IN the bad old days at Doncaster Rovers in the late 80s and 90s, seasonal cup runs were virtually unheard of – with the prospect of two in the same campaign something few supporters would dare contemplate.
Yet that is the delicious reality today for Rovers fans, being considerably spoilt in contrast to those times a generation ago when the club’s early exits from cup competitions were a depressing yearly occurrence.
Rovers find themselves through to the third round of the FA Cup after the weekend win at Oldham and are still standing in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, where they can book a place in the northern area semi-finals with a win tonight over Notts County, who have won on their last two visits to the Keepmoat Stadium.
That would them put within three matches of Wembley, with Paul Dickov’s side having also shown some cup pedigree earlier this season to surprise Championship outfit Watford on their own patch prior to bowing out at Fulham in the third round of the Capital One Cup.
With the 30th anniversary of Billy Bremner’s side famously reaching the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1984-85 due next month, Rovers are firmly in the cup spirit again. The run then accounted for top-flight outfit QPR alongside Rochdale and Altrincham before the club bowed out at Everton in front of 10,000 travelling fans.
Famously after that run 30 years ago, came the famine.
Following those exploits, Rovers’ next third-round appearance did not come until over two decades later in 2005-06.
It was a similar tale of woe in the League Cup where, after beating Scarborough in 1987-88, to set up a two-legged tie with Arsenal, Rovers suffered 10 consecutive first-round exits before dropping out of the league in 1997-98.
The Football League Trophy in its many guises was not much better, with only a run to the northern area final in Bremner’s second spell in charge in 1989-90 being anything to write home.
In comparison, some heady days since the Millennium have brought a veritable harvest, headlined by Johnstone’s Paints Trophy glory against Bristol Rovers in April, 2007 and a stunning run to the quarter-finals of the League Cup in 2005-06 when Rovers beat Aston Villa and Manchester City en route to an agonising penalty shoot-out loss to Arsenal at the old Belle Vue in December, 2005.
The present-day Rovers, who have lost just one cup tie in six so far this term, are seeking to fill their boots, with the psychological spin-off of continued cup success having a positive impact on league form, something not lost upon many, including seasoned midfielder Paul Keegan.
With Rovers currently on a heartening run and showing a discernible consistency and solidity, the games cannot come thick and fast enough, with a run to Wembley in the JPT in their thoughts, according to Keegan.
He said: “The manager has turned around and said to us: ‘Look, this is the quickest way to Wembley.’
“We want to get there and in every competition you play in, you want to win; no matter what it is.
“Everyone knows the potential of going well in the cup and going on a good cup run and the spirit and bit of enthusiasm and life around the club that it can bring.
“If we stay in the cups and then have a good Christmas, we would also be going into January just outside the play-offs and everyone all of a sudden would be on it and suddenly there would be a chance of promotion and lots to look forward to.”
Rovers’ sequence of one defeat in their last eight matches in all competitions is providing plenty of evidence that Dickov’s side are building momentum after a decidedly average start to the season not helped by a summer of frustration which saw John Ryan and Louis Tomlinson’s mooted takeover collapse.
Left to pick up the pieces for the second consecutive summer was Dickov, who is belatedly getting his rewards after a stop-start opening to 2014-15.
The likes of Keegan and other experienced operators in James Coppinger and Richie Wellens are stepping up to the plate and the midfielder believes the signs are good.
He said: “We are not losing games, which is important, and if we can keep clean sheets, we are always going to create chances and score goals.
“At the start of the season, we were a little bit too loose and conceding goals and now we are together and there’s a bit of a structure in place and we are more solid and organised and even when we have gone a goal down, we have come back in games.”
The winners of tonight’s tie will host Simon Grayson’s Preston in the semi-finals next Tuesday.
Last six games: Doncaster LWWDDW; Notts County LDWLLD.
Referee: D Webb (Co.Durham).
Last time: Doncaster 0 Notts County 1; April 20, 2013; League One.