Football: Doncaster can only dream of revival

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These are troubled times for Doncaster Rovers, the Third Division strugglers who today face another club with a chequered recent past, Brighton.

Phil Shaw considers the basement brouhaha and other key Nationwide League fixtures.

The day Fulham launched their brave new world, a radio interviewer elicited a strangely churlish reaction from a Newcastle fan. He could have forgiven Kevin Keegan, he said, had he returned to the game with his home-town club. To which Doncaster Rovers' dwindling band of diehards probably responded with a wistful "and so say all of us".

They have given up waiting for a messiah in Doncaster. The 1,500 or so who attend today's Third Division basement struggle against Brighton will do so out of a loyalty strained far beyond normal boundaries. Many will be there chiefly to vent their wrath on Rovers' "backer", Ken Richardson.

Brighton's travelling support, free at last of the Archer-Bellotti regime but still commuting to Gillingham for "home" matches, will find unpleasant echoes of their own, acrimonious campaign. Doncaster, though, are not remotely fashionable; there is no equivalent of Des Lynam to highlight what is going on.

Yet in many respects, their plight is worse. Rovers are in "administration", with debts so high that accountants must approve every item of expenditure. Richardson, having parted with Kerry Dixon, runs the team, who occupy bottom place compared with Brighton's position two rungs above.

Doncaster's 11 League and Cup matches have delivered eight defeats and no wins. Last Saturday they lost to a Torquay team including three YTS boys, while at Belle Vue they have scored one goal and conceded 18. Hardly surprising given that their summer signings came free from Hyde, Worksop and Gainsborough, and that Richardson's latest recruit, 37-year-old Andy Thorpe, last played full-time six years ago.

The response to Keegan and Ray Wilkins at their first fixture at Fulham, against Oldham, will be revealing after the disquiet of supporters over the ousting of Micky Adams. The Second Division's top match, however, is the meeting of Luton and the leaders Watford, who have drawn the last three derbies at Kenilworth Road but are separated by the length of the table.

The First Division's biggest crowd will be at Middlesbrough to see whether Paul Merson can unhinge a Sheffield United rearguard which has leaked just three goals since the arrival of another Paul with a problematic past, McGrath. Bryan Robson, the Boro manager, said yesterday that Glenn Hoddle had told him that Merson remained "very much in his thoughts" for the England squad.

United have won only once in the last 12 trips to Teesside. Manchester City, 6-0 victors but the kings of inconsistency, have a similar ratio from 26 visits to Ipswich. Portsmouth, who last prevailed at Stockport in 1924-25, and Wolves, seeking a first success at Bradford City in 70 years, are also striving to break the mould.