Paul Goodwin’s verdict: It’s time for Doncaster Rovers to ‘walk the walk’ in race for promotion
The majority of supporters probably would have taken a top half finish before a ball was kicked.
Sky Sports even predicted they would be relegated.
But Doncaster Rovers have defied expectations – at least of those outside of the club – by challenging for a spot in the League One play-offs.
Grant McCann’s side have occupied sixth spot almost exclusively since the turn of the year – a position which, very fairly, reflects the progress made at the Keepmoat Stadium but also the shortcomings that are evidenced by the 15-point gap to Charlton Athletic in fifth.
That final play-off place could be snatched away from Doncaster at the very last moment this weekend by Peterborough United of all teams.
You could hardly make it up could you? McCann versus Peterbrough, the club that sacked him in fear of missing out on the play-offs. Ferguson v Doncaster, the club he walked away from because he felt he did not have the adequate resources to mount a sustained promotion push.
It would be a cruel blow should Rovers fall at the final hurdle, a scenario which will now become reality if they fail to beat Coventry City at home and Posh beat Burton Albion at London Road.
However, whichever side of the line they finish, Doncaster can reflect on a positive season – in every sense.
McCann’s positive persona and positive brand of football have been a breath of fresh air at the Keepmoat.
He has rolled the dice and is now tantalisingly close to landing a sixth-place finish.
There’s a different vibe around Rovers now.
An old-school Ferguson had ruled with an iron fist and perhaps perpetuated something of a fear factor among the playing staff. If you made a mistake, you tended to get the hook.
But McCann, fresh from his playing days, has released the shackles and created a culture based around freedom of expression. If you give the ball away, go and win it back.
One more win will get Rovers over the finish line but the main concern is the feeling that their race may be run.
Since they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Crystal Palace in February, they have won four games in 14 and have the lacked the sort of energy and verve they had in abundance during the first half of the season.
Given the demands of the manager in terms of pressing, and the relatively small size of his squad, there could well be a burn-out factor – physically for some of the older ones, perhaps mentally for the younger ones.
While external expectations may have been exceeded, Rovers have talked the talk about being genuine promotion contenders. Internally, promotion is the target.
The league table suggests that whoever claims the final play-off spot will be huge underdogs to win promotion at Wembley but within Rovers’ dressing room there is a belief they can beat the best.
Now they have to walk the walk.