Andy Butler shows Doncaster Rovers have a succession plan in place
Andy Butler’s assured managerial debut in men’s football hinted at a manager-elect already in situ.
Moore picked the team which swept FC United of Manchester 5-1 aside with a victory as attractive as it was professional, but as he, assistant manager Jamie Smith and goalkeeping coach Paul Gerrard were isolating after coming into close contact with a coronavirus carrier at Wimbledon, he showed confidence in Butler by letting the stand-in get on with it.
“I spoke to the gaffer on Thursday and Friday and he named the side and the subs and gave me free rein from there, really,” said Butler. “The subs were mine and Nick (Buxton)’s decisions. He told us to enjoy ourselves, so we did.”
Not that Butler is new to it all.
Despite only returning as a player in the summer, he has been Doncaster Rovers Belles’ manager since January – with Buxton his assistant – and also works in the men’s academy.
Since Pep Guardiola went from Barcelona B manager to world’s greatest coach, owners and managers are increasingly expected to be philosophers who understand the club’s “DNA”, making promoting from within trendy.
When the ex-Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United defender returned to his hometown club after a season at Scunthorpe United, he was told if a situation like Saturday’s occurred, he could be asked to step up.
The 37-year-old is one of the lads, as shown by the Movember moustache trimmed for the cameras to look a little less like Ned Flanders.
Had he been on the coaching staff, he would have had to watch from his living room too.
Butler said he felt more nervous speaking to the players individually on Thursday than about the game itself but his words carry weight .
“He’s respected within the group,” commented team-mate Brad Halliday. “When we’re talking as players he has a lot to say because he’s been there, done that.
“It was probably (a situation) we won’t see too often but the lads did brilliantly.”
Rovers’ football had Moore’s fingerprints all over it, Ben Whiteman, James Coppinger and the outstanding Matt Smith, playing as a holding midfielder in the 4-2-3-1, releasing runners from wide to regularly sprint behind the FC United defence.
They certainly obeyed Butler’s instruction to: “Have a bit of swagger about yourselves, believe in yourselves and have full confidence in how we have approached games all season”.
Right-back Halliday laid on the first two goals, for Fejiri Okenabirhie and Whiteman, and winger Josh Sims scored either side of setting up Coppinger, hammering home after Whiteman chested the ball into his path.
All the goals – including FC’s when Reece James took too long trying to control a cleared corner and was robbed – came inside 50 minutes.
“It was on telly and there was that pressure of is there going to be an upset but once we got the first two goals I thought we were class,” said Halliday.
“It should have been more.”
Encouragingly, Butler was still able to nit-pick like a boss.
“Towards the end we got a bit sloppy but at 5-1 sometimes you do take the foot off the gas and they had a couple of chances (put wide by Michaels Donohue and Fowler), which we’ll look at, but overall I’m pleased,” he said.
“We got five good goals from things we’d worked on in training.
“I’ve been manager of the Belles for nine months and it’s been a big learning curve, dealing with the players. The academy can be quite structured, whereas the Belles is mine and Nick’s own little project. We like to play the same way Rovers do.”
Not that the night was just about his development. Butler handed Liam Ravenhill, 17-year-old son of former Rover Ricky, a debut from the bench and it was an important night for Halliday, who sat out the last two games.
“It’s not nice not being picked but it’s given me a chance to reset,” he said. “It was just a rest, that’s what I got told. I was frustrated because I want to play every game. I played every minute of every game last season but this season’s different with the fixtures a lot closer.”
Now Moore must decide whether to make Butler player-manager for tomorrow’s Football League Trophy game against Wolverhampton Wanderers Under-21s, which he would ordinarily expect to play in.
FC United of Manchester: Lavercombe; Donohue, Jones, Doyle, Dodd; Potts, Simpson (Morris 57), Griffiths, Sinclair-Smith (Fowler 57); Ennis (Cockerline 74), Linney. Unused substitutes: Brooks, White, Pemberton, Stead.
Doncaster Rovers: Jones; Halliday, Wright, Anderson, James; Whiteman, Smith; Williams (Lokilo 57); Coppinger (Ravenhill 81), Sims (John 66); Okenabirhie. Unused substitutes: Bursik, Amos, Butler, Blythe.
Referee: T Bramall (Sheffield).
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