August had ended in a positive fashion for Rovers, with victory over the league leaders Cardiff to give Doncaster’s season thus far a symmetrical feel. A win and a loss in the Carling Cup, a win, a loss and three draws in the league. After seven games in the season’s opening four weeks the International break at the start of September was no doubt greatly embraced by the Rovers and their squad, but the lack of action on the pitch belied much activity off it.
September began with the closure of the transfer window and some welcome good news for Rovers as the club secured the services of Sheffield Unites striker Billy Sharp on a long term loan. The positives did not end there either as Jason Shackell’s loan spell was extended from one month to four and despite rumours to the contrary Rovers also hung on to two of their own assets, Brian Stock and Paul Heffernan, both having been linked to moves elsewhere.
It was to be a notable month for Brian Stock as a year on from warming the bench in Moscow the Rovers’ captain was recalled to John Toshack’s Wales squad for the return World Cup qualifying match with Russia. Ironically, despite having never made a senior full international appearance for Wales, Stock was, with a number of regular Welsh players unavailable, brought in by Toshack to give ‘experience’ to his midfield. And so Stock trotted out onto the field at the Millennium Stadium to become Rovers first Welsh international since Eddie Perry in the 1930s.
As a Wales fan myself and having championed Stock’s inclusion for some time my initial thoughts as the debutant got set for action were simply “Please Brian, don’t make me look like an idiot”. From the early moments it was clear this was never going to be the case. Stock sat just in front of the Welsh defence and made himself at home, always wanting the ball and recycling it effectively. He was not about to shell into the background though as inside the opening ten minutes he struck a thunderous half-volley that was just centimetres away from giving Stock’s debut a Roy of the Rovers-esque narrative. In short the Rovers man played like he’d been groomed to play international football all is life, and Wales fans, not just the Rovers supporting ones, eagerly anticipated his next appearance.
Three days after a memorable night in Cardiff Rovers returned to action with a much more easily forgotten afternoon in Reading. The build up to the match was focussed on the anticipation of Billy Sharp’s debut and a re-acquaintance with the recently departed Matt Mills. Anti-climactically neither player started, and devoid of these sparks the game struggled to get going. Perhaps unsurprisingly it ended goalless.
The following Tuesday Rovers travelled to face bi-annual promotion candidates West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns. From the outset, even from the very impressive looking match programme, it was clear that Rovers were about to face a very professional outfit. Having been on the back foot early on though Doncaster took a shot lead as neat interplay from Sharp and John Oster paved the way for young Waide Fairhurst to turn in a memorable first goal for the club. It sparked unbridled joy in the away end with scarves, shirts and in the case of the bloke two rows in front of me, a baby, all being waved in celebration.
The joy didn’t last that long as Jonas Olsson squeezed in a headed equaliser, and though Rovers had chances the same player made it 2-1 to the Baggies. ‘Rovers undone by Olsson Twin’ was the joke headline we were almost instantly tweeted by a fellow football blogger and the humour continued in the ground. “One nil and you f***ed it up” chorused the home fans, “Premier League and you f***ed it up” sang the Rovers fans in reply.
With quarter of an hour to play Rovers looked set to equalise themselves though as Martin Woods corner appeared to have picked out an unmarked Adam Lockwood. Any contact and the score-line would surely have been 2-2 but instead of bouncing off the defender’s head the ball inexplicably seemed to pass through it and the chance went begging. Rovers had further chances, but it ws West Brom who struck, a quite brilliant goal from Chris Wood giving Albion a 3-1 win.
Next up for Rovers was a home match against Ipswich Town, the club now universally prefixed as ‘Roy Keane’s Ipswich’. Having opened the scoring on his first start for the club away from home Waide Fairhurst repeated the feat in this his first home start. The young forward took advantage of a prone Richard Wright to turn the ball into an empty net. Ipswich had the better of the first half but the break came with Doncaster having maintained their 1-0 lead.
The second half was to be a completely different entity though as suddenly everything everywhere was goals, goals, goals. Ipswich took the early initiative in the second half and thanks to a goal from Jack Colbeck were soon level. Rovers retook the lead though as Oster swung a corner out to Martin Woods outside the area and his long-range effort found the net. Back came Ipswich and thanks to calamitous defending and strikes for Tamas Priskin and Lee Martin they went 3-2 ahead. But cometh the hour, cometh an unlikely hero. Quinton Fortune of all people received the ball on the left wing, dummied an ambitious left foot strike before hitting an equally optimistic right foot shot which sailed gloriously into the far top corner to secure a 3-3 draw.
Here at Viva Rovers we had been unable to preview that Ipswich fixture, and for once this was not due to my own laziness, but because our website had been suspended owing to a complaint from Football Data Co. The subject of the complaint was our inclusion within the site of self-taken mobile phone camera photos of the inside of football stadiums. They did not feature match action at all, but even this it turned out was in breach of the Football League’s over-zealous copyrighting. And so now the Football Association no less had demanded this site suspended and so it was until we agreed to remove such images. This we did, but why our own site out of the many thousands of football website was targeted by Football Data Co remains unclear.
Back on the pitch the next game for Rovers was a midday kick-off at Glanford Park for what the BBC rather irritatingly termed ‘something of a derby’. It is a derby, and not only that it is a derby in which Rovers were 2-0 up and coasting thanks to a penalty from Woods and a header from ex-Scunthorpe man Sharp, the latter celebrating his goal with the sort of anger rarely seen away from the customer service desk at Argos.
But then with twenty minutes left it all started to go a bit wrong, firstly as Oster was dismissed for an off the ball incident which had left Grant McCann receiving treatment on the sideline. Moments later and the Iron had pulled the score back to 2-1 thanks to a Cliff Byrne header. A tough score to hang onto with ten men, it was to be very hard with nine. Quinton Fortune went in for a 50:50 challenge with Byrne in such a manner to make it 80:20 in his favour and was duly sent-off. Let down by their more experienced players Rovers finally succumbed to the pressure in the final minute as McCann scored a late penalty for a 2-2 draw.
The month ended with a home tie against Swansea and as inevitable a goalless draw as you’re ever likely to encounter. Both sides were missing key players, both sides had two men sent off at the weekend so the match was always likely to be pigeon-holed as ‘cagey’. Indeed the lack of positive action on the field so frustrated notorious moaning fan Geoff that in his incredulity he inadvertently created a new word, ‘billock’. Presumably a cross between ‘bastard’ and ‘pillock’, we can only be sure of one thing, and that’s that it was likely hurled at Martin Woods.
So inevitable was a goalless draw from this encounter that come the final ten minutes it was hard to tell whether either side was actually trying to score or just ensure they did not upset the world’s cosmic balance by finding the target. The match and indeed the whole month of September petered out like the Countdown theme tune and the late August optimism was draining away. Two months in and though it had brought few defeats, Rovers season had only merited one league victory.