Fans' efforts to clear Keepmoat Stadium of snow reap rewards as Brian Flynn's men maintain their impressive League One form
Times change at Doncaster but not the January weather. To beat Leyton Orient on Saturday Rovers had first to beat the snow at the Keepmoat Stadium. Their efforts, helped by fans, including one early arrival from Orient's contingent of 173, as well as equipment from Leeds Rhinos, were rewarded with a 2-0 win that kept them equal top of League One. In 1907, as their programme related, they were not so happy. Having cleared their ground of snow at a cost of £10, they lost 2-1 to Grimsby Reserves and the crowd invaded the pitch, pelting the referee and Grimsby players with snowballs.
Rovers were particularly keen to get Saturday's game on. They were eighth in mid-November but have lost only once in 12 league games since, a run founded on fine away form – unbeaten in 12 since 1 September. Next Saturday's game is off, as MK Dons have FA Cup action, and Doncaster were anxious not to lose momentum in three weeks without a match. Besides, Orient had gone two hours toe-to-toe with Hull City in the Cup on Tuesday and Doncaster had had enough interruption with the departure of Dean Saunders, their manager, to Wolves a fortnight ago.
John Ryan, chairman of 14 years, had 175 applications for the vacancy, including one from an eight-year-old who promised to take them to the Premier League in three years and was offering his father a job as kit-man. Ryan called him for interview, as Southampton fans monitored the situation, but he went for Brian Flynn, the 5ft 3in former Wales international, who was scouting for the club, assisted by the 6ft 5in captain, Rob Jones. As caretakers the pair won 2-1 at Stevenage. This was no less impressive.
Jones, scorer of the 90th-minute winner at Stevenage, thunderously headed in David Cotterill's corner, conceded at the end of an intricate move between James Coppinger, Kyle Bennett and Chris Brown, on 20 minutes. It was his sixth of the season. Brown, receiving from Cotterill, effectively closed a door that was never really open when he beat the offside trap shortly after the interval and put the ball through Jamie Jones's legs as if they were a croquet hoop. Gary Woods, Rovers' keeper, had no save to make but Jones later had a post and his captain, Ben Chorley, to thank for denying Paul Quinn and Bennett.
The Keepmoat, where Rovers kicked off in 2007, is a forbidding name but it was the players who repelled Orient within the 2ft snow wall. Russell Slade, Orient's manager, admitted Doncaster were "very difficult opponents after the big shift we put in midweek. They are the yardstick for the league. We'll put this game in a box and move on."
Doncaster would like to put it in a bottle, or at least the spirit that brought about the win. It was no day for hanging about but the order of the day was short sleeves and the energy of the front six gave the back four an easy afternoon. From Cotterill on the right to Bennett on the left the midfield were too quick for Orient in thought and deed. Flynn knew Cotterill from managing Wales Under-21s after Wrexham and Swansea. He called Paul Keegan "an unsung hero, a professional who knows his job. You need players like that."
Ahead of them Coppinger and Brown each had a point to prove. Coppinger, back from a long loan at Nottingham Forest, was making his first league start of the season. He has clocked up 300 league appearances for Rovers and was as sprightly as if it were his first. Brown, who has made fewer starts than Billy Paynter (suspended) and Iain Hume (injured), had a real line-leader's game, balanced on the ball, thoughtful in distribution, and determined to make every clearance from defence a good one.
Rovers, in the Conference 10 seasons ago, were relegated last May but in August regained management control of their ground from the council – testimony to Ryan's work for the community through the club. Flynn can hardly believe his luck. "It's always exciting dealing with good players," he said. "We showed real quality in attack and were rock solid in midfield and defence." Of Jones he said "the ball seems attracted to his head". For the moment they are the long and the short of it – and no need for snowballs.