AFTER a testing last 12 months on the pitch, Brad Halliday is finally getting back to his old self.
The sight of the Doncaster Rovers full-back marauding down the right flank in the colours of Cambridge United drew many a nod of acknowledgement from lower-division scouts during his three years at the Abbey Stadium – with his name likely to have entered into many a notebook.
Latterly in his time in East Anglia, the Teessider was rather more inhibited in his forays forward as he had to man the barricades at the back instead.
His final season for the U’s last term was one which saw the club flirt with relegation from the Football League, with respite finally afforded when the club staved off the drop in Spring.
It was a time when flowing, expansive football was out of the equation for Cambridge, pitted in a grim survival fight.
Their descent began around a year ago with the club enduring a dispiriting nine-match winless run in the league featuring seven defeats.
The rot had set in with U’s boss Joe Dunne sacked at the start of December shortly after an embarrassing FA Cup exit at Guiseley.
Thankfully, Halliday’s new club remembered his performances in happier times and the early evidence from this season suggests they have landed a shrewd acquisition.
The 24-year-old, part of a Rovers side who are seeking to extend their unbeaten start to the League One season and secure a fourth straight victory in all competitions against derby rivals Rotherham United this afternoon, said: “Last year was a struggle and we were down at the bottom end of the table.
“So I did not really get the chance to play how I did in the previous two years when we were attacking and up at the top end of the league.
“Coming here with the season we had last year and doing really well, we have carried it on going into the season and I feel like I can express myself more.
“There is confidence in the team and being unbeaten at home and in the league, we want to keep that going for as long as possible. If we do that, other teams will start giving us respect.”
As for today’s opponents, he added: “Rotherham are a big, direct team who will go from back to front quite quickly and we need to be ready for that. We have prepared for it, so I cannot see why we cannot go on and beat them.”
With his derby experiences restricted to a rather modest EFL Trophy game for Cambridge against Peterborough in November 2017, Halliday has been filling his boots since arriving at Rovers.
Derby day was off the menu during his previous stints at the likes of York City and Hartlepool United – with local engagements with Darlington and Scarborough having long since gone.
After back-to-back games and victories over Lincoln, Doncaster’s sights are now set on further kudos against the team – alongside perhaps Barnsley–- who Rovers fans delight in beating more than anyone other in the Millers.
Redcar-born Halliday, who started his career at Middlesbrough, added: “It should be a good one and similar to the Lincoln game. Rotherham are a big team who have just come down from the Championship and will have a lot of support backing them. I am looking forward to it.
“Anyone can tell that this a big game. I remember when I was a kid and used to go to few Boro games and back then, we were quite big rivals with Leeds and I went to a few of those games and it was good.
“It is good to be part of this and hopefully we will do well.”
Halliday’s experiences thus far in South Yorkshire may have fully vindicated his decision to move there at the end of his contract at Cambridge, but he was entitled to feel a sense of trepidation when he started pre-season with his new club.
The manager who signed him in Grant McCann left on the eve of the start of summer training after switching to Hull City, but his some reassuring words and input from his successor in Darren Moore has quickly provided him with a sense of well-being and security.
He added: “It was obviously Grant who brought me in and he moved on, but that happens in football.
“Darren has come in and been first class and he has stamped his way of playing and style of football within us and we are getting much used to that every week and getting stronger.
“He is trying to improve every one and make them better individually and he has worked with Reece (James) and I, as the full-backs, quite a bit in how he wants us to play as we are a big part of his philosophy.”
Rovers may have endured two bitter derby denouements against the Millers last term, with Paul Warne’s side breaking their hearts with last-gasp goals in a 1-1 draw at the Keepmoat Stadium and a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture at the AESSEAL New York Stadium, but there is expectation ahead of the latest instalment.
It is a first also for Rovers manager Darren Moore, who was unable to sample this particular rivalry during his two years with the club in the mid-Nineties.
Back then, the marquee occasions at Doncaster’s former Belle Vue home were against Scunthorpe United, but Moore was told plenty of times about the importance of the rivalry with the Millers.
He said: “I missed it (as a player). I think they were in the league above at the time, but I am well versed with the rivalry in terms of what it is. Both teams are really passionate about it.
“There is more icing on this one in terms of the fans.
“The wins in the games so far have been psychologically huge and Saturday would be no different. It is a tough, good fixture and one we are looking forward to, but we know that to get anything out of the game, we will have to be at our best.”