Stage fright is not an option - Heeding harsh lessons from Doncaster Rovers’ last visit to Sunderland
It is all well and good saying ‘it’s just another game’ - but sometimes it just does not work out that way in football.
Doncaster Rovers find themselves in one of those ‘just another game’ situations this week.
The trip to Sunderland and the cavernous, vociferous Stadium of Light has brought such calls from manager and players alike.
Play the game, not the occasion. Easier said than done.
Sunderland may have decidedly and deservedly been a League One team for two seasons now, but an away trip up to the north east remains an occasion for pretty much every set of supporters of their divisional rivals.
Do not assume that is not the same for players too - particularly those that have yet to sample such surroundings on a regular basis.
Rovers’ only previous visit to the Stadium of Light reflected just that.
Rebuttals to such suggestions were strong, but it was pretty difficult to convincingly deny that Rovers suffered from a bout of stage fright on Good Friday last year. And it had little to do with the presence of the Sky cameras.
A team that had played with tremendous confidence, bordering on aggression in their attacking style, were a shell of themselves from the first whistle until it was far too late to rescue a result.
Rovers wilted, making uncharacteristic errors through hesitant play. Boss Grant McCann labelled them afterwards as ‘too safe.’
It must be remembered too that Sunderland then, like now, were hardly tearing the division apart. While a strong opposition, they were not the intimidating factor on the day.
But intimidated Rovers seemed. And the Black Cats took advantage, with Lewis Morgan putting them ahead on seven minutes.
It took far too long for Rovers to shake themselves out of their funk. Arguably, it was not until the game looked beyond their reach at 2-0 did they fully revive.
They went in with ‘just another game’ ringing in their ears but failed to abide by the sentiment.
Rovers cannot afford a repeat when they make their return visit on Friday.
Giving the hosts any advantage will make getting anything from the game incredibly difficult - as was proved when falling behind to Sunderland at the Keepmoat just last month.
Darren Moore has put together a resilient bunch that have rolled with a series of punches over the course of this campaign.
They will need to show it again on Friday. Freezing in the spotlight is not an option.