Meet the opposition: Play-off pain, the break-up, Moore's magic and some never-say-die spirit
PUBLISHED: 19:00 13 September 2019
Ipswich Town host Doncaster Rovers in what is a clash between two unbeaten League One clubs at Portman Road tomorrow afternoon. STUART WATSON takes a closer look at the South Yorkshire visitors.
Doncaster Rovers have, historically, been a fourth or third-tier club. There was a five-year spell in the Conference (98-03) followed by three promotions in seven years, followed by a period of Championship football (08-12 and 13/14).
Back down to League Two they dropped - relegations in 2014 and 2016 - before bouncing immediately back to League One.
BEATING THE ODDS
Few expected Doncaster to be in the promotion mix last season off the back of a 15th-place finish, but they beat the odds to finish sixth.
They gave Charlton a hell of a scare in the play-off semi-finals too, eventually losing on penalties at The Valley following a 4-4 aggregate draw over the two legs.
Manager Grant McCann was lured away by Championship club Hull in June. Six of the team that started that play-off second leg all moved on too, with many turning down new deals.
Experienced winger Tommy Rowe moved up the ladder to Bristol City on a Bosman free transfer. Captain and centre-back Andy Butler turned down a new deal to rejoin his boyhood club Scunthorpe.
Keeper Marko Marosi (Coventry, Bosman), left-back Danny Andrew (Fleetwood, Bosman), right-back Paul Downing (Blackburn loan expired), midfielder Herbie Kane (Liverpool loan expired) and 11-goal player of the year Mallik Wilks (Leeds loan expired) also departed.
Then, with the new campaign fast approaching, star striker John Marquis - who had bagged 67 goals in his three seasons at The Keepmoat Stadium - moved to League One rivals Portsmouth for a fee that could reportedly reach as high as £2m.
MOVING FOR MOORE
Darren Moore, a defender for Rovers in the 90s, was appointed the club's new boss in July.
In April 2018 he was promoted from youth team coach to caretaker boss at West Brom following Alan Pardew's sacking. Wins against Manchester United, Newcastle and Tottenham, as well as draws against Liverpool and Swansea were enough to bag him the Premier League Manager of the Month award but not enough to prevent relegation.
The Baggies were in a play-off position when Moore got the sack just hours after a 1-1 home draw with Ipswich in March.
Moore has used his contacts to bring in a clutch of Premier League loanees.
Centre-back Cameron John (20) and forward Niall Ennis (20) arrived from Wolves, while midfielder Ben Sheaf (21) and striker Kazaiah Sterling (20) have been borrowed from Arsenal and Tottenham respectively.
Winger Jon Taylor (Rotherham), right-back Brad Halliday (Cambridge United), veteran centre-back Alex Baptiste (QPR) and former Leeds midfielder Madger Gomes (NK Istra) were all free transfer additions, while left-back Reece James - a regular for Sunderland last season - was signed for an undisclosed fee.
Five league games played, five unbeaten.
Why just five? Because Bury were due to be their second opponents of the season. And because Bolton called off their scheduled midweek match due to 'player welfare issues'. That latter was in the week leading up to Town's 5-0 win at The University of Bolton Stadium.
Moore's men have gone behind in six of their seven matches they've played in all competitions. They've lost just once (1-0 at Grimsby in the Carabao Cup).
Losing positions were turned into wins against Fleetwood (3-2 at home), Lincoln (3-1 at home in the EFL Trophy) and Rotherham (2-1 at home) and draws against Gillingham (1-1 at home) and Rochdale (1-1 away).
Due to those aforementioned call-offs, Doncaster have played five of their seven games at home, including the last four in a row.
Ben Whiteman has been given the captain's armband at just 23. The former Sheffield United youngster, much like Flynn Downes at Ipswich, is really starting to blossom. His work allows veteran playmaker James Coppinger - now aged 38 and closing in on 500 league starts for Donny - to create.
"It's a tough, tough game," said Moore, when asked about Ipswich. "Everybody has them favourites to return back to the Championship because of the resources they've got.
"For me, it's a tough test but they are the test we should look forward to in terms of going into battle with these teams.
"We're both in League One and it's a fixture that has come about.
"It's great that both clubs are in the ascendancy and both have had solid starts to the season."