Doncaster Rovers v Grimsby Town: Darren Ferguson plans to throw down early marker to title rivals

Andy Williams's return to fitness is a boost for Doncaster Rovers with James Coppinger suspended (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Andy Williams's return to fitness is a boost for Doncaster Rovers with James Coppinger suspended (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
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MANAGER Darren Ferguson may not be shouting it from the rooftops, but his message is somewhat emphatic when asked about what he is targeting for the rest of the season for Doncaster Rovers. Namely, the League Two title.

While promotion is the main priority, Rovers’ chief says that, in an ideal world, it will come along with an addition to the trophy cabinet.

While that possible eventuality is still some considerable way off, it clearly represents something to strive for, although Ferguson’s overriding concern is three points this afternoon in a big fixture for both teams.

Ferguson admitted: “I want to win the league.

“Whether we can or not, I don’t know, and the aim is to get promoted. But, ideally, you want to win it.

“No one is talking about that; we have a long way to go and we are not yet at halfway and nothing is settled. We just want to put ourselves in a good position going into the new year.”

Speaking of top spot, Rovers, in lunch-time action today, can lay down a psychological marker before the main afternoon’s programme by returning to pole position, if only for a short spell, with victory over Grimsby.

The significance of that is not lost upon Ferguson ahead of a marquee encounter for Rovers, against opponents who will be backed by a travelling army of 4,000 supporters, with the Mariners making their first league visit to Doncaster since 1990.

The meeting, complete with a 12.30pm kick-off, has all the makings of a Christmas holiday derby fixture in the club’s final home game of 2016, with Ferguson keen for his side not to fluff their lines in front of comfortably Rovers’ biggest gate of the season.

Ferguson, “optimistic” about extending the loans of Aston Villa defender Niall Mason and Chelsea midfield play-maker Jordan Houghton, added: “It will be a good game and more of a cup-tie style of atmosphere and I relish that and I think the players prefer that.

“It is a big game in the sense of that we need to get back to winning ways and we start early – so psychologically, we can get three points to take us back to the top.

“It is a big game for everyone at the club – the fans included – as it is the last game before Christmas and new year at home and we have spoken about that already.

“We want to play in a certain way, which is going to be reflective of the sort of atmosphere it is going to be.”

In games where the stakes are high, having leaders out on the pitch is a distinct advantage, although Rovers will be deprived of one in the shape of their suspended club legend James Coppinger, with Ferguson urging others to help fill the leadership vacuum.

He said: “It is a blow as, with no disrespect to anyone else who fills that position, it is difficult to replace James.

“He has got absolute quality in the last third and the most assists in the league and six goals and is playing very well.

“But someone has to do it as it is not one game, but three games he is out and, at the end of the day, it is up to someone else to come in.

“Obviously, we have Willo (Andy Williams) back fit now and the timing of the suspension with him coming back is important.

“But whatever player I pick or team, I fully expect a good performance.