Mark DUFFY may have missed out on being named as the SkyBet Championship player of the month for January, but his exemplary recent form is more than adequate compensation.
The Doncaster Rovers winger was the unheralded name on a decorated four-man shortlist announced last Thursday, with the quartet also including two players capped by England and a hot-shot who has scored goals for fun at second-tier level.
The internationals being Sheffield Wednesday’s Chris Kirkland, Leicester City’s David Nugent, alongside Reading goalpoacher Adam Le Fondre, with the ex-Rotherham United striker winning the vote after bagging hat-tricks last month against Bolton and Blackpool.
Duffy may have missed out in becoming just the third Rovers player to win the monthly Championship player gong, lifted previously by James Hayter and Billy Sharp, but just to be nominated was a source of personal pride.
Duffy, who revealed he had to be told by manager Paul Dickov about his nomination, said: “The gaffer said: ‘Congratulations,’ and I just said: ‘I don’t know what for?’ Six years ago, I was playing in League Two, so to be nominated in the Championship is a great achievement for me and I am delighted.
“I was nominated in League Two (with Morecambe), but didn’t get it. But it’s always nice to be nominated. Long may it continue.
“I’d probably say this is the best form I’ve had in a long time. I just need a few more goals, to take my game onto another level.”
Duffy has come a long way not just from his humble beginnings in the game in non-league circles at Vauxhall Motors, Prescot Cables and Southport, but also in terms of his progress this season.
At the start of 2013-14, the Liverpudlian, who completed his protracted move from Scunthorpe United in mid July only when Rovers’ third bid was accepted, struggled for opportunities in a frustrating opening chapter to his Keepmoat career.
But he dug deep, took on board the advice of Dickov and battled back in the best traditions of his manager, whose workaholic tendencies were his trademark in his playing days.
Duffy, whose sole Championship start in the first two months of the campaign was in the seasonal opener against Blackpool, said: “I am pleased with my recent performances, but I am more happy we have got up that league a little bit.
“I probably started a little bit slowly this season and wasn’t performing as I should have been.
“I was a little bit late coming in pre-season and the move took a little bit longer than I wished.
“No matter how much training you do at home, you always come back a little bit less fitter than the existing players.
“I am not going to make excuses; I went away to Portugal and had a good pre-season. But it does affect you, waiting for a move.
“I waited patiently for my chance and when it came, I’ve worked hard to keep myself in the team and can hopefully kick on.”
Rovers face the first leg of a huge survival double-header this weekend at home to Barnsley, with the battle for derby bragging rights incidental to the serious business of picking up three precious points.
Following that, Dickov’s side visit basement club Yeovil on Saturday week, with Duffy conscious of Rovers’ need to improve their vital statistics against teams currently in the bottom half of the table – they have won just three out of 13 games against them this term – to give themselves invaluable breathing space.
Duffy said: “As the gaffer said, we can’t just turn it on against the top teams and then not against the so-called lesser teams. We don’t seem to put in the same effort, which is a shame really as we should be putting in more effort.
“We have shown we can compete in the league with our strongest team out and have beaten the likes of Wigan and Leicester, while the new players have given us a boost as well and now we need to do it against sides at the other end. We have some big games and the next six games can define our season and if we can pick up a few points, we can enjoy the last spell of the season.”