Wigan Athletic v Doncaster Rovers: Husband spurred on by Dickov to sparkle in new Rovers role
When Tommy Spurr left Doncaster on the eve of the new season, Rovers fans would have been forgiven for fearing the worst.
Spurr had been one of the dependable rocks of the promotion-winning season, and if Doncaster were to successfully build on that accomplishment then surely allowing one of their most reliable assets to leave before a ball had been kicked was not the way to go about it?
Yet while disappointed to lose Spurr, Rovers manager Paul Dickov was not too concerned about the direction in which he was taking his new employers.
In fact, so confident was he that nothing would be lost in the left-back area in the absence of Spurr that he has not even bothered going into the transfer market to replace him.
Because, in James Husband, Dickov has a ready-made replacement.
At 19, the Leeds-born left-footer is still raw, but he already has nearly 50 first-team games under his belt and a string of impressive performances.
He can also whip in a mean set-piece – and can score goals, to boot.
Both these latter attributes were highlighted on Friday night when his inswinging free-kick set up debutant Theo Robinson for the first goal against Blackburn Rovers before his next cross into the area went straight into the net as Doncaster earned their first League win of the season.
Not only that, but Husband put in a man-of-the-match performance for the energy he showed, his tenacity, and the role he played in keeping Blackburn quiet, when at times he had three players to contend with in Chris Taylor, Alan Judge and former England international David Dunn.
The faith his new manager has shown in him in the left-back position has had an uplifting effect on Husband’s game.
“I spoke to the gaffer and he has every confidence to play me,” said the teenager, who was more frequently employed in left midfield last term.
“I’m obviously going to take confidence from that and the lads around me have helped me an enormous amount as well, so I feel as though I’ve settled now.
“I feel good when I’m playing and I feel sharp.
“It’s great that the gaffer has given me that chance.
“It gives you an extra impetus to know that he has got your back.
“When you go out on the pitch you know that if you make a mistake it’s not the end of the world.”
That freedom to express himself in the knowledge that he has a licence to learn on the job is something Dickov has given all his players.
“People were saying to me when we lost Tommy what a blow it was, and it was, but we believed that we had somebody ready-made here,” said Dickov of Husband.
“If we didn’t think that, I’d have taken the opportunity to bring somebody in, but we felt with what we saw of him in pre-season, and what he did last season, that he’s a big talent.
“Like every player, of all ages, they all make mistakes, and James will have his bad games.
“But it’s important that he gets his run in the team because he’s got all the attributes.”
How long he can hold on to such a talent remains to be seen and the next two weeks are going to be particularly stressful.
After the board granted Dickov permission to bring in Robinson last week, he now accepts he may have to move some players out before the transfer deadline on Setember 2.
Husband will be a player he is keen to keep hold of with the former youth-team product bound to receive more admiring glances as he continues to grow a portfolio of impressive performances.
Already this season he has pitted his wits against Liverpool target Tom Ince during Doncaster’s opening-day defeat to Blackpool.
And he managed to keep Taylor quiet on Friday night in what was an impressive collective performance by Rovers’ rearguard.
“We’re getting there as a unit,” said Husband of his developing partnership with Rob Jones and Bongani Khumalo in the centre, and Reece Wabara on the right.
“Last season we were solid, but there were also times when we weren’t. You’re always going to get that and you’re never going to be perfect.
“So we’ve got to work on it and, hopefully, we’ll get somewhere close to perfection.”
Tonight’s test at Wigan underlines the step up Doncaster have made.
Wigan are fresh from an eight-year spell in the Premier League and a victorious FA Cup campaign.
They have a variety of attacking threats, with Shaun Maloney and Jean Beausejour among the players to keep an eye on.
“You’re always going to come up against good players in this league, there’s no such thing as a night off,” said Husband.
“I enjoyed it against Taylor and I thought I did well.
“We did our homework on Blackburn and we coped with them well. There were times when we could have done better but we’ve come away with a 2-0 win so it can’t be that bad.
“We can take massive confidence from the Blackburn win, and even the Blackpool game we could take good points from.
“We believed we didn’t deserve to lose that game 3-1.
“That’s now two good home performances in the league and, hopefully, we can back that up at Wigan.
“There’s no easy game in this league, but we’ve got a lot of confidence now to take into the Wigan game and, hopefully, we can come away with some points.
“Getting that first win is a weight off our shoulders. Every team’s first thought is to get off the mark.
“We’ve done that now with a good performance and it’s onwards and upwards.”
That is the case certainly for Husband, who got off the mark somewhat fortuitously with a cross-cum-shot that deceived Blackburn goalkeeper Jake Kean.
“I think I’d be lying if I said I meant it,” laughed Husband.
“It was a cross. It was like Ronaldinho and Seaman (2002) all over again.”
Dean Furman is back in contention after returning from international duty with South Africa.
Harry Forrester trained with the first team yesterday but today’s game comes too early. Jamie McCombe and Marc De Val remain sidelined.