Darren Ferguson always had big shoes to fill when following father Sir Alex into management, but he is building something special at Doncaster Rovers.
When former Peterborough chief Ferguson took over at Rovers in October last year, they were second-bottom in League One with just 11 points from a dozen games and looked like relegation fodder.
In his first 15 games in charge, before Saturday, nine wins had seen Doncaster climb to just six points off the play-off places and secure an enticing FA Cup third round tie against Premier League Stoke City.
All the talk before kick-off had been the expected rhetoric of Ferguson causing an upset against Stoke, managed by his former Manchester United team-mate Mark Hughes.
But come 5pm on Saturday, it was Hughes admitting his side “rode our luck” after Rovers came agonisingly close to an FA Cup upset.
There may be 45 places between the two clubs in the league pyramid, but Doncaster spurned numerous chances to force a replay or even win the tie inside 90 minutes.
Nathan Tyson – who had cancelled out Peter Crouch’s opener – was one of the culprits, along with Andy Butler, as Jonathan Walters’s stunning 30-yard strike proved decisive.
“The boys are gutted because I thought we played very well, and had the better of the chances,” said defender Cedric Evina.
“It’s really disappointing not to be in the hat, but also the next round.
“Stoke are a Premier League team, very good players, internationals. It’s always good to test yourself against the best and the boys did the club proud.
“The gaffer said before the game to have the belief that we could beat them, and we definitely had that.
“We matched them for effort and in football anything can happen.
“All the boys are happy and there is a buzz around the place. We are enjoying our good run of form.
“Nathan and Butts should score there (at the end), but it happens,” added the 24-year-old former Arsenal youngster.
“I thought we had the best of the chances. We kept them at bay for long periods of the game, but just didn’t take our chances. On another day, we could have scored three or four.
“We must take confidence from this performance into next week against Gillingham, which is a very big game to us.”
Stoke took the lead against the run of play after 15 minutes, when Joselu’s right-wing cross evaded Rovers’ defence and Crouch flicked the ball beyond Thorsten Stuckmann.
But the majority of the 13,299 crowd were quickly on their feet when Luke McCullough broke through the visitors’ ranks before squaring the ball to Tyson. The striker’s initial effort was blocked by goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard’s outstretched hand, but Tyson reacted quickest to stab it home.
Conor Grant – the impressive on-loan Everton midfielder – clipped the outside of a post early in the second half, and Rovers looked potent going forward, despite the absence of the influential James Coppinger (ankle).
Craig Alcock tumbled inside the area, but referee Keith Stroud waved away strong penalty appeals before the hosts had a huge let-off.
Former England striker Crouch looked to have the goal at his mercy, but somehow contrived to miss the goal from close-range. His blushes were spared when Stuckmann’s poor clearance was returned with interest and Walters thumped home a long-range effort worthy of winning any game.
Yet Rovers will know they should have been in the hat for tonight’s fourth-round draw.
Butler saw his header bounce off the crossbar then, Gary MacKenzie’s knockdown header found Tyson, who scooped the ball over from six yards out.
In stoppage time, defender Butler looked a certainty to score, but headed over the bar from close range.
Ferguson, whose father won the FA Cup five times with Manchester United, hopes the display impressed the Keepmoat Stadium crowd.
“I don’t think many fans will be going home too disappointed,” he said.
“It was a good performance. We wanted a performance at that level because of the crowd which came; we want fans coming back for league games.
“Games like this, we want that every week.
“It was a proper Cup-tie and I don’t think many left before the end. It went right to the wire, and we had two great chances at the end.
“I just don’t know how Butts has not scored. That’s the Cup, but the performance was good.
“I thought we responded well to both goals, but I think we know by now that this team has a lot of character, determination not to lose games.
“You would have to say over the 90 minutes I thought we were unlucky.
“But in cup matches you have to take your chances,” added Ferguson.
Doncaster Rovers: Stuckmann, Butler, Evina, Alcock, McCullough, Taylor-Sinclair (Main 76), Middleton (MacKenzie 88), Grant, Keegan (Chaplow 76), Williams, Tyson. Unused substitutes: Marosi, Whitehouse, Lund, Davies.
Stoke City: Haugaard, Bardsley (Johnson 61), Shawcross, Wollscheid, Wilson, van Ginkel, Adam (Sidwell 87), Walters, Joselu, Diouf, Crouch (Whelan 66). Unused substitutes: Butland, Odemwingie, Teixeira, Shenton.
Referee: K Stroud (Gloucs).