Ahead of an exciting FA Cup fixture against Doncaster Rovers this weekend, TEB had a chat with Sheffield Star’s deputy head of sport Liam Hoden to find out about the season so far for the League One side and thoughts ahead of the cup tie.
Q. How has the season been for Doncaster so far?
Very, very good. There was a hope Rovers would mount a promotion push this season but given the upheaval of last summer with the surprise resignation of Darren Ferguson, there were doubts it was possible. Grant McCann hit the ground running and Rovers have maintained a consistent position in and around the top six. They have been lower than eighth after only three matches this season. And the football have been very good to watch. They are incredibly attack minded and bring that approach to every game they play.
Q. Do you think promotion to the Championship is achievable?
Yes. They have definitely proven themselves to be among the top sides in League One this season. Luton and Barnsley have recently showed themselves to be a level above the rest but there is very little between the chasing pack who are fighting it out for play-off places. Rovers now have a four point cushion inside the top six and with a game in hand over some of their rivals so they look well place. Confidence is really high at the minute, they’re playing some great stuff and the most important thing in recent weeks has been the effectiveness of it.
Q. Has Grant McCann impressed since being appointed in the summer?
Very much so. No offence to Grant, it was not a blockbuster appointment. But the club hierarchy spoke about how much he had impressed in the interview process and it quickly became apparent why. He’s meticulous, level headed, calm and authoritative. And he very quickly managed to impose his style of play on the team, make sure they were fit enough to carry it out in the long term and got the buy-in from the players. Results have been good, it’s been very entertaining and this cup run hasn’t been bad either. He’s doing a great job and there is real faith the best is yet to come.
Q. This is the first time Doncaster have reached the fifth round of the FA Cup since 1956, so we presume cup fever is alive and well among Rovers fans?
It certainly is. The game sold out within a day of going on general sale and there have not been many times over the last few years when the Keepmoat has been full. It’s a tie that has been greeted by supporters with excitement and, dare I say it, a bit of optimism too. But I think the interest has also been so strong because of how well the team is doing at the minute. It’s a good chance for casual fans to check Rovers out and do so against a quality opposition. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another 63 years for it to happen again.
Q. Who has been the stand out Doncaster player?
It’s hard not to say striker John Marquis, who scored his 22nd goal of the season in Tuesday night’s comfortable win over Southend. He has established himself as one of, if not the, top striker in League One and should be playing in the Championship next season one way or another. He scores goals, as his record over the last three seasons has shown. But his workrate is the most impressive thing about him. He’s strong and powerful, runs tirelessly and never gives opposition defences time to breathe.
Q. Did Doncaster do the business fans had hoped in the transfer window?
The big one was extending the loan from Liverpool of midfielder Herbie Kane – one of the other real standouts this season. He’d not played a minute of senior football when he arrived on loan as a relative unknown in August but he’s been sensational and looks to have a very bright future ahead of him. He was pivotal in the first half of the season and there was genuine fears a Championship club would be on the phone to Liverpool to take him on. But once he signed a new long term contract with Liverpool, the extension of his loan was confirmed – to everyone’s delight at Doncaster. The other business has seen Rovers add strength in depth and all of the signings made have impressed so far. Forwards Kieran Sadlier and Tyler Smith add real competition to the front three, Blackburn defender Paul Downing has been excellent since arriving on loan and Swansea full back Aaron Lewis has been impressive in his first taste of senior football. The strength in depth has added to the confidence Rovers are capable of winning promotion this season.
Q. If you could pick one Palace player for Doncaster to sign in January, who would it be and why?
Does anyone ever say anyone other than Wilf Zaha for this question? He’s the sort of player that would add something to virtually any team you could pick. I think Rovers’ style of play would suit him as well, being so attack minded, fast paced and direct. Sticking him in one of the two wide positions in the front three would be a dream. There’s been a lot of hopeful glances towards his disciplinary situation in the hope he won’t feature on Sunday. I think that says it all as to where people expect the threat to come from.
Q. Name one Doncaster player and one Palace player that you believe will be a threat in this game?
On the Rovers side of things, I think Mallik Wilks could be a big player. A forward on loan from Leeds, he thrives on the big occasions and the chances to shine. With the game on television, against big time opposition he is going to relish it. He can be enigmatic but when he is switched on he is so dangerous. Rovers are likely to rely on their counterattacking ability and he would be key to this with pace, power and directness. As for Palace, where do you start? Zaha is obvious and you would fancy Andros Townsend to make a real impact on this game. I saw a lot of Connor Wickham during his loan spells with Sheffield Wednesday and know how dangerous he can be when he is on it.
Q. Perhaps you could share your opinions on Palace so far this season?
I probably expected Palace to be doing a little bit better than they are doing this season, given the quality they have in the side. But they don’t look to be under any serious threat of relegation, which seems to be a status teams from seventh downwards seem to be chasing in the Premier League. With a bit of the pressure off, I fancy them to have a decent second half of the season.
Q. Your prediction?
Not underestimating Palace in any way, I’ve had a really positive feeling about this one since the draw. I think it’ll end up going to extra time and Rovers will sneak it. I’ll go 2-2 after 90 minutes and 3-2 after extra time.