DARREN FERGUSON counted himself among a pretty small minority this week.
While countless fans and a fair number in the managerial fraternity have been strident in their criticism of the Checkatrade Trophy – make that positively scathing in some cases – Doncaster Rovers’ manager is a bit of an exception to the rule.
Elsewhere, censure has been commonplace of a competition that once again saw some truly pitiful group-stage crowds in midweek and is continuing to prove a major turn-off with fans, with the decision to invite Premier League under-23 sides to compete looking more injudicious with every passing match day.
The competition rules that state all clubs from Leagues One and Two must start with five first-choice players have also been singled out for rebuke by certain managers, most notably MK Dons boss Karl Robinson, who feels that the current format is to the detriment of youth development in the lower leagues.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has gone even further, indeed much further, by suggesting the competition should be scrapped.
But you will not find too many bad words from his Rovers counterpart.
Granted, Ferguson’s stance is borne out of expediency somewhat, but his viewpoint is valid.
Given Rovers’ eve-of-season mini injury crisis, the competition has served a welcome purpose so far in handing precious game time to some senior players who were sidelined at the start of the campaign – enabling them to knock on the first-team door quicker than they might have done otherwise.
In particular, Tuesday night’s 2-2 home draw with Derby enabled Mathieu Baudry and Paul Keegan to step up their comebacks with first seasonal starts when they would have probably been sitting on the sofa at home if there had not been a game.
The performances of both, as Ferguson quickly acknowledged, have given him food for thought ahead of tomorrow’s League Two home game with Barnet.
The first two group games in the competition have also been utilised to the full by the Scot to give invaluable game time to several of his young squad players.
Both Alfie Beestin and Will Longbottom have scored their maiden competitive goals for Rovers in the trophy and several others have caught the eye.
Given all that, it is easy to see why Ferguson will not join the bandwagon and give the competition a proverbial ‘kicking’.
Ferguson said: “I can see where some managers are going from. But I do feel we have benefited from the fact that I have managed to get my squad players some games.
“The game on Tuesday night worked out perfectly for us in terms of timing. That was coincidental in terms of the timing of my players coming back from injury, but it has served us well.
“The next game will be exactly the same and then, all of sudden, hopefully you are into the knock-out bit and it quickly captures the imagination.”
On the competition per se, he added: “Certain managers have said the competition is for the development of players. If it is for the development of young players then it is a great idea.
“But it has to be right across the board and in terms of the development of young players, they could alter the rules in the sense of playing any team you want to.
“But I understand why they are doing it the way they are. There will be good bits and moans about other bits.
“For me, it has been absolutely fine. It has been good, actually.”
Rovers’ season may have been disrupted by some untimely injury blows ahead of the big kick-off, especially in defence, but Ferguson believes that consistency in selection, in many respects, has played a big part in the club’s sound seasonal opening.
The squad issues have not come at the expense of results, with testament to that being the fact that Rovers are extremely well placed in second spot.
Yet even accounting for that, there is an unshakeable belief that there is plenty more to come, reinforced by the fact that several experienced players have yet to contribute substantially.
After building a sound platform for the season, particularly at home where Rovers have not lost in eight league matches since March 28, tough task-master Ferguson believes that now is the time to kick on further, with three of their next four outings being at the Keepmoat Stadium, starting with Barnet.
He said: “I want (further) improvement and would not be satisfied by where we are at the moment and have said that to the players in a meeting.
“I want to see them getting better and better and keep improving and I have got to make sure that they do that.
“There is definitely a case for putting our foot down now and that is what we be looking to go and do now.
“We have three out of four games at home, are unbeaten at home and we have got to make sure we are strong here.”