No let-up until the title is in our hands – Ferguson
MANAGER Darren Ferguson is not likely to forget in a hurry the events of the last occasion Doncaster Rovers took the field against a visiting Blackpool side in the league.
Amid Rovers’ catastrophic and tortuous slide towards relegation in 2015-16, last Easter’s Bank Holiday Monday developments represented a particularly punishing episode, with a late strike from Seasiders’ forward Mark Cullen inflicting a seventh successive defeat upon the confidence-sapped hosts.
Coming against a direct rival also down among the dead men at the foot of League One, it was perhaps the moment when all serious survival hope was extinguished for Rovers.
Their atrocious winless streak was extended to 14 games as they suffered an 11th loss in 12 outings to leave themselves effectively five points adrift of safety.
For everyone connected with the club, it represented a thoroughly bitter afternoon. For all those who take their seats at the Keepmoat today against the same opponents, the inner well-being at what has transpired since will be considerable.
It is likely to be particularly prevalent among Ferguson and the Doncaster hierarchy, with the collective decision of the latter to hold firm and stick by the beleaguered Rovers manager when many a rival boardroom would have run out of patience and dispensed with his services following such a shocking run having been thoroughly vindicated.
It may not prove quite as fateful as the decision by the Manchester United board in the late Eighties to hold their nerve and keep faith with Ferguson’s father Sir Alex during some dark days, but the principle is not dissimilar.
In Rovers’ case, the turnaround is such that they are on the cusp of a title-winning party as opposed to a relegation wake this Easter with Ferguson quick to pay credit where it is due.
He said: “The board deserve an enormous amount of credit because they did not expect when I came into the club for us to be relegated – I think they were looking the other way.
“But I would have been surprised if they had made that change in the summer because I don’t think they were going to change their minds over such a short period of time.
“They realised that we needed to change quite a lot and trusted me to do it. I think what helped me was that even though we went down last year, the players I brought into the club actually did quite well and you get that trust in the recruitment.
“Thankfully, I have repaid them. I have a great relationship with them all and the chief executive has been outstanding and he’s been very good at his job.
“It helps everyone and the trust we have with the board helps everyone at the club. As a manager, your most important relationship is with the people above you and it is a very strong one actually, which has been shown over the last 18 months.”
Given contemporary events and the memories of last season’s game with the Seasiders which are likely to be burned into the soul of Ferguson and those who played on that painful day of March 28 last year, motivation should not be hard to find today.
Good Friday events mean that even if Rovers triumph and second-placed Plymouth surprisingly slip up at home to Newport, it will not be until Saturday that League Two silverware could be clinched when Ferguson’s side head to Wycombe.
But victory over the Lancashire club would be undeniably sweet, with Ferguson also minded to recollect a disappointing and rare off-day for his side in a 4-2 autumnal defeat at Bloomfield Road, too.
Ferguson added: “I think Blackpool are a really good team with a good manager and I am surprised that they are actually where they are. I thought they would be closer to us and they beat us at their place and on penalties here (in the Checkatrade Trophy), so there is plenty of motivations for this game – no question about that.
“I want this league desperately. It would be a shame if we let it go now. We have been top for such a long time that we do not want to let Plymouth get it off us. There won’t be any let-up and we really are determined to get this done. “In the meetings we have had, it has all been about winning the league and not ( just) getting promoted. That is the one thing we have been after all season and spoke about.
“Now we have got promotion, there is no excuses of pressure or anything like that. It is a tough run-in but it will be tough for the opposition as well.”
BOUNCING BACK: Doncaster Rovers manager Darren Ferguson applauds the fans after his side clinched a swift return to League One with victory over Mansfield Town at the Keepmoat Stadium before joining in the celebrations with the players, inset.