NEVER mind the Ghost of Christmas Past, it was the memories of two years ago focusing minds at the Keepmoat Stadium on Monday night.
Doncaster Rovers’ relegation from a seemingly safe position with three months of the 2015-16 season remaining still haunts the club.
To recap, Darren Ferguson’s men were in the top half of the table towards the end of that January. Even as late as mid-March Rovers were still above the drop zone.
A winless run that eventually stretched to 17 games, however, meant relegation could not be avoided. Such a spectacular collapse leaves lasting psychological damage, especially on supporters unable to do anything but watch in horror from the stands.
Hence the nerves felt ahead of kick-off against Bradford City.
Doncaster, with just one win since the turn of the year, needed to beat the Bantams or face the prospect of being dragged into trouble by the next time they were in action on Good Friday.
As it was a late double from John Marquis clinched an all-important victory in front of the live Sky cameras to nudge Rovers seven points clear of trouble.
Even if results elsewhere go against the South Yorkshire outfit this weekend, a decent sized buffer will still exist.
No wonder, therefore, Monday’s celebrations in front of the live Sky cameras were tinged with a sense of relief.
“Three clean sheets in four games is a good platform,” said Marquis, fresh from taking his tally of goals for the season to 12 with those two late strikes against Bradford.
There are a lot of factors this season as to why we are only seven points away from the drop zone. Our performances deserved more points but we don’t have them.Doncaster Rovers’ John Marquis
“Our home form is good and we have five of of our last nine at home. There are a lot of factors this season as to why we are only seven points away from the drop zone. Our performances deserved more points, but we don’t have them.
“So we have to focus on a mini-season. There are nine games to go and we need to win enough to get over the line. Then we can look to next season.”
Such are the restorative powers of a derby win, even one as scrappy as Monday night’s, that Doncaster can sit out this weekend – their scheduled fixture at home to Blackburn Rovers is off due to international call-ups – in relatively relaxed mood.
“The three points against Bradford were very important,” added Marquis, the club’s 26-goal top-scorer in last season’s promotion success from League Two.
“I thought we played well in large spells of the game. Apart from the one off the line early on, I can’t remember Bradford having that many clear-cut chances.
“We had two good bits of quality. The ball from Niall (Mason for Marquis’s headed opener) was a centre-forward’s dream. Then, for my second goal, we counter-attacked really well.
“There will be a lot of games that are scrappy between now and the end of the season. The pitches are not great, for a start. We still want to play football, but we can’t play it out from the back. We can’t take risks.”
Monday night’s double took Marquis to five goals from his last eight starts. It is a welcome return to goalscoring form for someone who had previously gone 11 league and cup outings without finding the net.
Marquis deserves credit for sticking to his task, the striker’s performances during that barren period having nevertheless helped Doncaster to four wins and five draws.
Such a contribution no doubt led to Ferguson sticking with his talismanic striker even as the goals dried up. Marquis remains grateful.
“I went a few games without scoring,” added the 2016 summer signing from Millwall.
“Take those away and my record would look pretty solid. During that time I don’t think my performances were poor. I wasn’t doing anything differently.
“Sometimes it isn’t always about goals, it is about performing. We were winning games at the time and that is what matters.
“Obviously, I thank him (Ferguson) for everything he has done for me. To keep picking your centre-forward who has not scored for seven, eight, nine games shows that he believes in me. Now, though, that spell is behind me and I am scoring goals again.”
Marquis clearly feels right at home with Doncaster, his ninth club in a career that has seen the striker go out on loan no fewer than nine times.
“The last two years have been great,” said the striker, whose loans include three stints at Northampton Town. “I do feel settled here. Going out on loan is very different to finding a home.
“You are only at a club for a few months at a time (when on loan). I signed here and then signed an extension last summer. I am really enjoying it here.”