The unluckiest Doncaster Rovers manager of all time?

Paul Dickov
Paul Dickov

Former Doncaster Free Press sports editor PETER CATT sums up Paul Dickov’s reign and paints a backcloth to a tale of one hard luck story too many:

Whatever the rights or wrongs of Paul Dickov’s dismissal after just six league games - one thing is certain.

The combative 42-year-old former Scotland striker could lay claim to be one of the unluckiest managers in the club’s history.

To fully understand the reasoning behind that view it is important to recap the background to his appointment.

Dickov arrived at a time when charismatic chairman John Ryan had come to the conclusion that there was no further way forward for the club following a lengthy period of unprecedented success under his inspired leadership.

Ryan’s solution was to seek a massive injection of fresh cash in order to reach the promised land of the Premier League.

At one time even Championship football had seemed an impossible dream for Rovers who had a reputation of a yo-yo club bouncing between the bottom two divisions before finally exiting the Football League altogether in 1998.

But then Ryan took the reins and within a decade Rovers had climbed out of the Conference, finished top of the Third Division and won promotion to the Championship via the League One play-off final by beating Leeds at Wembley.

The extraordinary rise and rise of the Rovers during that time also saw them lift the JPT Trophy at the Millennium Stadium and beat Manchester City and Aston Villa in the League Cup before losing to Arsenal on penalties in the quarter-final.

Winning became second nature, some of the football was breathtaking and it led to four consecutive seasons in the Championship before the juggernaut came to a halt.

Consolidation was never really a consideration for the ambitious business tycoon who had been a fanatical fan himself before becoming chairman of the club.

So there was a flirtation with what became known as ‘the experiment’ before the decision to make the club available for takeover hoping to take the final gigantic step into the top echelon.

The trouble was Ryan’s financial partners on the board had a different view and, although their slogan of ‘sustainability’ had far less appeal, Terry Bramall and Dick Watson’s aim was to ensure the long term future of the club.

So it was that Dickov arrived while the owners debated behind the scenes the viability of handing the club over to a mysterious Irish-backed consortium.

On the one hand Dickov was faced with the prospect of a playing budget aimed at keeping the club in the Championship or a much increased pot of gold with the emphasis firmly on promotion to the Premier League.

Players such as Irish internationals Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland, and Manchester City’s prolific striker John Guidetti were among those lined up to come in if the latter option had been taken.

But when the project collapsed on the eve of the new season most of the players on Dickov’s sustainable Plan B budget had already been snapped up leaving the Rovers boss scrabbling around for replacements.

By January he had managed to put together a decent squad and the club looked set to maintain their place in the Championship before being beset by injuries and some cruel refereeing decisions which saw Rovers relegated on goal difference on the last day when Birmingham scored an injury time equaliser at Bolton.

History repeated itself when takeover talks again preceded his second season in charge and another eleventh hour collapse meant he had to cobble together another Plan B squad.

Even then the team climbed into a top six place towards the end of the season before falling away with injuries to key men a major factor.

This summer for the first time he knew his budget well in advance and was able to bring in most of the men he had targeted.

But the injury hoodoo struck again with half the side missing during the early games and his luck throughout his time in the hot seat was summed up in his final match at Gillingham when the home side were awarded a ‘goal’ when the ball did not appear to have crossed the line.

And, not for the first time, they were denied what seemed a cast iron shout for a penalty.

No doubt there will be some high quality applicants for the post.

But whoever comes in as the new boss will need a plentiful supply of four leaf clovers, horse shoes and rabbits’ feet as well as all the right coaching badges.