Doncaster Rovers and the postponed fixture with Bolton Wanderers: The story so far

Doncaster Rovers learned of the decision from Bolton Wanderers to postpone their scheduled match on Tuesday night at the same time as the rest of the footballing world.

Monday, 19th August 2019, 9:16 pm
Updated Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 7:28 pm
Bolton Wanderers

But, at the Lancashire club, whispers of such drastic action being taken had been rumbling for several days prior to their announcement at 3.45pm on Monday.

For team manager Phil Parkinson and his staff, the situation is well beyond desperation point.

The club has been in administration since May and has been feverishly awaiting a takeover ever since.

Former Watford owner Laurence Bassini tried and failed to take control before attempting block the takeover bid of Football Ventures, who look the most likely to eventually take charge.

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While wrangling at boardroom level continues, Parkinson has been unable to sign players since making three additions the day before the start of the season.

The Trotters have three fit senior players at their disposal and no prospect of adding to that any time soon. All other available players are under the age of 20.

The side fielded against Coventry City earlier this month was the youngest in the club's history with an average age of 19. Remarkably, the young side managed to battle out a goalless draw with the Sky Blues.

A week later - with Parkinson already concerned over the welfare of his youngest of players and tentative talks of postponements already taking place - they were thrashed 5-0 by Tranmere Rovers.

After that game last Saturday, Parkinson vented his anger and frustration at the situation, making public his views that putting inexperienced teenagers through the rigours of senior league football in the intense demands of the League One calendar was fast becoming a welfare issue.

Prior to the defeat at Tranmere, the suggestions of further points deductions had dissuaded Bolton from postponing the fixture. Afterwards, it appears that the issues faced by Parkinson and those under his stewardship outweighed potential punishments for not playing and any further ramifications which may follow.

The EFL had been forewarned of Bolton's thinking, even if only through a strongly worded letter from a concerned Parkinson regarding the welfare of his young players.

The Trotters actually pulling the plug on Tuesday's fixture caught the league's hierarchy off-guard however.

And it certainly did so to Rovers.

Darren Moore had completed his training ground work with his squad on Monday morning with the sole focus being preparations to face Bolton less than 36 hours later.

From Cantley Park, he headed to the Keepmoat and - following a meeting with chairman David Blunt and chief executive Gavin Baldwin - he conducted his usual pre-match press duties, discussing among other things the task awaiting his side at the University of Bolton Stadium the next day.

He hung around for an interview with a national newspaper. Mere minutes after that finished, he was surprised to be informed that Tuesday's game was off and that his best laid plans would be wasted.

Moore, like everyone else, read the statement put out by Bolton’s administrators.

“It is with real regret and a deepening sense of frustration that we have been forced to postpone tomorrow’s fixture against Doncaster Rovers,” the statement read.

“Whilst the possibility of EFL sanctions is obvious, nothing can be allowed to impact on the welfare of such a young group of players.

“With so many senior players injured or unavailable, the squad has performed heroically and deserves so much credit.

“But after consultation with the club's medical staff as well as both academy and senior football management, it is obvious that to call on them for another match without an adequate break would be detrimental to both their welfare and development which cannot be allowed.

“We were able to bring in reinforcements before the match against Coventry because the deal was so close to completion.

“Now, following recent events, the legal position of various parties has altered which means a delay in completion. In this situation, it is very difficult to attract available players to the club.

“I will be discussing the implications with the EFL but in the meantime, I would call on all parties involved with the acquisition of the club and hotel to end this intolerable delay and secure once and for all the future of Bolton Wanderers.”

Confusion quickly reigned over what would happen next with speculation rife on social media.

Was the game actually off? Yes. Would Rovers be travelling and banging on the locked doors at the stadium? No.

Would Rovers be awarded the win? Er...probably not.

Bolton's decision to not consult with Rovers and, in particular, the EFL over their concerns surrounding the match means the postponement puts them in breach of league regulations on non-fulfilment of fixtures.

The EFL board – whose own statement on the postponement was more an acknowledgement of the events than any indication of what might happen next – will meet to discuss the next steps regarding the fixture and are likely to take a dim view of Bolton's actions.

The Trotters continue to have the possibility of a points deduction after failing to fulfil their Championship fixture with Brentford last season, with this week's events likely to compound the issue from the EFL's perspective.

Brentford were awarded a 1-0 win for that game, largely because it was due to take place on the final day of the season and there was little prospect of it being rescheduled within a reasonable time period.

Regardless of any punishment handed down to Bolton for this latest cancellation, the league are likely to push for a rescheduling of the fixture at a later date, with eight months of the season still to play with.

Rovers’ official response was formal and straight to the point, coming via a statement from chief executive Gavin Baldwin.

He said: “Bolton Wanderers have postponed this game without the agreement of Rovers or the EFL, and we were surprised to learn of the news via Bolton’s social media.

“We have a lot of sympathy for Bolton’s plight, but we’ve prepared for this game as normal and fully expected it to go ahead.

“We will work with the EFL to understand this situation and keep supporters as informed as we can when we are able to say more.”

There will be plenty of frustration at Rovers being denied a strong chance of claiming three points, of the opportunity to face a young and inexperienced side that had been thumped by Tranmere a few days prior. And of course money wasted on travel and time off work.

But there should also be some degree of sympathy for Bolton's plight. It was not so long ago that Rovers experienced horrendously dark times of their own.

For now, talk of this fixture will be parked. Rovers will quickly move on and focus the clash with Lincoln City on Saturday, when Bolton may well field a side against Ipswich Town.

For Rovers it is business as usual. For Bolton, anything but.