GROUNDSMEN don’t usually qualify for league winners medals.
But if Doncaster Rovers do go on and achieve their aim of winning League One, an ambition they are keen to shout from the rooftops, Andy Thompson and his Keepmoat Stadium staff could well have a case for one.
While a new era was dawning at Rovers, only a round-the-clock shift from Thompson and his team ensured that Brian Flynn’s permanent reign got off to the best possible start against a weary Orient outfit.
That this game even went ahead was a minor miracle, and on a day when there were several deserving candidates this was reflected in slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion by the sponsor’s man of the match award going to Thompson.
But the groundstaff’s through-the-night efforts to clear the snow not only paved the way for arguably Doncaster’s most polished home performance of the season,
it ensured that the club’s growing confidence and continuity
will now snowball into next month.
It also served to highlight how the current collective spirit at the Keepmoat is not just confined to the playing staff.
Points win prizes, and Rovers comfortably brushed aside Orient courtesy of a bullet header from Rob Jones and a cool Chris Brown finish to claim a significant three-point haul, moving seven clear of third-placed Swindon.
But it was how they achieved it, and the way the performance instantly united a set of supporters who always remained divided under Dean Saunders, which made this the perfect start for Flynn.
Rovers’ new manager could hardly have dreamt of a better return to club management, following an eight-year absence.
Following a gutsy display at Stevenage, his team were too hot to handle for Orient, organised at the back and inventive in attack.
The Rovers promotion bandwagon is most definitely gathering pace, and even the heavy snow was not about to stop it.
Rovers were vibrant in the final third from the outset, with James Coppinger thriving in the hole as a replacement for an injured Iain Hume and the ball sticking to target man Brown.
David Cotterill stung the palms of keeper Jamie Jones from distance, and the keeper then palmed away Brown’s curling effort.
But from Cotterill’s resultant corner came almost the perfect goal to provide the launchpad for Flynn’s feel-good factor, his newly-appointed player-coach, Jones, timing his late run to perfection and thundering a header past his namesake.
Take that. Rovers had a deserved lead and they never looked like relinquishing it for the rest of the afternoon.
With Orient struggling to get any sort of grip on proceedings, the hosts sensed from an early stage they could put this game to bed in quick time. But they were
made to wait for a crucial second.
First Coppinger met Cotterill’s centre with a flicked header but found the arms of the busy Jones, before the impressive Keegan collected the ball from the advancing Paul Quinn on the edge of the area but arched a curling effort just wide of the far post.
It was more one-way traffic at the start of the second period and the energetic Brown should have doubled Doncaster’s lead when he found himself in the clear but placed his shot wide.
It did not take long for the bustling forward to make amends, though, collecting a through ball from Cotterill and advancing before coolly placing it through Jones’ legs.
Orient’s first shot in anger came exactly on the hour mark when substitute David Mooney drifted inside from the left but fired well over from distance. That was as close as Russell Slade’s side came.
The visitors were bossed almost from start to finish by Rovers, who Slade later described as the “benchmark” in the division.
Flynn was a happy man
come the final whistle; delighted with the performance and thrilled to be back at the coalface of club management.
The Welshman has a calm, assured manner about him, and his team had exuded those exact qualities in the way they got the job done with minimum fuss.
But you get the feeling there’s even more to come from this team under Flynn.
“In terms of the performance and the result, I’m happy,” said Flynn.
“The chances that we produced and the quality of our forward play
was very good at times, which was pleasing.
“But it was built on rock solid, proper defending. I’m just carrying on what Dean has produced and keeping it going. Along the way I will add little subtle things, the players just haven’t noticed it yet.
“We don’t want to settle for second place, everyone wants a medal.”
Thompson will miss out should Rovers ultimately get their hands on those medals.
But if the club can keep their cool from this point on and land promotion, he’s certainly due one almighty pat on the back.
Mission accomplished, the momentum continues.