Monsieur Salut writes: Thom Bolton, our Doncaster Rovers interviewee, is a welcome visitor to the Stadium of Light for a game he has been determined all season (like so many away fans) to attend. However, he isn’t nearly as welcome as his little lad Zeke, who will be at his second away match of the season, and who, more importantly, is making a splendid recovery from cancer. Bravo, young ‘un, and stay strong. Any other theme for this introduction pales into insignificance, though Thom’s answers present another good read in the Who are You? series …
NB Please bear in mind there have been changes since Thom answered his questions. The current gap between Doncaster and Peterborough is five points and Posh have a game in hand
Salut! Sunderland: the games are coming so thick and fast that things can change but as I write, you are within the playoff zone with a useful gap above Peterborough and Blackpool. How optimistic are you?
Thom Bolton: I think it’s probably between us and Peterborough now. As I write, there’s an eight-point gap back to Blackpool and Coventry (and the pessimist looks even further down the table to Fleetwood and Burton) but I just can’t see us dropping eight-nine points, despite the fact in the last few seasons we’ve pretty much nosedived from April onward!
So am I confident we have enough we’ll stay above Peterborough… just about. On paper our run in is much more preferable, and crucially three of our remaining five games are at home where we’ve been excellent this season, I fancy us to take seven-nine points from the three remaining games v Plymouth, Accrington and Coventry.
Sadly our away form since the turn of the year hasn’t been great, with us picking up our first and only away league win of 2019 on Saturday against bottom club Bradford.
Given our only remaining game against a team above us is the trip to the Stadium of Light I don’t hold out much hope of us getting anything from the game (there’s that pessimist again!). Our other remaining away trip is at Oxford who are just about the only team in League One who realistically can’t go up or down so hopefully they’ll already be on their holidays by the time we pitch up at the Kassam on the penultimate weekend of the season.
This brings me to the question do I think Peterborough can get 15+ points from their remaining six games? Given they have away trips to Blackpool, Fleetwood and Pompey and one of their two remaining home games is against Sunderland (please beat them) the optimist in me says no they can’t.
Are you happy with Grant McCann as manager and the ownership? Anything must seem an improvement on Ken Richardson, but how far can they take your club?
I have to admit when we first hired Grant McCann I was a bit miffed as I had no clue he was even a manager, however this is because I was mistaking him for Gavin McCann and my only memory of him was a long range goal he scored way back when, which I thought was for Sunderland but after a quick look on YouTube turns out was for Aston Villa (which is further proof my memory cannot be trusted for anything!)
If it’s any consolation Sunderland fans while I was trawling YouTube I did also discover Gavin McCann’s worldie for you at Highbury!
But back to Grant McCann now…. so once I’d finally realised it was Grant not Gavin I was happy enough, he had experience in the league and had done all right at Peterborough.
Given that last season we’d stayed up relatively comfortably after promotion from League 2 the previous year, I figured he’d be able to at least keep us up again. Thankfully Grant was far more ambitious than me and clearly didn’t fancy a slog to mid table mediocrity based on how we’ve played this season! Gone was the dull defensive, endless passing it across it across the back four from last season. In its place relentless pressing attacking football, and my god has it been fun to watch!
As for the owners I would say they are doing a good job. Over the past few seasons they allowed Darren Ferguson and now Grant McCann to overhaul the squad to make it not only better, but a lot younger than it was. In January the club also rejected some pretty big bids for John Marquis which shows they’re committed to doing what’s best for the club.
Tell us who has been really good for you this season – and where you’ve been disappointing
Is it too simple to say everything and nothing for those two questions! But in all seriousness while I was perfectly happy for us to stay up comfortably last season with it being our first season back in League One after promotion it wasn’t overly fun to watch. So to have gone from 15th last season to sixth with five games to play this (and going on our best FA cup run for 63 years) while playing attractive attacking football, I think you’d struggle to find any Rovers fans with many complaints.
In terms of which players have stood out, the obvious ones are John Marquis and Herbie Kane, given they were named in the League One team of the season. I’m a tad biased but I genuinely think Herbie Kane could end up playing for England, he’s that good. It’s his first season in professional football on loan from Liverpool but it looks like he’s been playing for years – it’ll be interesting to see what Liverpool do with him next season. Honourable mentions also go to Mallik Wilks and Ben Whiteman. Whiteman has been missing due to injury for the past few games and our midfield is just not the same when he’s not playing. The rumours of Championship clubs taking a serious look at him back up how well he’s played this season. Wilks is another loan player who’s done great for us this season.
What have been your own highlights as a Donny fan?
It’s a simple one but I remember after promotion from the conference about halfway through the first season back in Division 3 having a conversation with my auntie and telling her we’d go up again. She was having none of it so she said if they did she’d buy me the home kit. We went up as champions and I got my kit! I still own it but sadly my current 32-year-old self is not as slender as the 17-year-old version was so it will sit in a drawer until my son is big enough to wear it.
And the worst moments?
I’m a bit too young to remember the stuff in 90s other than things I’ve since read as an adult, so I’ll say the relegation to League 2 in 2015/16. It should never have happened. I remember Darren Ferguson coming in and leading us close to the playoffs initially, then we got Stoke in the cup and gave them a good game and I remember thinking after that we could have a good go at promotion. We promptly went on a 17 game winless run and got relegated, shows what I know!
Strangely though the game that confirmed our relegation that season at home to Burton (it went to the final day even though our goal difference was so bad we knew we were going down) is one of my favourite Rovers games I’ve ever been to, as it was my son’s first game back at the Keepmoat after being diagnosed with cancer earlier in the season. The club made him mascot, so even my worst moment is a strangely happy memory.
What about the best players you have seen in your colours?
I’ll point out before I start this one that I only started regularly attending matches in 2014 before people are outraged by players I’ve left out!
To be fair most of the best players I’ve seen for us in that time are current players. John Marquis has been fantastic for us. I can’t not mention the legend that is James Coppinger, who was genuinely replaced by someone 22 years younger than him in our match vs Walsall yet is still putting in quality performances week in week out. Of the players no longer at the club Rob Jones was great, proper defender that one, I always enjoyed watching Nathan Tyson play, quality finisher on his day, and Richie Wellens was a midfield maestro.
Is there anyone who should never have been allowed to wear them?
Three words, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair.
We had a big midweek turnout for the first game. What did you make of Sunderland – the team, the fans etc – and how did you see our sharp decline?
The game against Sunderland was one of the few I haven’t been to this season however the fact that you are one of only two teams to beat us in the league at the Keepmoat speaks volumes. I was however at the friendly between Rovers and Sunderland in 2015 and was blown away by the fact you sold out the away end for a midweek pre-season friendly, incredible stuff.
Your decline appears to be one taken by many teams lately, Southampton, Wolves, Wigan, Bolton, Norwich to name but a few have made the drop from Premier League to League One quite quickly so it’s not so much a shock to see these days. The good news for Sunderland is two of those teams have made it back to the Premier League and looks like Norwich will too, so given how well you’ve done this season you could be back up there before you know it!
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish?
2nd and 6th, my heart then says we’ll get to the play off final and lose, my head says we’ll draw the home play off semi final leg and lose the away leg.
What still needs to be done on diving and other forms of cheating?
Honestly I don’t know. I’m not at all convinced by VAR, there are so many grey areas within most of the rules of football that often it’s hard to say definitively what the correct decision is. I think that’s especially the case with diving, you only have to watch pundits disagreeing about whether or not they think it’s a dive or a foul or slip to see that introducing things like retrospective bans may not work.
What is your experience of the standard of refereeing in League One?
It’s nowhere near as good as it needs to be. The one thing I would say though is it’s equally bad for both teams. I rarely come back from a game and think the ref has been awful for us but good for the opposition. They’re just bad in general, which obviously isn’t great but it doesn’t tend to advantage one team over another. Although I’m sure if you ask any fan of any club they’ll say the ref has always been worse to them!
What would you change about modern football to improve the lot of lower league clubs and the ordinary supporter?
For starters I’d do away with Sky Sports changing perfectly good kick off times (say changing a nice Good Friday 3pm to 5:15pm for example…) to suit the very few people watching on TV over match going fans. I’d also impose some sort of squad limits to stop teams, teams usually funding by FFP rule breaking billionaires, hoovering up all young talent and then never playing them.
Which is the best team you’ve seen this season in League One?
I’ve seen us live against 15 or our 23 league opponents this year (I don’t think I can base this answer of the 30 seconds Quest gives us per week so I’m going off live matches) and the only team I’ve seen us play that has completely shut us down (twice) is Fleetwood. They’ve battered us a whopping 7-0 on aggregate and no I can’t explain it! If we’re including Quest highlights then add Luton to the list as they utterly battered us at their place.
Will you make it to our game? What will be the score?
I certainly will. The Stadium of Light will be ground number 45 on my very slow ‘doing the 92’, very much looking forward to it as is my son who will be coming for his second away trip of the season. Sadly I think Sunderland will win 2-0.
* Thom on himself: while I’ve always followed Rovers I’ve only been a full on match going fan since 2014. I finally started going regularly when my son was old enough to attend games although until recently away days have mainly been done on my own. I’m a civil servant although the career has been on hold, as was football, since my son got ill. However he is nearly back to 100 per cent so I’ll be venturing back soon.
Interview: Colin Randall