CHRISTMAS came early for Doncaster Rovers’ players after a third successive victory left them on the cusp of taking over the leadership of League Two.
They went off for their festive night out with the endorsement of manager Darren Ferguson, who hailed the victory over Orient as their best performance of the season even though they had to come from behind to achieve the three points.
A win in their game in hand at Stevenage on Saturday would put them top as their rivals will either be in FA Cup action or idle and it is the title, never mind a swift return to League One, towards which everyone is aiming.
This ambition was one of the factors that persuaded Jordan Houghton to sign on loan and he would be happy to extend his deal until the end of the season.
The Chelsea product struck his first goal for the club at just the right time, firing home through a crowded goalmouth after Orient had failed to clear Rovers’ seventh corner of the half in the 45th minute.
Doncaster’s dominance had allowed the sitting midfield player to venture forward to equalise a tremendous 19th-minute 35-yard free-kick from full-back Callum Kennedy, whose previous attempts this season had generally flown high or wide.
Though two penalties from Rovers product Liam Mandeville settled the issue – following fouls on Matty Blair and Tommy Rowe – there was no doubting Doncaster’s control of the game, orchestrated by James Coppinger in the No 10 role that is ideally suited to the club legend’s talents.
It came against a visiting side who are on their eighth manager in two years under owner Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti, who has given Andy Edwards the job of saving them from the drop following the midweek sacking of Alberto Cavasin.
Orient’s away form, however, had been sound until Saturday’s second defeat on their travels.
It still took a fair amount of patience from their hosts to conjure the victory after they struck the bar three times in the opening half-hour.
“I did think it was going to be one of those days when we hit the woodwork so many times, but there is quality throughout this group of players here,” said Houghton.
Having just turned 21, Houghton’s future is unclear, with his contract at Stamford Bridge up at the end of the season, but he is in no doubt that he made the right decision to move to the Keepmoat.
“Why did I join?,” he asked. “The manager and assistant and the crop of players – the signings he made in the summer. Speaking to the manager and assistant before I signed, the aspirations were, no doubt about it, to get promoted.
“This is too big a club to be in League Two. Those were the main reasons behind why I signed.
“I knew we would be up there by just looking at the players, though I must admit I had never been to Doncaster before – this is the furthest north I’ve been.”
Of what lies ahead, Houghton continued: “I definitely want to extend my stay, but I am still waiting to find out about my contract with Chelsea.
“When that gets sorted we can look to extending the loan. It’s what all parties want because I am playing and doing well. Hopefully, we can arrange it so that I can stay until the end of the season. It would definitely be an option if things did not work out at Chelsea to stay.”
Houghton was delighted to have got off the mark, but admits life in League Two has been a reality check in more ways than one. “I am very pleased with my first man-of-the-match (sponsors’ award) and my first goal, but the important thing was putting in a good performance, getting the win and putting us in a good place for next week.
“I have been getting forward a bit more recently because we have been dominating games and I am pleased to have put one away because you don’t want to go too long without scoring a goal. It’s a very nice feeling.
“The manager has put a lot of confidence in me. He wants me to be the main focal point of the team. He wants me to get us playing, get us ticking, to go out and and find the ball. I find it quite natural to get on the ball, but it is good that he has that confidence in me.
“But it is completely different to playing in the Under-21s because people are fighting for their lives – at the end of the day, there are mortgages on the line and things like that whereas you get privileges when you are Under-21 players coming up. You don’t really realise what it is to be playing out there.
“You never get an easy game out there in League Two. You know you have to be at it every single day and it is a step up, but everyone wants to be playing men’s football at the end of the day.”
Stevenage’s victory at fourth-placed Portsmouth underlined the task ahead, but Houghton continued: “This win has put us in a lovely position to push on and go top of the league and it’s where we want to be.
“Other teams have dropped off while we have picked up a bit of form and next week will be tough like every other, but hopefully we can get the win if we play like we have been doing.”
Doncaster Rovers: Marosi, Alcock, Baudry, Butler, Mason; Houghton; Blair, Coppinger (Beestin 90), Rowe; Mandeville (Longbottom 90), Marquis. Unused substitutes: Jones, Wright, Evina, Keegan, Calder.
Leyton Orient: Cisak, Judd, Parkes, Pollock, Kennedy; Collins, Weir, Atangana, Semedo (Koroma 57); Palmer (McCallum 65), Simpson. Unused substitutes: Dunne, Bowery, Sergeant, Dalby, Janse.
Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).