Doncaster Rovers v Southend United: Cathartic confession could help striker in goal quest

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IT was the American founding father Thomas Jefferson who once sagely remarked that ‘honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.’

In the sporting realm, honesty is perhaps a quality not always associated with modern-day footballers these days, especially younger ones when reflecting on bad days at the office, which are as much part of the footballing tapestry as the good ones when you are starting out.

Doncaster's Liam Mandeville  pictured against Gillingham earlier this season. (Picture: Marie Caley)

Doncaster's Liam Mandeville pictured against Gillingham earlier this season. (Picture: Marie Caley)

The default mechanism of many young players – constantly told how good they are by their entourage – is to gloss around the thorny subject of bad performances and often utter some inane and hackneyed banality such as: ‘we go again next week’. Sometimes, while staring blankly into the distance.

Then, there are those who admirably and refreshingly front up and face the music and endeavour to give a straight answer, in some cases unprompted.

Young Doncaster Rovers striker Liam Mandeville, who has not had a season to remember thus far, did just that ahead of his side’s vital home encounter with Southend United this afternoon.

It remains to be seen if the 20-year-old starts today as struggling Rovers aim to prevent a drama turning into a bit of a crisis at the Keepmoat where they are without a home league victory since April 8.

I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself as well because I had a successful season last year. It is just part of being a young player and something I will learn from.

Liam Mandeville

But perhaps in providing an honest assessment of his campaign so far in not being up to scratch, he is at least confronting the issues head on and showing a strong desire to turn things around in the process by getting things out in the open.

Often that very acknowledgement is required before a turnaround can truly begin.

Mandeville, yet to score in a year afflicted by injury and form issues after a head-turning end to 2016, said: “This season has not gone as I planned, but there is obviously plenty of time left.

“I have been given a few opportunities by the gaffer and I have not really taken them yet. If I get another one, I will have to take it.

Liam Mandeville, turns to celebrate after scoring for Rovers late last year (Picture: James Hardisty)

Liam Mandeville, turns to celebrate after scoring for Rovers late last year (Picture: James Hardisty)

“I had a good pre-season and in the first game of the season, I personally felt that I played well.

“I (then) had a bit of an injury again, but I played against Blackburn and though the lads were good because they were playing with ten men, I was horrific.

“I think that hit my confidence a little bit and maybe I was not fully fit and that affected my next few games.

“I had a good game against Grimsby in the Checkatrade (Trophy) and that got my confidence up a bit and as of late, I have been coming on and doing better and felt I did well against Arsenal and Plymouth.

“I think I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself as well because I had a successful season last year. It is just part of being a young player and something I will learn from.”

Based in the north-east, Mandeville admits to having had plenty of food for thought on those drives back up the A1 to his home after training and games.

It is an added test of character for such a young player, especially given his barnstorming end to 2016 when a purple scoring patch saw him find the net eight times from late autumn onwards and be named as the EFL Young Player of the Month for November.

More especially too, given that his performances had pricked the attentions of a number of higher-division clubs, whose scouts were quick to check out Mandeville.

This year, by contrast, has so far been much less fruitful from a personal standpoint.

Commendably, he is candid enough to accept that his confidence has been dented in a tough 2017, but is mature enough to put his experiences into perspective.

He said: “I have high expectations of myself. I think I can definitely play at this level and hopefully higher if I can do well.

“Obviously, when I am not putting in the performances that I expect of myself, it does get me annoyed, to be honest and hits my confidence.

“But that is what the game is about. You have ups and downs.”

On his take on 2017, he added: “Not winning the league wasn’t ideal. But we got promoted and the job done to a certain extent.

“But it has been a tough year personally and I haven’t played many games in 2017 and have been injured for the majority of it. It has been tough, but it is all about bouncing back and that is what I think we will do.

“I am from Middlesbrough, so have a long drive home afterwards and that is probably when I think about things. But apart from that, I am mainly a relaxed guy.

“The senior players tell me to keep going and believe in my ability and so do I. You need a bit of luck sometimes and maybe I need a little tap-in to get me going.”

Memories of his scoring spree late last year are likely to provide a touch of solace for Mandeville too and anything resembling a re-run would be somewhat timely.

All of Rovers’ striking pool, aside from perhaps Alfie May, have found it hard-going over the course so far this term and being more single-minded in his pursuit of goals is something that Mandeville accepts that he needs to now do if he is to relight his goalscoring fires for Rovers and rewind the clock somewhat.

He added: “I am quite a streaky scorer rather than picking up the goals here and there. Mine come in clumps, but hopefully if I get one, I will get a few.

“I have been thinking about performances rather than goals. That has been the story of our season, we have had good performances and not results and maybe that is something I need to change in my mindset.

“We scored a bag of goals last season. I know we have gone up a division, but we are not playing in the Champions League and most of our players last season should have been playing in League One or higher, as it is. I think we will be fine.”