DONCASTER Rovers ended their 12-match winless streak last night against Ipswich. I can now reveal the key factor in their victory: me.
These are the facts: I have attended three Doncaster home games this season. They have scored in every one; winning two and drawing the other. They have played six home games when I haven’t been there, and have failed to score in any of them.
Coincidence? Well, OK, yes.
A lot had changed since my last visit to the Keepmoat Stadium. On a warm day at the end of August, Donny beat Coventry 1-0, and manager Sean O’Driscoll was being asked if he felt his team had cracked the Championship after winning promotion from League One.
Twelve games without a win later, Doncaster were well on course to become this season’s Derby County.
You have to try to keep your spirits up when times are tough. As I was driving across South Yorkshire to the game, I saw a Barnsley Chronicle bill outside a newsagent. ‘BARNSLEY CREDIT CRUNCH BOOST HOPE,’ it declared. According to the paper, businesses may be preparing to relocate from the South-East to Barnsley, because living costs and office space are both cheaper.
Neighbouring Doncaster seems to have been trying to keep its spirits up since the first settlers arrived. As I’ve noted in this blog before, even the town’s official slogan is: ‘Discover the spirit.’
Rovers have been trying to keep their spirits up by talking about all the good football they’ve been playing. And they have been playing good football, by all accounts. It’s just that they don’t have anybody who can score goals.
Before last night, Rovers hadn’t scored at home since that win over Coventry on August 30. They had managed just seven goals in 16 Championship matches – and two of those were penalties.
O’Driscoll’s solution has been to try to sign Hull striker Dean Windass, a man who will celebrate his 40th birthday before the season is out. Chairman John Ryan’s solution was even more radical than that.
“I have even thought of bringing in a priest to bless the stadium and, more importantly, bless our team,” Ryan wrote in his programme notes. It’s a dangerous ploy. After all, if God fails to save Doncaster from relegation, you can’t really sack Him or Her, can you?
Opponents Ipswich arrived at the Keepmoat unbeaten in six matches, but with plenty on their minds, thanks to David Norris.
The midfielder has spent the last week all over the national news pages thanks to his extraordinarily crass gesture to jailed drink-driver Luke McCormick after scoring the winner at Blackpool.
McCormick was involved in a car crash which killed two young boys as he was driving back from Norris’ wedding in July.
Norris denied making a handcuffs gesture to McCormick in a statement put out by his club last Monday. But the following day, Norris confirmed in an amended statement that he had made “a small private gesture” to McCormick, but that it was not a handcuffs gesture.
I don’t know why the initial statement was put out, and I’m not going to speculate.
But it is perhaps worth making a general comment about UK libel law at this point. Let’s say, for example, that Person X is accused of doing something unpleasant or unpopular, but not illegal. Let’s then say that Person X puts out a statement denying they have done the thing they are accused of.
Any newspaper, website, TV or radio broadcaster could then be sued for libel if they repeat the accusation without including Person X’s denial.
Because of the way UK libel law works, Person X wouldn’t have to prove their innocence. It would be down to the media company responsible for the report to prove Person X’s guilt to the satisfaction of a court – or face a hefty payout in damages.
This is all, of course, regardless of whether Person X had actually done the thing they were accused of or not.
Norris has since written a letter of regret to the parents of the two boys killed in the car crash, and intends to visit them to apologise in person.
But if last night’s match was anything to go by, Norris can expect a rough time on the pitch in the coming weeks.
The midfielder was booed by Doncaster’s fans every time he touched the ball. There were a few chants of “w***er” from the stands too.
Norris will probably learn to deal with that. But a few minutes into the second half, Norris was rapped across the shins by Doncaster captain Matt Mills. As Norris lay on the turf, Mills appeared to say something to the Ipswich midfielder.
Only the two men will know what, if anything, was said. But the challenge and the possible exchange of words sparked a furious confrontation between Mills and several Ipswich players.
If this is going to become a regular feature of Ipswich matches, then manager Jim Magilton may have to consider dropping Norris for a while.
Magilton elected to watch the early stages of the match from the press box, but such was his concern about Ipswich’s performance that he was down in the dug-out within 15 minutes.
By half-time, Doncaster had finally ended that long wait for a home goal. Dutch defender Shelton Martis, on loan from West Brom, headed in from close range after Mills had headed Brian Stock’s free kick back across goal. The Keepmoat Stadium erupted.
It was a special moment for Martis as well, as he hadn’t scored since March 2006 – for Darlington against Chester. That goal was the winner, too.
Darlington visibly grew in confidence after that, but it’s still hard to see where the goals are going to come from for them. Neither of their strikers – Paul Heffernan and Jason Price – looked like getting a goal.
According to Doncaster’s official website, Price is nicknamed the ‘Afro Goal Machine’. Quite how you can be a goal machine when you haven’t scored in your last 24 matches is a mystery. I can confirm, though, that he does have an afro.
Ipswich substitutes Darren Ambrose and Pablo Counago had their best chances to equalise, but the Tractor Boys had a rare off-day in front of goal – it was only the third time this season that they had failed to score.
At the final whistle, Doncaster’s fans celebrated every bit as loudly as they had done when beating Leeds at Wembley in May’s League One play-off final.
“I think I’m going to carry on wearing this suit, and this shirt, and these pants and these socks from now on,” joked O’Driscoll afterwards.
No need, Sean. Just invite me to your next game. It will all be fine, I promise you.