Nigel Adkins’ Tranmere Rovers return back to action on Saturday afternoon as they face Doncaster Rovers at the Eco-Power Stadium.
The week, following a good point picked up at Prenton Park against Crewe Alexandra, has brought a 2-1 win away at Warrington Rylands in a Liverpool Senior Cup Quarter Final and the announcement of a new midfielder in Ousmane Kane.
22-year-old Kane has been training at the club for a couple of months at different stages of this campaign. He has signed a short-term deal with an option for an extension, if he impresses, thus it will be interesting to see how he gets on.
Doncaster are currently positioned 22nd, seven points away from 23rd placed Sutton United who they claimed a last minute point against in their last outing with a penalty from top scorer Joe Ironside.
To hear more about Grant McCann’s side, I spoke to supporter Daniel Nice.
Hi Daniel, when did you become a Doncaster Rovers supporter? What was your first experience of the club like?
My first game was in 1992, so it’s safe to say I’ve seen a few things over the years. My main memory of home games is of a ground falling to bits and a team that had some players you could relate to but no real hope or ambition. It was always cold. The tea was scalding hot in polystyrene cups. I can’t quite see the attraction looking back, but something clicked for me. The love is as unconditional now as it was then.
What are some of your best and worst moments as a Doncaster fan?
There have been some real highs & lows, in essence relating to promotions, failed attempts & relegations and the odd shock cup result. Beating Leeds at Wembley was incredible, as was the win at Brentford and the drama over 3 Conference play-off games to get back into the Football League. However I am quite philosophical these days and therefore it’s often the occasions like when you travel the length of the country to watch a goalless draw in abysmal conditions that capture the essence of being a fan all at once. It can be the worst game in the world but in those moments you get that feeling where belonging and supporting is the strongest. It may sound strange but the play-off defeat at Charlton was probably my favourite ever game; hope and heartbreak, the full spectrum of emotions, the most glorious of failures. I’ll never forget that night.
Doncaster play their home games at the Eco-Power Stadium which was opened in August 2007. The venue has a capacity of 15,231. What are your thoughts on the ground that also plays host to Doncaster RLFC?
It’s fair to say that it’s not a venue designed for a basement battle in League Two, and the football certainly hasn’t matched the surroundings in recent times. Maybe it’s too comfortable for the opposition – nobody wanted to play at Belle Vue!
Where should away fans go to make the most of their day?
The best option for food, drink and maybe even a bit of shopping is the Lakeside centre that’s right near the ground. It’s handy for cars, coaches and the train station too as you have to head that way anyway. It’s worth heading towards the racecourse to have a look in and also see what happened to Belle Vue too, if you like your football history.
Last season, Doncaster finished 18th after struggling under both Gary McSheffrey and Danny Schofield. The club are currently placed 22nd as the 2023-24 campaign enters its final moments. What are your thoughts on things at the moment?
Where do we start? It’s been pretty desperate at times, and although being 22nd feels rubbish, we were rock bottom with two points after seven games and I feared the worst then, so a seven point gap with a game in hand on Sutton actually feels like it could be a lot worse. You only have to rewind to the 95th minute last Saturday to know that.
There are lots of theories as to where and why it’s gone wrong, but my gut feel is that everything has combined, snowballed, and contributed to it.
I’m hopeful that the escape from Gander Green Lane without defeat means there won’t be as much drama and pain to come as there could have been – let’s not even consider that it could get worse from here.
Sometimes, avoidance is as good a defence mechanism as anything.
Grant McCann is DRFC manager, he was re-appointed by the club in May ‘23. What are your thoughts on him and his wing-back playing style?
It’s important to be objective but it’s also hard not to like Grant McCann following his first spell plus his efforts in the middle part of this season, where we looked to have turned the corner. The reality is that he is yet to turn things around, but he is our best chance of constructing a long term rebuild.
McCann is calm, knows the lower leagues well, understands the club, and is someone who can lay the foundations for something. Yes, he has to take some responsibility for poor results, and there have been some interesting selections and formations at times, but you can’t keep blaming and sacking the manager every time it fails.
My instinct is that the job is harder than he imagined and he’s trying to play the cards he’s been dealt. Interestingly he doesn’t really want to play with wing backs but has moved away from a favoured back 4 to a 3-5-2 and even a 3-4-3 last week, which brought me out in a cold sweat recalling the Danny Schofield days. But it was never going to be a classic at Sutton and at least at times it turned into a 5-4-1 and we weren’t a soft touch. Rather than sticking to a plan that definitely wasn’t working, he is prepared to shuffle the pack to try to find a better option.
It’s not pretty but it doesn’t need to be at the moment. I do feel we need to get more attempts at goal though – you miss every shot you don’t take right?
Could you talk to us about the current team and how well you believe DRFC operated in the January transfer window?
We signed so many players in the summer that we couldn’t really go with wholesale changes again. Having said that, only 2 players started at Sutton who were part of the last away league win – that decent 2-1 success at Tranmere (sorry) – back in October. Two! And they are the only two who I’d say with any conviction have been super consistent in Owen Bailey and Joe Ironside. Yes there have been more injuries and it’s hard to see how Ben Close and Zain Westbrooke wouldn’t play if fit for example, and the odd departure such as Mo Faal, but it feels like it sums it up in a way. We’re still not much further on from finding longer term solutions but we don’t have the luxury to experiment too much. We’re going game by game and trying to find some answers.
My gut feel is the squad needs another dose of major surgery in the long term but there are some decent players to work with and we can’t really look beyond the next game at this stage. It is what it is.
Terry Bramall became Chairman a week before Christmas, he had been on the club’s board for almost twenty years and guided the club to the Championship for the first time in 50 years. What are your thoughts on him?
There’s been a lot of debate about the ownership of the club generally and I’d prefer to focus on the football. Personally I’m grateful that Terry Bramall has stepped up in a difficult moment, it’s easy to lead when things are going well but he’s trying to do it when times are tough. I’ll always respect people who do that.
Doncaster have failed to win in the league since New Year’s Day. How important was last weekend’s one-all draw at Sutton United as top scorer Joe Ironside netted a 96th minute penalty?
It wasn’t a must win for us but defeat felt unthinkable and we were staring it in the face. The last minute was absolutely bizarre, from Sutton cheaply surrendering possession when they had the ball by the corner flag to us trying to get the ball forward against a strong wind, to Dean Bouzanis inexplicably clattering Ironside towards the edge of the box with 20 seconds on the clock. Why did he do it? The referee had given us very little yet then gave the most important and arguably softest decision of all three penalty shouts after initially appearing to let it go. What took so long for the call? I can’t explain the logic of any of it. I’d describe it as being down to your last penny and then finding a £50 note that somehow goes on to change your life. It has to be the sliding doors moment. Was there a life lesson in there about never giving up? Maybe, but perhaps more to the point, it proves that however desperate things are, there’s always someone in a worse position than you.
Could you tell us a little bit more about Ironside? The 30-year-old has netted 14 goals and has provided his teammates with four assists in 33 games.
Big Joe! How can you not love him? He gets kicked from pillar to post every game but he’s the first to go in for the next challenge. He never stops running. He scores vital goals. Most importantly he has the calmness and composure of a surgeon about to conduct the trickiest of operations. A 96th minute penalty with grave consequences if you miss? No problem. I didn’t even consider him missing it. I’d trust him with my life when stepping up for a penalty. Okay, I wouldn’t have survived Meadow Lane, but in the current Donny world of trauma, drama and inconsistency, he’s someone to rely on.
The last game between Doncaster and Tranmere finished in a 2-1 win for the visitors at Prenton Park as Harrison Biggins and Mo Faal netted for McCann’s side. DRFC have won 39 of their 79 meetings with Tranmere. What is your score prediction for Saturday?
It’s a tough one to call as both sides really need a win but we’re also at a stage of the season where it feels like every point counts. Our home form has deserted us recently but we were good up to Morecambe, and did sweep MK Dons aside 3-0. We have that in our locker on our day. We should have beat Newport. We’ve also conceded 5 at home twice within the last 5 games. So you might think it seems slightly weird for me to predict another tight game between our two sides but there will be a mutual respect between managers, who know one another well, so it has the potential to be cagey. We have looked far more assured with Richard Wood back. It has the feeling of a 1-1 or a goal in it either way.
Finally, could you give your thoughts on Tranmere?
I’m amazed at the turnaround to be honest, the night we beat you I thought it could be a long, hard season but Nigel Adkins has done an amazing job to steer you up the table. You’re probably in that part of the league where nothing is likely to happen now but you’d have gladly taken that a few weeks ago I’m sure. Having said that, another winning run and you could be looking to gatecrash those play-offs like Harrogate are threatening to do. There’s probably too much to do though and too many teams around to prevent it from happening. I expect a hardworking, organised team that will play on the break and try to capitalise on mistakes. I can’t see it being the most entertaining of games but from our perspective we just need the points, however they come.
Doncaster’s Eco-Power Stadium, formerly known as Keepmoat, was opened in 2007.
The last time Tranmere played here Doncaster won 2-0 as Ben Close and Kyle Hurst netted just after the hour mark in early February 2023.