Paul Goodwin: Ten reasons why Doncaster Rovers were relegated

Paul Dickov

Paul Dickov

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The aftermath of any relegation is a time for reflection and introspection. It’s a time when fans tend to want to point the finger of blame.

However, Doncaster’s demise was not just down to one individual.

Picture by Gareth Williams/AHPIX.com. Football, Sky Bet Championship; 'Reading v Doncaster Rovers; 19/10/2013 KO 3.00pm;  'Madejski Stadium;'copyright picture;Howard Roe/AHPIX.com'Doncaster Rovers defenderRob Jones leaves the pitch against Reading with an injury

Picture by Gareth Williams/AHPIX.com. Football, Sky Bet Championship; 'Reading v Doncaster Rovers; 19/10/2013 KO 3.00pm; 'Madejski Stadium;'copyright picture;Howard Roe/AHPIX.com'Doncaster Rovers defenderRob Jones leaves the pitch against Reading with an injury

From the board, to the manager, to the players, Doncaster must accept collective responsibility for their fate.

Rovers’ agonising fall through the Championship trap door was down to a culmination of factors, some of which were out of their control, some of which were of their own doing.

In the simplest of terms, Rovers just weren’t good enough over the course of a gruelling 46-game season. But there were several other factors at play.

In no particular order:

John Ryan

John Ryan

1. INJURIES

Rovers’ small squad and limited resources meant they were relying on key performers staying fit. They didn’t. Rob Jones started the season in good form and his absence, from late October onwards, left a gaping hole in Doncaster’s back line.

Without their talismanic skipper, Rovers lost eight of their next 13 in the Championship, shipping three goals on five occasions.

When fellow centre back Bongani Khumalo suffered a horrible knee injury on international duty for South Africa in March that added insult to injury.

Richie Wellens’ foot injury was also key to the disastrous end to the season that saw just one point amassed from the last seven games.

In his absence, Doncaster’s midfield lacked composure on the ball and the ability to hurt teams.

2. REFEREES

Rovers were ‘relegated by referees’, according to John Ryan. He argues officials cost Rovers no fewer than 15 points.

And it’s hard to ignore some of the woeful decisions that went against Doncaster over the course of the season.

Darren Drysdale’s decision to award a last minute penalty at Watford for James Husband’s foul outside the box was a sickener.

But it had nothing on the obvious assault on Gabi Tamas in the build-up to Ipswich’s winner last month missed by Graham Scott, which even Mick McCarthy later admitted was a foul.

Fred Graham’s shocking decision to send off Abdou Meite at Millwall was the icing on the cake.

And who can forget Lee Collins’ controversial decision to abandon the game at Charlton in August with Rovers leading 3-1? Doncaster lost the rearranged game 2-0. They had lost their early season momentum too.

3. AWAY DAY WOES

From having one of the best away records in England a season previously, Rovers ended this campaign with one of the worst in the country.

Just two wins and seven draws (13 points) was the worst away record in the Championship.

Only Notts County won fewer points on the road in the Football League.

4. SLUMPS IN FORM

Two major slumps in form really cost Doncaster dear.

An injury hit side struggled to cope during a bleak winter, going eight games without a win between December and mid-January.

Then sitting eight points clear of the drop zone, a disastrous run of six defeats and a draw from the last seven games saw Rovers slip into the bottom three at the very last moment.

5. TAKEOVER UNCERTAINTY

Before a ball was kicked uncertainty surrounding Sequentia Capital’s proposed takeover gave Paul Dickov a problem in terms of planning and recruitment.

After heads of terms were signed by all parties in June, and with Sequentia promising to invest heavily in squad strengthening, Dickov had lined up swoops for Billy Sharp, Shay Given and Richard Dunne, among others.

But when Rovers’ board got cold feet on the deal, Dickov was forced to put Plan B into action at late notice.

Takeover talks continued behind the scenes. And the ensuing indecision arguably saw Rovers take their eye off the ball when it came to matters on the pitch.

They failed to replace Rob Jones before the loan window closed in the last week of November and, with injuries biting, Rovers struggled for form throughout October, November and December. It wasn’t until late November that Rovers released a second statement saying the club would definitely remain under the control of the current owners.

6. THE JOHN RYAN SAGA

John Ryan’s very public resignation at Barnsley - after he accused the board of going behind his back during talks with Sequentia - was an unwanted distraction on the day.

But the longer term consequences of his exit were even more damaging.

Ryan is the fan in the boardroom. He understands football. He adds to Rovers’ spending power. Rovers are worse off without Ryan on board.

7. BUDGET LIMITATIONS

Despite chief executive Gavin Baldwin stating that Rovers’ playing budget was up 40 per cent up from the previous season, and his confidence that the club could compete financially at Championship level, Rovers’ obvious budget limitations were always going to be problematic in a division packed full of Premier League drop-outs.

That Yeovil, Barnsley and Doncaster ended up as the three relegated clubs was no coincidence.

Money talks - and those three clubs unquestionably lacked the quality and squad depth required in the Championship.

8. THE GAMBLE THAT DIDN’T PAY OFF

When Billy Sharp made his Rovers return in January it initially gave the club a massive and much-needed lift.

But Sharp’s form dipped dramatically and the out of sorts striker last month admitted something was wrong - but he didn’t know what. While Rovers’ marquee signing was visibly struggling, netting four times in 16 appearances, the man he effectively replaced at Rovers was banging the goals in for fun for the team that ultimately relegated them. Federico Macheda scored ten goals in 18 appearances for Birmingham.

Rovers cleared the decks to bring Sharp in, letting several players leave in January in order to balance the books - but ultimately the gamble did not pay off.

Rovers must also review their reliance on short term signings and loan players. An ‘elastoplast’ approach to recruitment rarely ends well.

9. LACK OF BOUNCEBACKABILITY

In League One last season Rovers had a knack of bouncing back from a defeat with a win. In the Championship it was a different story. They managed to do it six times.

That’s compared to ten the previous campaign when Rovers lost half the number of games they did this season.

Even more eye-catching was Rovers’ inability to recover after conceding the first goal. In the 25 games that Doncaster conceded the first goal, they lost 21, drew three and won just one.

10. LATE GOALS

Rovers conceded more than a fifth of their goals in the last five minutes of games.

Despite intense fitness work - which some players labelled the hardest of their career - Rovers had a nasty habit of conceding late.

They shipped 15 goals (out of 70) on, or after, the 85th minute mark. Among them were Blackpool’s late match-winning brace on the opening day, Barnsley’s late equaliser at the Keepmoat and Pavel Pogrebnyak’s late double for Reading.