Doncaster Rovers: A fitting way to bow out as McCann’s men show what they’re all about

The comments of the cheery charity collector said it all.

Monday, 20th May 2019, 20:08 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th May 2019, 22:18 pm
Rovers celebrate Andy Butler's goal at Charlton. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Standing at the gate to The Valley, alongside a dog wrapped in a Charlton scarf, he proudly told all those he greeted with familiarity that he would be collecting at Wembley.

While few would begrudge the opportunity to ask the best part of 90,000 people for donations, his words were an insight into the confidence in the Charlton camp.

Grant McCann at The Valley. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

This was a good 90 minutes before kick-off, a time when supporters walked around with beaming smiles on faces and plenty of laughter rang out through the narrow streets around the stadium.

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There was a carnival atmosphere, stoked up by a prevailing belief that the Addicks had one foot on Wembley Way.

And that belief was not restricted to supporters.

The choice of former Charlton boss Chris Powell as the studio guest for TV coverage showed a lack of consideration for the Rovers side of the story.

James Coppinger goes for goal. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

National newspapers on the day contained articles quoting Lee Bowyer but left the thoughts of Grant McCann unheard.

And the tone of a question to me from a presenter on a major sport radio station - ‘what makes you believe Doncaster actually have a chance here?’ - suggested having any confidence in Rovers was merely foolish, blind faith.

As we know now - and, really knew all along - those counting Rovers out were ultimately the fools.

What followed, over a rollercoaster ride of an evening, was a spectacle worthy of a place in arguably the most entertaining year of play-off football so far.

Mallik Wilks. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Anyone would have been forgiven for thinking it would be a comfortable night for Charlton when Krystian Bielik headed them into a two goal advantage in the tie with only two minutes of the second leg played.

But from that point on, Rovers never looked back.

It wasn’t a case of a plucky underdog scrapping its way into contention.

Instead, it was a side playing some damn good football to leave one of undoubtedly the best, most talented teams in the division firmly on the back foot for the majority of the 120 minutes played.

Tommy Rowe smashes in his goal. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Rovers defended like lions but attacked with cohesion and precision, delivering some incredible passing play to carry themselves past one of League One's most accomplished defences.

To a man, individuals delivered some of their best performances of the campaign on a night where it mattered the most.

And they deservedly forced extra time, deservedly went ahead in the added periods. Ultimately, and undeservedly, they were denied in the most cruel manner possible.

The performance drew praise from all quarters - none more so than Charlton manager Lee Bowyer.

At a time when he could easily have been drowning himself with champagne among the squad he has so brilliantly guided to Wembley, Bowyer had other things on his mind.

He knocked on the Rovers dressing room door and asked if he could speak to the group.

Bowyer addressed the group with passion and conviction, telling the players they had given it everything and should be proud of themselves, their club should be proud and that he knew their manager would be.

He departed by saying well done and labelled them outstanding before leaving to an appreciative round of applause. It was a class act that spoke volumes about him, but also about what he had been put through that evening.

Among the plaudits for bravery and fearlessness, that Rovers showcased exactly what brought them to the party was a fitting way to bow out from a superb campaign.

From the start of the season they produced some breathlessly entertaining attacking football that tore teams apart and saw them compete with their rivals for promotion.

While the final few months of the campaign saw their fluidity and ruthlessness wane, overall what Rovers delivered on the pitch over the past nine months was excellent.

If the fear factor had crept in as they looked to get over the finishing line for the top six, it had been thoroughly washed away by the time Friday night rolled around.

When they return to action in August, they may not look the same as they do now. In personnel terms there is plenty to be sorted in the weeks and months to come.

But those who came through this season, those who performed so admirably on Friday night will be strengthened by the experience.

They know what happens when the shackles are truly thrown off and they will be emboldened by that.

The comments leaving the stadium, where plenty of Charlton fans remained long after the final whistle, were far more conciliatory than those earlier in the night.

There was talk of Charlton being outplayed like they had not been all season, of Rovers deserving much more. That Charlton and their loyal charity collector will head to Wembley on Sunday instead of Rovers was being put more down to luck than anything else.

These comments said it all.