Doncaster Rovers: ‘When managers are reduced to quoting the maths, straws are being clutched at’

“Ultimately it’s not mathematically done,” said Gary McSheffrey after another Doncaster Rovers defeat.

He was right, but that noise in the background? Those are alarm bells ringing.

When managers are reduced to quoting the maths, straws are being clutched at.

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McSheffrey has set his team a target of “four or five wins” from their final six matches this season. In a division as unpredictable as League One, that would be asking a lot of leaders Rotherham United; for Rovers it seems inconceivable.

Doncaster Rovers manager Gary McSheffrey. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

They are only four points from safety, but the picture is more complicated. The team they are chasing, Fleetwood Town, have two games in hand on them. The two sides they would have to scramble above to get there, Wimbledon and Morecambe, have one extra game, and the Dons are hoping for a new manager bounce after sacking Mark Robinson yesterday.

It is just over a year since Doncaster won back-to-back league matches. Darren Moore was the manager when they last won four out of six. McSheffrey is the third man to occupy the office since.

For a while under him, their form became bitty – four wins spread across nine matches. At the wrong end of a table, being bitty might just have been enough, but since then they have taken two points from five games, all but one against opponents who were at the time genuine relegation rivals (Wimbledon, Cheltenham Town, Gillingham and Fleetwood still are).

When it has mattered most, Doncaster have delivered least, like at the start of 2022 when they conspired to be 3-0 up at half-time away to their relegation rivals Morecambe and lose 4-3.

Having won at Milton Keynes Dons, Sunderland and Lincoln City this year shows there is some ability but short on battle-hardened players with captain Tom Anderson injured since Christmas and John Bostock and Adam Clayton’s fitness patchy, they do not respond well to pressure.

Tommy Rowe has been heroic, but not miraculous.

Often when they concede first in games, a second and third follows quickly. They have lost 5-0 once, 6-0 twice.

Those are not good omens for an improbable escape. Expect them to win the next game after relegation is confirmed.

Although that nine-game spell raised false hopes, Doncaster’s demise has been a long time in the making.

It started towards the end of Moore’s reign, when the club felt his head was turned by Sheffield Wednesday’s interest. The succession-plan appointment of women’s team manager Andy Butler was disastrous without experienced back-up to help the novice.

Richie Wellens had a decent track record but was undermined by a budget the board may have seen as realistic, but was fatalistic.

McSheffrey got January reinforcements but young hopefuls where he needed proven warriors.

History shows internal appointments can work, but persuading a reluctant academy coach to be the first team manager fed into the narrative of doing things on the cheap. McSheffrey has been painted as a “yes man” with the frustration of an understandably cantankerous home crowd occasionally spilling in his direction.

Leagues One and Two are the only divisions in the 92 not a chasm apart. This season’s failings will be just as problematic in the fourth tier.

Avoiding it comes down to games against Wycombe Wanderers (away), Crewe Alexandra, Bolton Wanderers (both home), Shrewsbury Town (away), Burton Albion (home) and Oxford United (away).

They will require character, courage and fight. Judging by the first 40 games of the season, that equation does not add up.

If any Doncaster player thinks that is unfair, the answer is simple: prove it.