Doncaster Rovers: Ban threat only helped Ben Whiteman improve
For 15 matches the threat of a two match ban hung over the head of Ben Whiteman.
But, after being freed from the burden following last weekend’s draw with promotion rivals Barnsley, the midfielder says that may have been beneficial to his career.
By December 15, the 22-year-old had collected nine yellow cards and had he collected one more booking, he would have been suspended for two games.
Coming in Rovers’ 22nd game of the League One campaign, surviving until the end of the 37th match – when the ten yellow card amnesty kicks in – seemed highly unlikely.
But he achieved it, riding through nervy moments including one where he conceded a foul on the edge of the box against Barnsley last Friday to remain on nine bookings beyond the amnesty.
Whiteman insists he has not drastically altered his game over the last three months – and as arguably Rovers’ most consistently impressive performers during the period, it is hard to argue with that.
But he does believe it has helped smarten him up when it comes to the defensive side of his role.
“That is definitely the case,” he told the Free Press. “I’m still learning. I learn every day.
“You learn throughout the season, when to do it and when not to do it.
“It was just the silly ones I needed to cut out.
“Looking at the start of the season when I seemed to be picking them up every other week, I’d have been surprised to avoid the ban.
“I think it's been a case of not picking up the stupid ones and getting involved in things that I shouldn’t do.
“And then there's the silly ones when the opposition are counterattacking and it’s blatantly obvious.
“Sometimes you have to be a bit more cute and I have done that.
“I don’t think I’ve really changed my game. I think I’ve still been getting around the pitch and putting in tackles.”
Boss Grant McCann has said Whiteman - along with Herbie Kane and Andy Butler who also sit on nine bookings – can afford to be a bit more physically robust after the threat of a ban was lifted.
But the midfielder himself is looking to continue with his improvement in his deeper lying position as Rovers continue their push for a top six finish.
With a battling performance in horrendous conditions at Blackpool, and an exciting, high pressing show against Barnsley, Rovers look to be back on track after their recent wobble.
McCann had accused some of his squad of playing with fear as they found themselves in a strong position.
And Whiteman has sympathy with such a suggestion.
“It could have been a bit of fear,” he said. “I’ve never really been in this situation before.
“You look to the older pros and it’s been very good in training.
“I think we’re settled down now, we understand where we are and what we need to do.”