Doncaster Rovers review of the year 2018: How the enjoyment factor returned to the Keepmoat Stadium

Doncaster Rovers are seventh in League One heading into 2019.
Doncaster Rovers are seventh in League One heading into 2019.

Without fail he would appear in the gangway in front of the press box moments before the final whistle, a picture of pure and unadulterated rage. 

Every time Doncaster Rovers either lost or let one or three points slip from their grasp, this one particular supporter was waiting in the wings to direct his frustration, in no uncertain terms, at Darren Ferguson and his players. Mainly Ferguson.

For reasons only known to this fan, he would turn round to the media and start screaming at them, fingers pointing, expletives flying, blood boiling.

His mind was made up. He wanted Ferguson out. 

He would get his wish when, following discussions about next season’s budget, the Scot surprisingly walked out on a club he had slowly but steadily rebuilt since the catastrophic relegation he failed to avert two years previously.

Therein lay a problem for Ferguson. A ticking time bomb kind of problem. A section of Rovers supporters simply refused to forgive him for relegation to League Two.

Ferguson went about the rebuilding job in pragmatic fashion. He deserved credit for an immediate promotion and the way he transformed an ageing, underperforming squad into one full of youth and potential. Consolidation was the name of the game back in the third tier.

But, for some, that was not enough. Fail to start the new season well and they’d be baying for blood.

Ferguson had become acutely aware that plenty of punters were ready to turn on him - including the one he denied telling to f*** off during a 1-0 home defeat to Oxford United in late April.

But that was not why he departed before the time bomb went off.

Protecting his own reputation might have played a part in his decision. So too might have his father’s illness.

But he said he “had no alternative” to quit because he did not receive the level of financial backing he thought was needed to meet the club’s next objective – a push for the play-offs.

One man with no such qualms was Grant McCann.

In swept a young, diligent manager who had done his research and was more than willing to work within the board’s financial parameters.

Ferguson had wanted to add more experienced (more expensive) campaigners to his squad but McCann had to be more creative with his loan and free transfer signings. He wasn’t complaining, he was simply delighted to be back in management.

Expectations were grounded among fans. Sky Sports published a podcast tipping Rovers for relegation.

But McCann was adamant he could not only get Rovers playing an entertaining brand of football, he could also get them in the play-off shake-up – and so far he has been good to his word.

The loan signing of Herbie Kane, in particular, proved to be inspired. Mallik Wilks added some missing pace and power.

The fear that Rovers seemed to play with under Ferguson, an old-school disciplinarian, was replaced with freedom under McCann, a modern day manager willing to take more risks and determined to use round pegs in round holes.

The likes of Ben Whiteman, Niall Mason and Joe Wright have all come of age.

Based on Gavin Baldwin’s assertion that Rovers have the ‘sixth or seventh highest budget in League One’, they will start 2019 in par position.

McCann’s men have already scored 42 league goals. Last season’s total was 52. They have accumulated nine more points than they did at this stage last season and appear well on course to improve on last term’s 15th place finish. 

To finish in the top six will need further improvement and a bit of luck on the injury front.

But, however this season plays out, Rovers fans have had value for money. I’ve spoken to plenty and the recurring theme is that people are looking forward to match days again. The enjoyment factor is back. 

McCann’s Rovers have got people smiling again. Although I’m still waiting to see one particular fan crack a smile...