DONCASTER ROVERS’ manager Grant McCann believes former club Barnsley are serious challengers to be crowned League One champions.
Irish midfielder McCann admits his playing days at Oakwell a decade ago were “disappointing”, but he fell in love with South Yorkshire and still rents his old house in the town to several young Barnsley players.
But tonight the Rovers’ boss is hoping to throw a spanner in the works when the South Yorkshire neighbours meet in a televised game at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The Tykes head into tonight’s game knowing victory would cut the gap on leaders Luton Town – who play Gillingham tomorrow – to just two points with eight games remaining.
But Doncaster, clinging on to the final play-off spot, are desperate for a win themselves as Peterborough United, Blackpool and Coventry City sit just below them in the table.
McCann’s side last won on February 12 with a 3-0 win over Southend United before their FA Cup exit to Crystal Palace sparked a six-game winless run.
However, McCann goes into the game in confident mood after Rovers impressed in a 1-1 draw at Blackpool on Tuesday night.
“Barnsley have been one of the best teams in the league, their form and league position shows it,” said McCann, who will serve a one-match touchline ban tonight, alongside goalkeeper coach Paul Gerrard.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they went on a run and won the league. They may be a few points behind Luton, but stranger things have happened. It’s tight up there between Luton, Barnsley and Sunderland. It’s hard to predict.”
On his playing days at Oakwell McCann added: “Disappointing is probably the word I would use.
If we step off that, we are an average League One team. When we play with that energy and verve, we are one of the best.Grant McCann
“I didn’t feel as if I performed to my levels when I was at Barnsley.
“I loved the area. I still have my house there, I love the area and living around the Barnsley area.
“I love the people, they are just like me, back home, similar to Doncaster, down to earth and friendly people.
“But my time as a player there was disappointing.
“When I moved to Scunthorpe we still stayed in the Barnsley area. When I moved to Peterborough we kept the house; now I rent it to Barnsley Football Club.
“There’s three young players in there. I have had a few cameras in there this week looking for tips about formation and teams,” he joked.
Head coach Daniel Stendel’s Tykes are unbeaten in League One in 2019, a 17-match sequence.
But Rovers earned an impressive 1-1 draw at Oakwell in November and McCann expects a tough game.
“They are very good, we have watched their games, seen them, and they deserve to be where they are,” said McCann. “They are one of the most consistent teams in the league.
“Looking back at the game (at Oakwell) I thought we played very well against them. But that means nothing now, we have to do that again. We were probably unfortunate not to win the game.
“They are on a tremendous run – especially at home – but we love playing at the Keepmoat. We have got a good record here and feel like we can give anybody in the league a good game.
“We need to start turning performances into wins, have more sustained periods of performance in games. It’s a tough game, we know what we are up against, but I think Barnsley will be saying the same thing.
“It’s live on TV. Hopefully it’s a good example of the league and people can see what we are doing.”
Rovers’ last five games have seen them pick up draws against Scunthorpe, Charlton and Blackpool, but defeats at AFC Wimbledon and Shrewsbury Town.
However, McCann saw an improvement at Bloomfield Road on Tuesday, and Rovers welcome back top-scorer John Maquis tonight after suspension.
“I was pleased at the energy and tempo we played at (on Tuesday), how we were on the front foot as a team,” he said. “Certainly, if you put in a performance like that nine times out of 10 you will win.
“We weren’t outstanding by any stretch of the imagination, but what we were good at was the energy that we played at. “That’s what we are about. If we step off that we are an average League One team. When we play with that energy and verve we are one of the best.”
Six of Doncaster’s last 10 games are at the Keepmoat and McCann knows from personal experience that momentum heading into the play-offs is key.
“The three times I have been promoted as a player it’s always the momentum that carries you there – winning a few games in a row,” he said. “We are hoping that can be us. We have got a target in our head, we know how many wins we need – how many points we need – to get to where we want to be.”
Match preview: Page 27