ONCE bitten twice shy. That has been experienced midfielder James Harper’s stance in the build-up to Doncaster Rovers big League One promotion six-pointer against Sheffield United at the Keepmoat Stadium today, writes Steve Hossack.
Quoting an occasion four years ago when the Watford manager at the time used his pre-match quotes ahead of a game as a motivational tool, the 32 year-old midfielder made it clear at the start of the interview - his first one given to a journalist since arriving at the club in the summer - that he was not prepared to either discuss his time at Bramall Lane, the dour 0-0 draw away to the Blades in September, or today’s eagerly-awaited derby clash.
To be honest, it was his Sheffield United connections, and the fact that he was the only first-team regular that I’d not managed to interview this season - despite several previous requests - which made him my No 1 target for my final pre-match feature before putting away my notebook and pen.
After wishing me well in retirement, the media-shy Harper, who had told me jokingly earlier in the season that he didn’t do interviews and that he did his talking on the pitch, opened up and had some interesting things to say.
“The gaffer’s built virtually a new team and you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for the job that he has done,” he told The Star. “To be where we are at the end of the year, you’ve got to say we’ve done well.”
Not that Harper is surprised that Rovers are battling it out at the top.
“I know some people would be happy to be around half way after being relegated and losing a lot of good players, but the gaffer has brought in some Championship-quality players so the lads expected to be up there so no-one is surprised. There is a great team spirit at the club and, as I say, there are some good lads at the club and without naming names, some of them shouldn’t be here - they should be at a higher level.
“The Championship is a miles better level than League One. The game at this level is less structured and there are a lot more long balls. You also get a lot less time on the ball.
“You also see a lot more mistakes at this level and a lot of goals being scored from them. It’s a challenge to play in League One after playing at a higher level, but I’m enjoying playing regularly again.
“My face wasn’t ever in the frame at Hull City last year and when you haven’t played for a season and been sat at home at the weekend, it’s a bonus being out there.
“After the year I had I’m over the moon to be here and to be out there playing, though you never know what is going to happen. Unlike the Premiership or the Championship - you get so many different sorts of games but it keeps you on your toes.”
Having been promoted when at Reading, Harper is well placed to judge Rovers’ promotion credentials.
“I’d say that we are capable of getting promoted just because of the calibre of players at the club,” he said. “I’d also say that as a team we’ll continue to get better.”