Life is a rollercoaster: The stand-out moments in Doncaster Rovers’ 2018/19 campaign
When Grant McCann was unveiled as Doncaster Rovers’ new manager last summer he promised supporters a ‘rollercoaster ride’ of a season.
And he certainly wasn’t wrong!
Here are the key moments during a campaign packed full of thrills and spills, ups and downs….
Summer transfer window
Herbie and Mallik who?
That was the reaction from the majority of fans after McCann plucked youngsters Herbie Kane from Liverpool and Mallik Wilks from Leeds United on loan.
But the duo wasted very little time in winning over Rovers supporters – with the tenacious Kane adding another dimension in midfield and Wilks bringing the pace and power that had been missing.
Wilks went on to score 16 goals in 55 appearances, while Kane’s first season in senior football saw him named in the EFL League One Team of the Season.
Southend 2 Rovers 3, August 4, 2018
‘Something just clicked’. That was the verdict from McCann as his team started the season like they meant to go on.
The first half was dreadful.
But the second period was a sign of what was to come as Rovers powered past the Shrimpers with three goals in 19 minutes from John Marquis, Wilks and Tommy Rowe.
Two late goals from the home side set up an anxious finish but Doncaster were up and running.
Crucially, the result encouraged the squad to buy in to McCann’s adventurous style.
Rovers 2 Luton 1, September 8, 2018
After starting the season with three victories, Rovers had not won in six and had suffered a rather embarrassing defeat to Newcastle Under 21s in the Checkatrade Trophy before the eventual champions came to town.
Luton looked the part but Rovers dug in and showed a different side to their game, claiming a hard earned victory with goals from Matty Blair and Ben Whiteman.
They won four on the bounce. Results would continue to be patchy – a good run followed by a not so good run – for the majority of the season.
Rovers 0 Sunderland 1, October 23, 2018
Rovers ought to have taken plenty of confidence from the way they gave the promotion favourites a proper game under the lights – and this was a real no holds barred battle.
But, instead, one or two doubts were creeping in when they lost their next two games at Coventry City and Charlton, could only draw at non-league Chorley in the FA Cup and then exited the Checkatrade Trophy following a 4-2 defeat at League Two strugglers Notts County.
Rovers 2 AFC Wimbledon 1, November 17, 2018
Things went from bad to worse when Mitch Pinnock put the Dons ahead.
But Rovers battled back to secure arguably one of their most important victories of the season – thanks to an 86th minute winner from Tommy Rowe.
They won their next game 7-0 against Chorley and the confidence flowed from there.
A run of 12 wins from 18 games saw them move into the play-off places. They also beat Charlton, Preston and Oldham to reach the FA Cup fifth round for the first time since 1956.
Rovers 3 Peterborough 1, February 9, 2019
McCann got one over his former club – and the returning Darren Ferguson – as Rovers came from behind to seal what would ultimately turn out to be a crucial win over their play-off rivals.
Rovers 0 Crystal Palace 2, February 17, 2019
The Premier League side were just too savvy but Doncaster came out of their BBC-televised tie with plenty of credit – even if Gary Lineker had very little positive to say about Rovers.
Like the Sunderland defeat, the way Rovers competed ought to have given them a boost for the play-off push.
However, the signs in the next game at Scunthorpe suggested it might have resulted in some over-confidence.
Rovers embarked on a run of eight games without a win, including extremely disappointing defeats at Shrewsbury Town and AFC Wimbledon.
A few people blamed the FA Cup run but there was more going on. Niall Mason had been suspended and key man Kane, it later emerged, had been playing through the pain barrier.
Luton 4 Rovers 0, March 23, 2019
Men against boys.
Rovers were completely outplayed by the champions elect – but it turned out to be their best defeat of the season.
It proved to be a watershed moment in the season as the inquiry and introspection that followed had the desired effect.
Rovers 4 Bristol Rovers 1, March 26, 2019
Stung by the events at Kenilworth Road, and the criticism that came their way, Rovers burst out of the blocks and blew the Pirates away.
James Coppinger scored twice to put them 2-0 up after 12 minutes.
Walsall got the same treatment a few days later as Rovers scored twice in the first four minutes.
They were back on track. Wins against Bradford and Plymouth followed.
Rovers 2 Coventry 0, May 4, 2019
Defeats against Sunderland and Accrington and a draw at Oxford set up a tense final day with Rovers needing to beat the Sky Blues to guarantee a sixth-place finish.
They held their nerve thanks to goals from Kieran Sadlier and Marquis.
Charlton 2 Rovers 3 (4-4 on aggregate, Charlton win 4-3 on penalties), May 17, 2019
The result was agonising but Doncaster’s players left everything out on the pitch on a memorable, unforgettable night at The Valley.
After losing the first leg 2-1, Rovers turned the play-off semi-final on its head with goals from Rowe, Andy Butler and Marquis. They did themselves and their supporters proud.
Promotion just wasn’t meant to be in the end but it proved to be quite the rollercoaster ride.