Doncaster Rovers v Crystal Palace: Rovers geared up ahead of ‘winnable’ FA Cup tie

JOHN MARQUIS, once rejected by Crystal Palace as a youngster, has been copping plenty of good-natured stick from his mates since Doncaster Rovers were paired with the London club in the FA Cup fifth round.

John Marquis, who has scored 22 goals so far this season, is congratulated by Doncaster Rovers team-mates after finding the target.

The Eagles effectively being handed a bye to the last eight by being drawn against the League One side has been a recurring theme of those jibes aimed at the Lewisham-born striker.

It has not just been those Eagles-supporting friends, either, with Marquis believing even his sister, who just happens to live a hefty clearance away from Selhurst Park, will not be able to resist joining in with any post-match gloating from the capital if Doncaster are knocked out.

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Not that Rovers’ top scorer is fazed. Instead all he sees is the chance to make history by being part of the team that books a place in the quarter-finals for the first time in Doncaster’s history.

“I hope Palace come and play their full-strength team,” says Marquis to The Yorkshire Post. “We could have a right good go and see where we are as players.

“The mood here is good. Everyone was happy when the draw was made. We wanted a Premier League side as that meant a likely sell-out, and it is a winnable game.

“There is no replay and anything really can happen. They could have a man sent off in the first minute. In a one-off game everyone has a chance. That is why the FA Cup is so good.”

As for getting one over those mates from the capital who have been forecasting a Palace stroll in front of a live BBC1 audience, Marquis smiles before adding: “They are all getting the train up on Sunday and will be in the away end.

“Hopefully we can cause an upset and take the smile off their faces. If I score I might even give them a little wave.”

Marquis’s formative years were spent in the capital, but it is in Doncaster where his career has truly flourished.

He moved north on a free transfer from Millwall in the summer of 2016 a few weeks after Rovers had been relegated to League Two.

Securing a permanent home after eight loan spells away from The Den over the previous half a dozen years was crucial if he was to kick-start a career that had stalled.

South Yorkshire has proved to be a good fit as his 63 goals in 137 appearances prove. Twenty two of those goals have come this season, which is why Sunderland were so desperate to prise Marquis away from the Keepmoat during the January transfer window.

Two bids were lodged, the second believed to be £2m, but Rovers and the player himself were adamant he was staying.

“I was aware what was going on,” Marquis admits when asked about the events of deadline day. “After training I spoke to the manager (Grant McCann) and (chief executive) Gavin Baldwin. It was pretty clear what the stance was, I was not going anywhere.

“That was fine by me. I started a project when I came here and I want to finish what I started.

“There had also been interest in the summer, as well, but I wanted to be part of what the new gaffer wanted to do.

“I would have been letting my team-mates down, and the staff, the supporters, especially on the last day.

“We all believe we can achieve something special this season. That belief comes from the manager and how he has been backed by those above him.”

As for this coming summer, Marquis, whose daughter was born in Doncaster a year ago, is refreshingly honest.

“The club’s view may be different by then because I will be into the last year (of my contract),” he adds. “What league we are in might also make a difference.

“I have always said I want to play as high as possible and challenge myself. I am doing that here at Doncaster, but the summer may be a different story.”

Just where Marquis and Doncaster, who sit sixth in League One after losing just twice in 14 games, will be come the summer remains to be seen.

For now the focus is on the FA Cup and looking to go one better than the four fifth-round appearances in five year that the club made in the Fifties.

Alick Jeffrey, whose name adorns the bar where yesterday’s interview with Marquis took place, was a mainstay of the team that reached this stage of the world’s oldest knockout competition in 1955 and 1956.

“This is the furthest Doncaster has been in 63 years so let’s make some further history on Sunday,” adds 26-year-old Marquis. “We would be so proud to do that.

“Doncaster is not a town where success is expected, especially by those looking in from the outside. They see us as ‘little, old Doncaster’.

“But in 50 years’ time – when ‘Copps’ (James Coppinger) is probably still playing for us – to be mentioned as part of that team who got to the quarter-final or maybe further is something we all want.”

Asked if he can imagine being honoured one day like Jeffrey or even team-mate, and record appearance holder, Coppinger with a permanent tribute at the Keepmoat Stadium, Marquis replies: “To be remembered in Doncaster’s history would be great.

“The great thing about history is it is there forever. Maybe in 50 years’ time people will be talking about John Marquis, Ben Whiteman, Coppinger. Those names may live on here.

“Mind, I am surprised ‘Copps’ has only got a car park named after him, if I am honest. He deserves a bit more than that.”