4 February ~ Earlier this season, after Doncaster Rovers went down 2-0 at the Madejski Stadium, a fellow fan said to me "Can we not just take these Reading games out of the fixture list, give them the six points and do something else on these dates?" The Biscuitmen are Doncaster's bogey side. Rovers have taken just one point from their seven meetings since the two sides were reunited in the second tier. It is a foreboding fixture at any time, let alone in the week when your top scorer and talisman has moved on to pastures new.
Billy Sharp's goals kept Rovers in the second tier last season. That he managed to make it into double figures in 20 appearances this season explains why the word "relegation" has not yet been prefixed with "inevitable" and instead remains suffixed with "battle". Sharp left for Southampton on Monday and his shirt has already been filled by El Hadji Diouf, who agreed a new six-month contract with Rovers on Thursday.
Diouf is a precocious talent, particularly for the Championship, but his ability is framed with baggage and his goal tally of three is currently only one more than the number of yellow cards he has picked up for dissent. He may fill Sharp's shirt, but he is unlikely to fill his boots.
Diouf's presence at Rovers, along with that of the experienced and capable Habib Beye, is down to the transfer policy being spearheaded by the agent Willie McKay. McKay presented Rovers with a plan to reduce their wage bill by focussing on short-term signings that will hopefully be sold on later at a profit.
So far 13 new players have come in and just four have left. With the anticipated profit from sell-ons not materialising, the methodology will surely be reviewed at the end of the season.
McKay arrived at Rovers in September, lurking in the background as Dean Saunders was unveiled as the club's new manager. Their tie-in makes it difficult to judge one man separately from the other. Saunders' management of the club goes hand in hand with McKay's transfer policy and vice-versa.
Some supporters argue that without the seven winless games under his predecessor, Saunders would have his side in mid-table rather than 23rd. But Rovers were out of the relegation zone at the end of Saunders' first week only to be plunged back into it after a woeful performance against Leeds. The arguments can be spun either way.
In recent weeks, with the exception of a particularly abject showing against Notts County in the FA Cup, Rovers have been resolute at home. They are unbeaten at Keepmoat in their last five league games, but remain as sturdy as an over-dunked Rich Tea biscuit on the road. There were signs this pattern may have changed with a hard-fought goalless draw at Hull on Tuesday night – a result that had Saunders rallying for "fight" and "passion" in the post-match press conference. Whether those elements can adequately replace the club's chief source of goals remains to be seen. Glen Wilson