WE PAR­TIED AL BACK TO DONN LL THE WAY NY

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

THE coach car­ry­ing Don­caster’s vic­to­ri­ous play­ers away from Grif­fin Park wasn’t even out of Lon­don when the driver was or­dered to a halt. “We stopped at the first off li­cence pos­si­ble, just far enough out­side Brent­ford not to up­set any­one,” says Rob Jones, Rovers’ 33-year-old skip­per.

“We got a few bot­tles of Cham­pagne, a few cans of beer and had a party all the way back to Don­caster. Then we went straight out when we got home, as you’d ex­pect.

“Did I keep up with the young lads? Yes, I did ac­tu­ally. Ev­ery now and then I’ll go off on one like the old days and this was one of those oc­ca­sions. It was a very late one which be­came a very early one!”

Gasp

If ever a cel­e­bra­tion was de­served, this was it. Lodged bel­liger­ently in the top two for all but three days of 2013, Donny trav­elled to west Lon­don on the fi­nal Satur­day know­ing that de­feat would see op­po­nents Brent­ford go up au­to­mat­i­cally in­stead.

It was a day that promised drama, yet what it ul­ti­mately de­liv­ered would have been dis­missed as far-fetched even in Hol­ly­wood.

Hav­ing de­fended res­o­lutely for 93 min­utes, Don­caster were fac­ing dev­as­ta­tion when Jamie McCombe’s un­for­tu­nate hand­ball gave Brent­ford a last-gasp penalty.

But af­ter Mar­cello Trotta crashed his spot-kick off the bar, Billy Payn­ter broke away for Donny and James Cop­pinger scored with the fi­nal kick of the sea­son, clinch­ing the ti­tle in the process. The en­tire se­quence of events took just 17 sec­onds.

“It was an in­cred­i­ble game, in­cred­i­ble,” says Jones.“I’ve never gone through any­thing like that, with so much at stake and just 30 sec­onds to go.

“And for it to change so quickly from one sce­nario to an­other – I don’t think you’ll ever see any­thing like it again.

“Even now, it’s still a bit sur­real to be hon­est. To be star­ing at the play-offs to go­ing up as cham­pi­ons in 17 sec­onds is ridicu­lous. If I tell peo­ple in 10, 15 years, that I played in a game like that, they won’t be­lieve me.”

For Brent­ford, the de­spair was ab­so­lute, es­pe­cially when it emerged that Trotta had usurped skip­per Kevin O’Con­nor in tak­ing the cru­cial penalty.

But the fact re­mains that de­feat would have been bru­tally harsh on a Don­caster side who came to spoil, sti­fle and scrap for the point they needed and – with Jones colos­sal at the back – did it to perfection.

“I thought we were fan­tas­tic on the day, right from start to fin­ish,” says the big Teesider. “Yes, they hit the post early on. But we’d ba­si­cally got to the 93rd minute with­out them get­ting any­where near our goal. We were on the verge of see­ing it out so it was ob­vi­ously galling when the ref­eree gave the penalty.

“But I never fan­cied their boy to score, not at any point. He’d taken an aw­ful long time, he was fight­ing with his two team­mates over who should take it.

“He wasn’t the main taker and he’d only been on the pitch five min­utes. I re­mem­ber think­ing: ‘He might have won the bat­tle with his team-mates but he won’t win the bat­tle with (Donny Keeper) Neil Sul­li­van’. And he didn’t.

“I could never have imag­ined the af­ter­math though. Last time I looked at Billy Payn­ter he was hid­ing un­der his shirt on the halfway line. Next thing he’s sprint­ing away with the ball – you couldn’t write it!”

Dream

This is Jones’ sec­ond pro­mo­tion in as many sea­sons hav­ing also skip­pered Sh­effield Wed­nes­day to the Cham­pi­onship last term. That, though, proved a pur­ga­to­rial ex­pe­ri­ence with the Owls re­leas­ing the 6ft 7ins stop­per just a month af­ter the end of the sea­son.

“Of course I was dis­ap­pointed, but I’d lost my place to­wards the end of the sea­son so the writ­ing was on the wall,” he ad­mits.

“And I’m not com­plain­ing. I spent last sea­son as cap­tain of the club I sup­ported all my life. Then I led them to a pro­mo­tion so I’d eclipsed my boy­hood dream. I loved ev­ery minute of it but the day I walked out of the club, a line was drawn.”

So isn’t Jones – now a player-coach at Donny – wor­ried he might find him­self sur­plus to re­quire­ments again? “No chance,” he in­sists. “This time, I’m go­ing nowhere.”

One man who is leav­ing is man­ager Brian Flynn, who an­nounced on Fri­day that he is mov­ing up­stairs to be­come a di­rec­tor of football.

How­ever, while Jones hailed Flynn for see­ing Rovers over the line, he re­served the bulk of his praise for for­mer boss Dean Saun­ders, who re­built the squad fol­low­ing rel­e­ga­tion from the Cham­pi­onship last sea­son.

Saun­ders left to join Wolves in Jan­uary, but will now pass Donny on the way down af­ter the un­der­per­form­ing Mo­lineux club were rel­e­gated from the Cham­pi­onship.

“I think you have to give Dean an aw­ful lot of re­spect and grat­i­tude for where we are to­day,” he said.“He and Brian Carey did all the hard work.

“They cre­ated a team out of noth­ing, brought a great blend of ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers, un­known play­ers, young lads. The work they did was quite me­thod­i­cal but it was clear and it suited ev­ery­one.

“And it wasn’t as if the gaffer was sacked.There was no need to change the phi­los­o­phy, the per­son­nel or the way we played. It was a case of just con­tin­u­ing the hard work that Dean had started.To be hon­est, I think we as play­ers have to take a lot of credit for that.”

“When a man­ager leaves, it can de­rail a club.We could have gone on a me­an­der and started to do our own thing.

“But we didn’t – we stuck to­gether as a squad and stuck to the plans that Dean put in place.That’s why we will be play­ing in the Cham­pi­onship next year.

“I can’t wait - but for now all I want is a rest be­cause I’m still drained from what hap­pened on Satur­day!”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

DON AND DUSTED: Rob Jones cel­e­brates the in­cred­i­ble ti­tle win with Gary Woods. Inset: Rob lifts the League One tro­phy

DON’T FOR­GET DEAN: Jones has thanked for­mer boss Dean Saun­ders for his part in pro

omo­tion

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