TENSE end-of-season scenarios where futures are on the line has gone with the territory for much of Tommy Rowe’s career.
This time is no different for the Doncaster Rovers’ loanee midfielder.
Promoted twice with Peterborough United and Stockport County through the nerve-shredding route of the play-offs – a format he has participated in three times – the Mancunian has also tasted the bitter pill of relegation on the final day of the season while at Posh on May 4, 2013.
Now he finds himself part of a Rovers side who would certainly take a final-day roll of the dice to save their necks in League One.
While it is very much a case of first things first, with a penultimate game of the season at Crewe to successfully negotiate beforehand, if Rovers’ fate does boil down to their final game with high-flying Burton next weekend, you sense Rowe will certainly be ready.
A spot of karma for himself and Darren Ferguson after those aforesaid events with Posh almost three years ago would obviously be nice too.
The Fen outfit – managed by Ferguson and captained by Rowe – suffered one of the unluckiest relegations of recent years, going down with a record Championship haul of 54 points after a shattering late 3-2 defeat at Crystal Palace when a point would have kept them up.
The harrowing development enabled final-day rivals Huddersfield Town and Barnsley to joyously savour survival 200 miles away at the John Smith’s Stadium amid collective chants of ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire.’
Rowe remembers that fateful Spring day well and is driven by the thought of being part of a celebration, as opposed to a post-mortem next weekend.
On finding redemption with Ferguson for that cruel day at Selhurst Park, Rowe said: “That would be great. Looking at this situation from afar, I didn’t expect Doncaster to be where they were.
“But knowing the gaffer, I knew he has that experience of being in that situation and striving to get out.
“For me, this is the first year where I can call upon my experience, really. At Peterborough, it was all new to us and we learned from the relegation of going down on the last day with one of the highest points totals ever in the Championship. It was a sickening blow.
“But we had that determination and steeliness about us and never believed we were going down and if we hadn’t lost the first seven games of the season, there was a good chance we wouldn’t have.
“That has definitely given me a lot of push for this battle and, hopefully, I have brought some of my experiences to the team.”
If anyone is minded to consider the fact that strange things can happen on the final day, it is Rowe, with Posh safe going into the final stages of their last-day showdown of 2012-13 at Palace until Mile Jedinak fired a dramatic late winner.
Rovers and Rowe would certainly take their chances again on the final game, with the club still three points adrift of safety behind Fleetwood, who do not play until Bank Holiday Monday at Walsall.
Shrewsbury and Chesterfield could also potentially be in the last-day relegation mix and vulnerable if they lose today and Doncaster win at Crewe.
On the importance of taking things to the last day, Rowe added: “I can’t speak for the other players, but, I have always believed it is going to go down to the last game. It always seems to do.
“If we can get it down to then, it will be a one-game season. We have brought it back and need to keep believing in ourselves.”
Rowe has been a vital cog in Rovers’ mini-upturn, which has seen Ferguson’s side brush aside Wigan and Coventry in outstanding fashion and draw at Chesterfield.
The form has boosted Doncaster’s outside chances of survival, but there is also a nagging feeling of frustration. If only Rovers had started this upturn before Easter and if only Rowe had been on board earlier.
Those recriminations are for another day with Rovers still in the survival race and in a good place in terms of performance levels and confidence, according to Rowe. “Things have happened for a reason and we believe as a squad, it is going to happen for us if we take care of our side of things and win our next two games.
“When we played Coventry, we knew what we needed to do. We had worked so hard, so there was no point worrying about it.
“The big word going around the dressing room was ‘enjoyment’ and you see we looked like we were enjoying ourselves and we were. Football is better when you have a smile on your face.
“We are enjoying working hard and chasing every ball down and being the underdogs and battling our way out of it.”
Rowe, on loan from Wolves for the rest of the season, is not pausing for much breath when it comes to his long-term future.
If Rovers do go down, League Two football is unlikely to be in the equation for Rowe but if safety is assured, a return to South Yorkshire may be in the offing.
“I have loved my time here definitely and it has been a great experience for me and I have made my feelings towards the club, manager and players quite clear over the last few weeks. I have enjoyed my football here.
“Any player who would not like to play under those circumstances all of the time would be foolish. But I have not really looked any further than Saturday and that’s not a cliché or anything.
“If we are fully focussed, we have got every chance of winning.”