Paul Goodwin: Atmosphere, intensity, gameplan - why it’s gone wrong at the Keepmoat for Doncaster Rovers

Rovers fans have had very little to shout about at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Rovers fans have had very little to shout about at the Keepmoat Stadium.
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It might not quite have reached Barry Fry and Birmingham City proportions just yet, but the curse of the Keepmoat Stadium is becoming more worrying by the week.

Then Blues manager Fry infamously urinated in all four corners of St Andrews in an attempt to lift a 100-year gypsy curse.

Paul Dickov won’t be following suit just yet.

But as Rovers go in search of just a second home win in nine months against Coventry City on Boxing Day, he might be tempted to drive a different way to the ground, wear a different tie, or even think about new colour schemes in the home and away dressing rooms.

Doncaster’s home is sadly anything but the fortress that its name might suggest.

Since the Keepmoat Stadium opened in January 2007, Rovers have lost almost as many games at their new home as they have won (W79 D52 L75).

Notably, their form at home is getting worse too.

Excluding the current campaign, which has harnessed just one home win from ten attempts, Rovers have lost more games at the Keepmoat than they have won for three out of the last four seasons.

The exception was the League One title-winning season of 2012/13 - and even then Rovers finished as low as 12th in the ‘home’ table.

So what’s gone wrong at the Keepmoat? Well, for my money, it is down to a lack of atmosphere, intensity and obvious game plan; a combination of factors.

Attendance figures have steadily dropped. So too have the noise levels.

Unlike its predecessor, Belle Vue, the Keepmoat offers virtually no intimidation for visiting teams, in terms of the external factors that can affect a player’s performance

The setting is very pleasant, the facilities plush, and the welcome far from hostile.

Apart from a pitch that players have been known to describe as ‘hard’ underfoot, there is nothing at the Keepmoat to make life difficult for visiting teams.

It’s a nice day out, especially for League One teams who don’t boast similar facilities, and this can lead to teams raising their game against Rovers, a so-called ‘big fish’ in the third tier.

What success Rovers have had at home under Paul Dickov has been based on a high tempo, high energy approach.

The best example came at the start of last season, when a high quality Blackburn team were not allowed to breathe for 90 minutes and Doncaster’s relentless closing down completely strangled the visitors.

That intensity has gone missing and, when the squad is thin on numbers like it is now, it is difficult for the same small group of players to replicate performances like the Blackburn one week in, week out.

That said, Rovers have no excuse for not formulating a solid game-plan at home, but their approach is not obvious to the naked eye.

Dickov wants his team to ‘get on the front foot’ from the first whistle and take the game by the scruff of the neck. However, the numbers clearly indicate this is not happening. This season Rovers have scored the first goal in a game at the Keepmoat just once, against Chesterfield, their only home win this term.

Just like Barry, Rovers are getting desperate at home. Hopefully there will be some sort of relief just around the corner.