown and I will not accept our season is over until then.

Keep The Faith…

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft

The season starts here….

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

It is fair to say Steve McClaren’s reign as Nottingham Forest boss got off to a slow start both off and on the pitch. Little in the way of transfer activity behind the scenes and some lacklustre league displays hardly laid down a marker for the nine months ahead. However following Tuesday’s 1-0 win against Doncaster Rovers and the arrival of some new faces, things may finally be clicking into place for The Reds.

After the initial optimism throughout the summer following McClaren’s appointment and the arrivals of Jonathan Greening, George Boateng and Andy Reid, reservations began to creep in amongst the fans as they reflected on a poor opening day stalemate with Barnsley. The manager had stated his wish to bring in more players and, like his predecessor Billy Davies, was left frustrated with a lack of new arrivals. The bore draw against Keith Hill’s well-drilled outfit highlighted the good and bad – some pleasing football played but a lack of cutting edge.

The thrilling Carling Cup victory over neighbours Notts County restored some optimism. Despite being a kick away from going out, three goals scored, Wes Morgan’s last-minute salvo and the subsequent penalty shootout success was a morale-boost going into the tough away fixture at Millwall. McClaren shuffled his pack for the match against the Lions with Joe Garner and Robbie Findley leading the line and Greening, Boateng, Reid and Lewis McGugan making up a midfield diamond behind. Despite much endeavour from the strikeforce and some decent build up play, Forest shipped two goals to Darius Henderson and Liam Trotter, failed to muster a shot on target and even left some fans fearing a relegation battle come the final whistle.

A hasty thought perhaps after only two games but it summed up how the club’s followers, like the manager, wanted to see their team progress and fast.

What a difference a few signings make. Steve McClaren highlighted the need for more creativity and finishing prowess in the final third, moving to sign Matt Derbyshire for an undisclosed fee from Greek side Olympiakos prior to the Millwall match. The striker may not have featured in South London, but his arrival brings some experience up front. The former Blackburn Rovers man spent the latter half of last season on loan to Birmingham City, struggling to make an impact as they ultimately suffered relegation to the Championship, but he has goalscoring pedigree at a higher level. His surname may not go down too well around these parts but his Premier League and Champions League experience will.

Two days later the club announced that Ishmael Miller would be joining from West Bromwich Albion for a £1.2 million fee. A powerful frontman with pace to burn, Miller brings qualities missing from the Forest attack as Dexter Blackstock still recovers from his horrific knee injury. While Blackstock may not be the quickest, he is strong, holds the ball up well and is the focal point of the attack. Miller can step into this role whilst offering the pace and skill to really stretch defences. The former Manchester City man has found opportunities limited at Albion since suffering a serious cruciate knee ligament injury but now fully recovered, he knows what this league is about having helped the Baggies win promotion to the Premier League in 2008 and featured for QPR on loan as they did the same last season.

Both Derbyshire and Miller made their debuts in the match against Doncaster Rovers. As Forest took to the field in the Keepmoat Stadium on Tuesday, one could be forgiven for thinking a win would be out of the question, considering Rovers have been a bogey team on their home patch for Forest in recent seasons.

Chris Cohen, who filled in at left-back during Forest’s first three games, was restored to a more familiar central midfield role, his tenacity and energy in the middle of the park missed when deployed as a defender. Chris Gunter moved to left-back with dependable youngster Brendan Moloney slotting into the right hand side of a back four which looked far more comfortable than it had done against Millwall.

When attacking Forest enjoyed good spells of possession and were threatening going forward. Derbyshire started the match alongside David McGoldrick up front, who was criticised following an average performance against Barnsley and left out of the squad at the New Den altogether. Back in the fray, McGoldrick and Derbyshire caused problems for the hosts’ defence throughout, going close on a few occasions but it was Gunter who nodded home the crucial goal, out-jumping two Doncaster players to place a header low into the bottom corner of the net from Moloney’s right-wing cross. The Welsh international broke forward from the back, squeezed his effort past Rovers ‘keeper Gary Woods and the goal drought in the league was finally over after 211 barren minutes of football.

Forest had to withstand pressure from their opponents who, despite having nine first-teamers out through injury, played their trademark passing game, carving out several opportunities which forced fine saves from Lee Camp in the Reds goal. Ishmael Miller came on for the final twenty minutes and showed he could prove to be an excellent acquisition, his strength and pace making an impact, asking questions of the tiring Doncaster defence before Forest held out for a crucial victory.

With more game time Miller’s match sharpness will soon come and he is relishing the opportunity of playing regular first-team football at Forest. Both he and Derbyshire add an extra impetus to the striking department and will give the manager a welcome selection headache with six forwards now on the books.

Due to exciting Dutch winger Wesley Verhoek pulling out of a £2 million move to the City Ground at the eleventh hour, citing homesickness as the reason, McClaren is still in the market for a creative wide midfielder, having also witnessed Heerenveen’s Roy Beerens snub interest from Forest to join AZ Alkmaar. Tottenham Hotspur youngster Andros Townsend has been linked with a move, having been loaned to Milwall, Watford and Ipswich in the past and the loan market may be Forest’s best option as the transfer window nears its closure.

With Chris Cohen moving back into midfield against Doncaster, more questions have been asked about the left-back position. Chris Gunter can play there but is much more effective in his usual right back slot while Joel Lynch has filled in, but is seen as more of a squad player who has not managed to nail down a starting berth. Loan signings have covered the role temporarily but until there is a permanent acquisition, fans will send club forums and Twitter into meltdown debating the problem position.

Despite that, things are looking much more positive for Nottingham Forest. Notorious slow starters, four points from three games represents the club’s best start to a season in five years and the victory over Doncaster will now hopefully kick-start their campaign. Big-spending Leicester City arrive at The City Ground on Saturday after back-to-back home defeats so the pressure will be on them to perform. Two former England bosses go head-to-head in a fierce local derby no one wants to lose and with new signings leading the line, Forest have the perfect opportunity to show they mean business this season.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger.

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Up and running…

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Well at least the Doncaster Rovers physio is. Not even a week has gone by for the Yorkshire club and we already fading away from hopes of an over achieving season; or at least the bookmakers and journalists think so. Let’s review how it all went wrong.

Signings such as Chris Brown, Tommy Spurr, Ryan Mason, Richard Naylor, James Baxendale, Kyle Bennet and Giles Barnes set the tone in the town of Doncaster that the football club is aiming not to undergo the misery of last season where we clung on to Championship status in the closing weeks. Pre-season looked good for the Vikings and everyone couldn’t wait to get the season underway at Brighton last weekend, and after a coach journey that survived the chaos on the M25, we was all glad to be standing outside the stadium that is the American Express Community Stadium. Easily one of the nicest grounds I have been to across the country (Only Millwall’s and West Ham’s stadiums are unvisited by yours truly in the Championship, and only a hand full further across the football league). I expected Brighton to take the lead early on; spurred by their roaring crowd and with the beautiful new pitch to play out the second half in the Rovers favour, allowing us to come back and maybe steal the points and how wrong I was.

The Seagulls were in truth mediocre at best in the opening stages. They had momentum and the crowd behind them, but their chances were wasted and rather than flattening Doncaster they allowed us into the game, showed us too much of the ball and it did become a real show. It was clear to everyone in the stadium that this was the first game of the new season; as good as some of the football was mistakes were more common than crowd chants and the reactions from both sets of players weren’t as sharp as normal and foolish, late tackles were flying in from every direction. The game itself was a combination of great football, but scrappy foot work. This was underlined by a very late challenge by ex-Leeds defender Richard Naylor when he brought down Barnes for Brighton and was lucky in the hosts view not to see red.

There were also plenty of chances and Brighton new boy Craig Mackail-Smith had a whole bunch of chances to give Brighton the lead but all the chances were either a result of offside play or were wasted. Doncaster’s record striker and fan favourite Billy Sharp was clear in the 18 yard box and with only a sliding defender in his way he somehow managed to miss the target. Brighton’s best chance then came when Ashley Barnes was in the clear, he shot under the diving Woods who got enough of the shot to slow the pace but it was heading towards the line only for Rovers captain George Friend to clear. Then came the deafening blow for the hosts’ party day when Ryan Mason’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected into Sharp’s path whose poor connection was more than enough to give Rovers a deserved 1-0 lead going into half time.

Everything was going brilliant for the away team, we did make some mistakes; but we were playing well and keeping Albion at bay. The second half was to read a very different story. The swing of our fortunes started when Lewis Dunk’s horrendous challenge on Billy Sharp left the first goal scorer at the Amex on the floor clutching his ankle, on came the physio and he was soon stretchered off. Without our one-million-pound man Doncaster were pushed back by Brighton and their 2 substitutes Craig Noone and Will Buckley were to play the rest of the tale. The hosts’ pressure finally paid off seven minutes from time when sub Buckley smashed the ball from the edge of the area to beat Gary Woods at his near post. A poor goalkeeping effort; but his view was partially blocked by Naylor.

Seven minutes later and after a Doncaster corner Hayter was left on the floor clearly in pain, he was also stretchered off as our day was going from bad to worse. It would also worsen after nine minutes of extra time and Brighton broke, Buckley again surging one on one with the Rovers keeper to place it beautifully in the net and give Brighton the dream start in their new home. In the days that followed it emerged that Hayter’s injury wasn’t as bad as first thought but Billy Sharp was revealed to have suffered ankle ligament damage.

Then on Tuesday night we played hosts to Tranmere Rovers in the league cup, and the game was always in Donny’s favour as goals from Chris Brown, Ryan Mason and Kyle Bennett gave us a 3-0 win. Mason however was again stretchered off and has also suffered ankle ligament damage. If you think our situation cannot worsen anymore then you’ll be in fits of laughter when you hear our opponents on Saturday; West Ham United. With only one out and out striker fit (and question marks still hang over Brown’s fitness) and Sharp not to be fit for a long time, the loan market must apply to our club as the goals must come from somewhere. The Viking’s Supporters Co-operative (VSC) have set up a donation fund for fans to donate what they can so the board know the town backs the club and they can reach into their pockets and can push on and try and get a goal scorer.

Who will this be? It currently remains unclear and we probably won’t see this new player in a red and white shirt on Saturday at the Keepmoat against the Hammers. The only thing that does remain clear is that the next few weeks could be very slow and daunting ones for the most over-achieving club since the Premier League era began.

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers Blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft

Toppo’s Top Tens – Opening Day Victories

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

The first day of the football season is always eagerly anticipated. The pitches are a lush green, the sun is shining and  fans up and down the county are dreaming of a successful campaign, whether it be promotion or avoiding the drop. Nothing is decided on day one of course, but it is always good to get off to a winning start. Sometimes you can send out a statement of intent to your rivals or be caught in pre-season mode and find yourselves on the wrong end of a spanking. This week Toppo’s Top 10 looks at some of the more glorious and (for some) disasterous opening days in Football League history.

10: Bradford City 11 Rotherham United 1 – 1928

Kicking things off is an opening day defeat from nearly 80 years ago so bad it deserves a mention here. It was the first day of the 1928/29 Third Division (North) season with The Millers travelling 40 miles north to Valley Parade. They probably wished they hadn’t bothered as they returned home having been thrashed 11-1 – not surprisingly Bradford’s record home victory to date.

9: Queens Park Rangers 4 Barnsley 0 – 2010

Following a 13th placed Championship finish in 2009/10, QPR were placed amongst the favourites for promotion the season after, with Neil Warnock about to begin his first full season in charge and a squad assembled with bags of Championship experience. Warnock brought in eight new faces including Paddy Kenny, Shaun Derry, Jamie Mackie, Bradley Orr and the mercurial Moroccan Adel Taarabt, joining permanently from Tottenham having been on loan at Rangers the season before.

Barnsley were the visitors to Loftus Road as the season kicked-off on August 6th, 2010 and the Hoops dispatched their visitors with ease, setting the tone for the forthcoming campaign. Heidar Helguson put them in front from the penalty spot four minutes before the break, Mackie made it two and new captain Taarabt slotted home Rangers’ second penalty on 63 minutes for 3-0. The rout was completed when Hogan Ephraim laid on a tap in for Fitz Hall as Warnock’s side began the season in style, sitting top of the table. It was a position they would relinquish only twice during the campaign as they returned to the Premier League after 15 years away.

8: Notts County 5 Bradford City 0 – 2009

The summer of 2009 will go down as one of the most memorable in the history of Notts County. The club were taken over by Munto Finance, supposedly backed by mega-rich Middle Eastern owners who were going to take the Magpies into the Premier League within 5 seasons. Former England manager Sven Goran-Eriksson joined as Director of Football and after years in the doldrums, a bright new dawn had beckoned at Meadow Lane.

League Two County wasted no time assembling a squad capable of securing promotion, even bringing in former England defender Sol Campbell and Ian McParland’s men heralded the new era with a thumping display on the first day of the season. Ben Davies made it 1-0 on 17 minutes then new marksman Lee Hughes hit two in four minutes as Notts went 3-0 up by the break. Hughes secured a debut hat-trick from the penalty spot before Brendan Moloney’s fine solo strike capped off a fine team performance.

Unfortunately for County Munto’s takeover was based on false promises. The money was never forthcoming, Sol and Sven soon left and the club was on the brink of collapse. New owners came in to save the club who did get their promotion into League One at the end of a tumultuous campaign.

7: Walsall 4 West Bromwich Albion 1 – 2003

Paul Merson spent his latter playing career in Division One, helping Portsmouth to the title in 2003 before leaving to join Walsall, their fans hoping his magic touch could establish them as a force in the second tier. Merson’s debut could not have gone better, the ex-Arsenal man scoring a brace as the Saddlers demolished West Midlands rivals West Brom. Albion travelled to the Bescot on the opening day having just been relegated from the Premier League and Gary Megson’s plans for a swift return got off to the worst possible start.

A record crowd at the Bescot saw their side out of reach by half-time, Merson breaking the deadlock with a sweet right-foot volley which flew past Russell Hoult and into the top corner. The midfielder made it two with a drive which crashed in off the bar then just before half-time Jorge Leitao bagged number three as he tapped home after Simon Osborn’s shot hit the post. Former Wolves midfielder Steve Corica made the game safe 12 minutes after the break as Saddlers fans basked in the warm August sunshine, the only blot on their team’s day coming as Jason Koumas netted a consolation goal for Albion.

In February 2004 Merson was handed the manager’s role at Walsall following the sacking of Colin Lee but could not prevent the club from being relegated to Division Two on the final day of the season.

6: Chelsea 5 Derby County 0 – 1983

A game from back in the days when Chelsea were an second tier team! In the summer leading up to the 1983/84 season, Blues boss John Neal made several signings including Pat Nevin, Nigel Spackman, John Hollins and prolific frontman Kerry Dixon. The new faces inspired Neal’s side to a 5-0 demolition of Derby County on the season’s first day at Stamford Bridge.

Spackman put Chelsea ahead after just four minutes, Chris Walker made it two after the break and Chris Hutchings netted a third not long after. Dixon then plundered his first two Chelsea goals on 63 and 68 minutes to complete the rout. The win set the tone for Chelsea’s season as they finished top of the Second Division – with a 5-3 win at Fulham plus 5-0 victories over Leeds United and Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United along the way – Dixon top-scoring with 36 goals.

5: Brighton and Hove Albion 2 Doncaster Rovers 1 – 2011

On paper a 2-1 win may not seem too remarkable but the significance of the day makes it a match few Seagulls fans will forget in a hurry. Since the club’s owners controversially sold the club’s Goldstone Ground in 1997, they have spent 14 years waiting for a new stadium to call home, playing their games at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium and the Withdean Stadium.

Construction finally began on a new ground in 2008 and earlier this year the club were finally handed the keys to the £100 million AMEX Stadium ahead of the 2011/12 campaign. Gus Poyet led the Seagulls to the League One title last season meaning the club would be hosting Championship football in their  state-of-the-art arena.

Doncaster Rovers were the first visitors as emotional Brighton fans created a great atmosphere, 22,000 waving flags long before the teams entered the field. Doncaster netted the first league goal at the ground, Billy Sharp’s partially-blocked effort crawling over the line to give the visitors the lead.

It seemed as if Doncaster would spoil the party, however on 83 minutes they failed to clear a Brighton set-piece and the ball fell to Seagulls new signing Will Buckley, who hit a crisp, low volley from the edge of the area into the bottom corner to level matters. Injuries to Doncaster’s James Hayter and goalscorer Sharp saw eight minutes of added time at the end of the second half and Rovers forced to play with 10 men after they used all their substitutes.

Brighton took full advantage as former Watford winger Buckley broke forward and curled home a 98th minute winner. There were scenes of jubilation as Brighton secured a dramatic first victory at the AMEX, fans and players celebrating wildly.

4: Newcastle United 5 Leeds United 2 – 1989

On the opening day fans get the chance of seeing their club’s new signings for the first time and in 1989, debutant Micky Quinn put on a show in front of over 40,000 Newcastle United followers.

Leeds United were the visitors to St.James’ Park as Jim Smith’s Magpies faced Second Division football after relegation from the top flight two months before. Quinn was signed for £680,000 from Portsmouth, having hit 54 goals in 121 appearances for the South Coast club and soon got on the scoresheet for his new employers, along with fellow debutant John Gallagher. Leeds led 2-1 but the big centre-forward put the game out of reach of Howard Wilkinson’s men, hitting 4 goals on his first appearance for the club. He went on to net 34 times in the league that season, making him the top scorer in England by a distance.

According to his autobiography, after scoring his fourth Quinn ran towards the crowd shouting, “That’s who f*****g Mick Quinn is, that’s who f*****g Mick Quinn is, *****g Come on!”

Nobody told him that he was screaming at the family enclosure full of children.

3: Brentford 4 Leyton Orient 3 – 1991

At the start of the 1991/92 Division Three season, London sides Brentford and Leyton Orient played out a thriller at Griffin Park. Future Wimbledon and Bolton striker Dean Holdsworth put the Bees in front just before the break. Orient equalised in the second half then went in front as Kevin Nugent nodded home Ricky Otto’s left-wing cross.

Holdsworth made it 2-2 straight from the restart, pouncing on a rebound after Richard Cadette’s shot was saved. The frontman then bagged his hat-trick, latching onto Terry Evans’ long ball forward and slotting a composed finish past the goalkeeper. Orient weren’t out of it and Ricky Otto again put a teasing cross in from the left which Andy Sayer converted for 3-3.

That wasn’t the last of the goals as Brentford went in front again. A set-piece was floated into the penalty area, centre-back Evans met the ball with a header which looped over the ‘keeper into the far corner of the net to make the score 4-3 to The Bees. An amazing opening day match that kick-started a promotion campaign for Brentford, which saw them win the league and boast the top scorer in Holdsworth, who netted 38 goals.

2: Millwall 0 Rotherham United 6 – 2002

An incredible scoreline from the New Den on the opening day of the old Division One in 2002. Millwall lost in the previous season’s play-off semi-finals while the Millers just escaped relegation – but it was the hosts who were left stunned.

Ex-Walsall striker Darren Byfield started the rout, powerfully heading home Paul Warne’s cross. Lions goalkeeper Tony Warner then gifted the visitors their second as he let Martin McIntosh’s 35-yard free-kick squirm through his grasp and over the line. After the break Millwall capitulated, hesitation in their defence allowing Byfield to make it 3-0.

Despite going forward in search of goals, Millwall conceded a fourth when Chris Sedgwick cut in from the right to score then Byfield completed his hat-trick with ten minutes to go, chipping the ball over Warner from the edge of the penalty area. Sixty seconds later he had another as he rounded the goalie and slotted home a sixth goal for Ronnie Moore’s side. Unbelievable stuff.

1: Norwich City 1 Colchester United 7 – 2009

It can be argued that this game was a watershed moment in the recent history of Norwich City. Having been relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time since 1960, the Canaries were instantly placed amongst the favourites for an immediate return to the Championship. With legendary former goalkeeper Bryan Gunn in charge and new signings arriving at the club in pre-season, it was expected that they would get their League One campaign off to a good start.

Their first game of the season, at Carrow Road against Colchester United, was a disaster as they slumped to an incredible 7-1 home defeat. Kevin Lisbie put the U’s in front after 10 minutes, scoring after a mistake by Canaries goalie Michael Theoklitos. Clive Platt made it two then grabbed another soon afterwards with a back-post finish. David Fox bent home a free-kick before Lisbie’s second goal, a header, meant Norwich were five down after just 38 minutes with their fans already heading for the exits, two even ran on the pitch and threw their season tickets at manager Gunn.

In the second-half Cody McDonald grabbed a consolation but David Perkins’ volley and Scott Vernon’s tap-in set the seal on a fantastic result for Paul Lambert’s team, inflicting Norwich’s worst home defeat in their 109-year history.

Within a week of the game Bryan Gunn was sacked and Norwich turned to the man who masterminded Colchester’s thumping win – ex-Scotland international midfielder Paul Lambert. Aided by the 24 league goals from Grant Holt, Lambert turned the club’s season around as they won the League One title. He then went even further, guiding them to 2nd place in the Championship and a second successive promotion in 2010/11 – meaning that just two years after one of their darkest days, Norwich City will be playing Premier League football this coming season.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up Blogger

Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for ‘Toppo’s Top Tens.’

A story of four promises

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

So here we are at the beginning of a promising blog and podcast website. I thought I’d start the ball rolling with my first blog to introduce my home town football club and my passion in life: Doncaster Rovers. You may have heard of us, you may have been to our stadium and watched us play in the Championship, but can you honestly say how we got here?

1995; Doncaster were wandering in the lower leagues of English football, in the beginning of catastrophic events the main stand of our old ground; Belle Vue was set on fire in what would turn out to be an insurance scam mastered by our own chairman; Ken Richardson. It went from bad to worse for the Yorkshire football club and in 1997/98 season we recorded the worst season possible for a football team, we set the record for the country of the most losses in a season (although in the 30’s we also set the record for the most wins in a season) and we were relegated to the conference.

It didn’t just mean relegation; our chairman didn’t care for the club and was only ever interested in selling the lease. He left as chairman and not many believed we would ever play football again, the conference association were tempted to reject our request to play in the conference, and we were left in tatters, a handful of footballs, no net and less than 10 players. It was dark times and felt like the end.

One man did believe in our football club, and this man was willing to start the revival. His name was Ian McMahon, he led a consortium that bought the club and Doncaster Rovers were to be reborn. He contacted John Ryan; a local business man, who was also on the board during the Richardson regime, Ryan agreed with McMahon that it was in the best interest of everyone to allow Ryan to become Chairman and eventually our owner. The fans that did remain were treated to a blast from the past when Rovers legends Ian and Glyn Snodin returned to the club to be manager and assistant. That season we survived relegation but managed to win the Conference league trophy, a great feat as far as anyone with the club were concerned. John Ryan made four promises to the fans that season. He would:

1. Get us out of the Conference

2. Move us to a new ground

3. Make Doncaster Rovers reach a cup final

4. Get us into the second tier of English football

As mad as they all sound no one really took the fourth one seriously, it had been 40 years previously since we played in the second tier.

We settled as a conference club and in the years that passed the task of getting out of the conference seemed impossible, only one was promoted each season and the competition was fierce. In 2002 however it was announced that two teams would be promoted – the team that won the league and a Conference play-off would be introduced. That allowed teams from second position to fifth battle it out to win a place in the Football League. And in remarkable fashion with Dave Penney as manager Doncaster reached the play-offs, securing it with a 4-2 win on the last game of the season against Hereford United; despite being 2-1 down. On that day John Ryan made his Doncaster debut and made the Guinness Book of Records to become the oldest man to play football.

After defeating Chester over two legs (winning in the penalty shootout), we booked ourselves into the first Conference play-off final against Dagenham and Redbridge. On the 10th May 2003, Francis Tierney scored the golden goal for Doncaster Rovers at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium to win a place in the Football League; finishing the game at 3-2 to Doncaster. Finally we were back and John Ryan’s first promise was achieved.

The following season we were heavily tipped to finish bottom and descend into the Conference again. Hull City were widely tipped to be promoted. Hull City were promoted in second place, while relegation favourites Doncaster Rovers rocked the footballing world to finish first and win back-to-back promotions.

The next season was a quiet one compared to the seasons before and Doncaster achieved a very respectable mid table position in League One. The next season however was a typical Doncaster Rovers season, although we weren’t ever going to effectively challenge for the play-offs we went on an amazing run in the League Cup. Drawing 1-1 with Man City and knocking them out on penalties. Aston Villa beckoned next and Belle Vue were treated to a real show as McIndoe, Heffernan and Thornton scored the goals to thump Villa 3-0 and we proceeded to the Quarter Finals; a home tie against Arsenal. Twice Doncaster lead the gunners and twice Arsenal came back, scoring a dramatic equaliser in the 122nd minute with an extra time goal to take the tie to penalties. Doncaster tried but lost eventually 4-1 on penalties. We kept our heads high and there was no shame in losing to arguably one of the best sides in the country.

After four seasons of managing Doncaster Rovers after making the step up as a player for the club in the conference, the manager Dave Penney had become a legend among the fans. He had masterminded the successes the club was having. It then came as a big surprise when the club announced that they had parted company with Dave Penney. Considering our success if anything was clear it was that we were in the hunt for a better manager to take Doncaster on to big and better things. Doncaster born Kevin Keegan was rumoured in the media to have been contacted about coming to Doncaster to manage his hometown football club.

Then in what would be one of the most story-changing moments for Doncaster Rovers, Sean O’Driscol was the man chosen to replace Dave Penney. This did not meet the fans with great overjoy. He never made a very encouraging start either, and the year 2007 was fast approaching and the days of Belle Vue were numbered. The brand spanking Keepmoat Stadium awaited and the Rovers would have to say goodbye to their 74-year home. In a very emotional day, Doncaster played their final game at Belle Vue against Nottingham Forest on the 23rd December. Thankfully however the Rovers did win that game 1-0. Tears were shed and the lights went out at old Belle Vue for the final time.

From tears of sadness to tears of joy the Rovers started a new era in the Keepmoat Stadium on New Year’s Day by thrashing local rivals Huddersfield in a 3-0 win. Although it was never going to be Belle Vue, the future looked bright. We finally had a new home and John Ryan’s second promise was achived.

Sean O’Driscol was not doing terrible, but that didn’t stop the fans from questioning whether he was the right appointment. To answer his critics O’Driscol guided his new team to the semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint trophy against Crewe Alexandra. The first leg ended 3-3 when Doncaster played away and the return leg was to be a thrilling encounter. Half time at the Keepmoat and Crewe lead the hosts 2-0, 5-3 on aggregate and they were pretty much already in the final. In the second half Paul Heffernan scored a goal after a brilliant spin on the spot to pull one back. After his first penalty was disallowed he stepped up to score the retake. 5-5 on aggregate and in the closing stages of the match Jason Price had the ball three-yards from the net, after scuffing his first shot, he did finally pushed the ball over the line to give Doncaster the win.

A final against Bristol Rovers awaited, due to delays in the build of the new Wembley, the game was to take part at the Millennium Stadium, and would also be the final English cup final to take place in the stadium. It wasn’t the FA cup of league cup, but it was considered a major English trophy amongst the lower leagues and it was definitely a cup final as far as anyone was concerned. We were going to the Millennium and John Ryan’s third promise was achieved.

The Rovers of the North took on the Rovers of the South on 1st April 2007. Doncaster lead by 2 after just 5 minutes of play, Bristol however came back in the second half, despite being in a league below to draw level. It was tense all around the stadium and the 20000 Doncaster fans in attendance blew the roof off the stadium when Captain Graeme Lee headed home a Sean Thornton corner to win the game for the Yorkshire club and win us our first trophy final in our first appearance.

The next season Sean O’Driscol signed James Hayter, one of his players from ex-club Bournemouth, along with highly-rated duo Richie Wellens and Martin Woods. Defender Matt Mills was brought in on loan from Manchester City and it was clear that the club were to push on for promotion. Things were looking promising after Christmas and the club recorded wins against promotion rivals Nottingham Forest, Carlisle United and Leeds United and would sit for most of the second half of the season in second and third place. The final game of the season and Doncaster sat in second place; a win and we were promoted. Doncaster lost 2-1 to Cheltenham and Nottingham Forest won their match against Yeovil 3-2 to beat Doncaster to promotion. For the Rovers; the play offs beckoned.

Joint top scorer Paul Heffernan was sent off in the first play-off leg against Southend United and things were looking bad for the home leg with the game tied at 0-0. However it would become the James Coppinger show and the Rovers midfielder bagged a hatrick and the game finished 5-1 to Doncaster. The final; to be played at Wembley, would be against Leeds United who were looking to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt. However they would have been promoted automatically had they not received a 15-point deduction.

Five years ago from then and Doncaster were in the Conference playing the likes of Dagenham and Redbridge, Stevenage Borough and Hereford United. Leeds United were in the Premiership challenging the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. On the 25th May 2008 they shared the same division. One would be promoted; no statistics, no 15-point handicaps, no advantages, no replay, just 90 minutes of football in a one-off event where the winner gets promoted. The players took to the field, the referee put the whistle in his mouth, and the game began. 45 minutes of play and no breakthrough for either side. The second half began and Doncaster attacked, after Coppinger’s free kick was deflected out for a corner, captain Brian stock stepped up and whipped in the cross that joint top scorer James Hayter jumped up to head home what would be the winner after a very tense second half.

The small club from the town near Sheffield had done it. They had won promotion to the Championship. They defeated all the odds to feel like Kings of English football for just a day, beating Leeds United in the world’s home of football at Wembley. Doncaster were in the second tier of English Football after 50 years and John Ryan’s fourth promise was achieved.

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers Blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft