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Hayter on his Wembley heroics

4 June 2021

James Hayter says it was an easy decision to join Rovers from AFC Bournemouth in the summer of 2007.

The club paid what at the time was a record transfer fee of £200,000 for a striker who already had more than 100 league goals to his name.

Hayter was always keen for a reunion with former manager Sean O’Driscoll, and says the opportunity to make the move north was too good to turn down.

“I’d been at Bournemouth for a long time and with Sean O’Driscoll being my manager and then moving to Doncaster it did make sense,” Hayter told A League of his Own podcast.

“Having said that, the move did come out of the blue a little bit, we got to the last game of the season and Kevin Bond told me they had accepted a bid.

“I went up and met Sean, he showed me around the stadium and the training ground which made it a pretty easy decision.

“Moving up north was a big decision for me because all my family are from down south, at the time it was the biggest factor in my mind. I had good people around me and they helped me to settle in, I had a young son at the time and my wife was pregnant but the club made everything so easy for us.

“I nearly joined Bristol City six months earlier and Huddersfield were interested as well, but once Doncaster came in it was a good move to make.

“I knew Sean very well and he’d been my youth team manager before getting the big job, I’d played with Brian Stock and Jimmy O’Connor too and they both had nothing but good words to say.”

After getting his feet under the table in South Yorkshire, Hayter was interested to see how O’Driscoll was getting his point across to a different set of players.

He quickly saw though that the squad had taken on board the fresh ideas, and were already playing a brand of football that was pleasing on the eye but done so with a purpose.

“Sean was different to the managers most of the lads had worked with before, he would set a session up sometimes and just tell us to get on with it,” Hayter added.

“He wanted us to work things out for ourselves which was very unique, he really made you think and a lot of the players who worked under him enjoyed that.

“It does make you look at football in a slightly different way and when you’re training and playing you are thinking about things in much more detail.

“I think his methods were similar but he had a better squad at Doncaster, which probably made his job a bit easier.

“That meant he could get his point across quicker and trust the players a bit more, which means you can work more efficiently.”

Although his first season was disrupted by injury, Hayter still ended the regular season as the club’s top goal-scorer.

He battled his way back into the starting XI and after suspension to Paul Heffernan, was thrown back into the team for the play-off semi-final second leg against Southend United at the Keepmoat Stadium.

“It was frustrating to have the injury, I had a hernia operation in January which put me out for around six weeks,” Hayter said.

“To be honest once I got back fit I couldn’t get back into the team, because of how well the lads were playing.

“I had to be patient and my first game back starting was the play-off semi-final second leg which was perfect timing.

“It was a strange couple of weeks where I went from the disappointment at Cheltenham on the last day as an unused substitute, to then starting two out of the three play-off games.

“You have to be mentally strong especially when you’re not playing, Paul Heffernan got sent off in the first leg and then I knew Sean had the trust in me to put me in.”

Having already experienced a play-off campaign in his Bournemouth days, Hayter said he used that experience to allow him to handle the big occasions later in his career.

“I leaned on the experience I had in the play-offs at Bournemouth because we’d had a similar run in there in terms of having the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion,” he said.

“With Doncaster we beat Leeds in the league at Elland Road with a really good performance, so we knew we were capable of getting the better of them.

“We knew it was going to be a really tough game but at the same time I was confident in my team-mates going into that battle.”

While the main aim for the team was to get over the line and win promotion to the Championship, Hayter admitted that he wanted to be the one to take Rovers there.

“I went to bed the night before dreaming about scoring at Wembley, any player wants to be the one that scores the winning goal,” Hayter said, with a smile on his face.

“I was visualising it and imagining how it would feel, we went for a walk on the golf course before and it was incredible how relaxed everybody was.

“I remember going into the game and in the first-half we battered them, the only thing going into half-time was wondering how we hadn’t scored. You’re always a little bit worried then that those missed chances are going to come back and bite you, but we knew we just had to keep doing what we were doing.

“I scored a minute or two after half-time. Stocky put a great ball in and I managed to ghost into the middle of the box and dive to head it into the bottom corner.

“I had Jonny Howson marking me who isn’t the biggest, and I fancied myself if the ball came my way. I knew I’d made a good contact and saw it fly into the net, it was absolute elation after that celebrating in front of our fans.

“I think I could have slept on the pitch straight after, going from the deflation of Cheltenham to winning at Wembley was an unbelievable feeling.

“I’d never played in the Championship so making the move to Doncaster was justified by getting that promotion at the end of my first season.”

Watch the full podcast at www.patreon.com/doncasterrovers

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