Doncaster Rovers prepare to show their resiliency in push for promotion

Doncaster Rovers' Matty Blair with Jordan Ayew of Crystal Palace during Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round tie at the Keepmoat Stadium (Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage).
Doncaster Rovers' Matty Blair with Jordan Ayew of Crystal Palace during Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round tie at the Keepmoat Stadium (Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage).
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SUCH is the relentless nature of the League One promotion race that Doncaster Rovers do not have long to dwell on their FA Cup run that threatened to make history.

Not with the less than trifling matter of a derby trip to Scunthorpe United fast approaching, closely followed by a midweek trip to Shrewsbury Town and then a showdown with play-off rivals Charlton Athletic on Saturday week.

As if that trio of fixtures was not enough it is followed by another six games before the end of the month that include meetings with Blackpool, Barnsley and Luton Town.

Quite a testing run for a side sitting sixth in the table and determined to keep at bay a chasing pack who took advantage of Doncaster’s Cup date with Crystal Palace on Sunday to narrow the gap to just a solitary point.

Matty Blair, a mainstay of the club’s push for a second promotion in three years, is ready for that challenge and points to the qualities that he believes will stand the Rovers squad in good stead.

“We are a resilient team and we have been resilient all season,” said the 31-year-old in the wake of the 2-0 Cup defeat to the Premier League Eagles.

We take the positives out of the Cup game, as we do with every game we play. Then we work very hard to improve game on game to pick up as many points as we can.

Doncaster Rovers’ Matty Blair

“We are also a confident bunch. We take the positives out of the Cup game, as we do with every game we play.

“Then we work very hard to improve game on game to pick up as many points as we can.”

Such an attitude has served manager Grant McCann’s men well since mid-November.

Fourteen league outings have yielded eight victories and 28 points. This run, together with the Cup exploits that took Rovers to their first appearance in the fifth round for 63 years, is why confidence levels are high at the Keepmoat Stadium ahead of the run-in.

Doncaster’s battling performance in defeat against Palace has only helped in that respect, according to Blair.

“We came off on Sunday with our heads held high,” said the former York City man. “We were very frustrated to lose a game of football.

“But it was a great journey for us as players, a great journey for the football club and also a great journey for the fans as well.

“Overall I feel everyone is very proud to get to the fifth round, even if we lost a game of football.”

Palace proved too strong for the League One outfit. The tie was effectively over by half-time thanks to goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Max Meyer.

But Doncaster still had their moments against a team with such deep pockets that the substitutes’ bench alone on Sunday included players who cost in the region of £68m.

“We knew the quality the Premier League players have,” added Blair, who has chalked up 132 appearances in all competitions for Rovers since joining from Mansfield Town during the summer of 2016.

“We gave them half a chance and they took it to score. That was a kick in the teeth so early on.

“But we know the quality that is in our team and we still fancied ourselves to get back into the game.

“The goal on half-time (by Meyer) was a real kick in the teeth. There was something like 30 seconds to go before half-time.

“If we could have got in at 1-0 things could have been different. I felt we played really well second half. Had we been able to sneak a goal at 1-0 then it was game on.”

Doncaster struck a blow in the hunt for a place in the top six earlier this month when they beat Peterborough at the Keepmoat.

Blair struck the first goal in a 3-1 triumph, but Posh, led by former Rovers chief Darren Ferguson, have since responded well to keep the pressure on.

The south Yorkshire club, however, are also looking up the table. Charlton sit one place and three points above McCann’s men, who have two games in hand on the London club.

Doncaster also want to be ready should any of the leading pack falter as the clock ticks down towards the end of the season.

If Rovers are to continue to flourish the versatility that sees Blair capable of slotting in at right-back – as he did against Palace – when he prefers to play elsewhere will be key.

“It gets me playing,” he said when asked about playing out of position. “Obviously I prefer midfield, but I try my best wherever I am asked.

“The manager wanted me to play right-back and I took that as a real compliment because I felt Aaron Lewis had been doing really well.

“I felt a real boost when he asked me. It was one of the biggest games of the season and he wanted me in the team.

“Being up against Premier League players was great. Schlupp is a quick boy, but I fancy myself as being quick as well.

“It was a great experience, but also a learning curve. If you switch off for half a second the Premier League players will punish you. It is why the top players are at the top. They have the ability to do that week-in and week-out.”