Dean Saunders is surpassing expectations
27 October ~ A season of consolidation, after the circus of 2011-12, is what a significant percentage of Doncaster Rovers fans were hoping for on our return to the third tier. The football equivalent of a gap year; time spent meeting new people and pottering about in mid-table trying to find ourselves. After the opening few games – won a couple, lost a couple – this transitional Rovers side looked set to deliver just that. Lately though things have got a bit serious. Rovers have lost just one of their last nine league games.
On Tuesday they became the first away side to win at Tranmere in 2012 and are now in the play-off places. Victory away at Notts County today would put them among the contenders for a return to the second tier.
At the end of any season the trio of clubs promoted from League One usually contains one side fresh from Championship relegation. Of those who came down last year, Rovers looked most likely to fulfil that role but it was a favourites tag earned more through recognition of the inherent madness of Portsmouth and Coventry than any notable stability at the Keepmoat Stadium. Of the 41 players who took part in Willie McKay's flawed "experiment" last term only eight remain and such squad upheaval is rarely a harbinger of success.
"We've a great team spirit," manager Dean Saunders told the press after victory over Tranmere, something he's often said in his 13 months in charge. Only now, with most of the squad he inherited departed and a few wins under his belt, is it possible to believe him. Despite cost-cutting and downsizing Saunders has put together a strong third tier team, its only real hindrance being a lack of depth. "I looked at the bench and thought ‘How could I change it for the better' but I couldn't really," the manager said in the wake of defeat to Preston. His motivational speaking tour is presumably shelved for the foreseeable future.
Saunders is a man for old school values and football cliches: points are being won by determination, desire and scrapping – Tuesday night at Tranmere was "like the Alamo". He has a very different approach to that adopted by his predecessor Sean O'Driscoll but after five years of style, which some felt was too often without substance, the less pleasing-on-the-eye method is starting to prove effective.
Doncaster, for the first time in a long time, appear to have mastered the art of winning ugly. Pass and move has been replaced by smash and grab. Though it probably won't win the club as many friends as the swashbuckling style of Rovers' last stint in League One, on current form it could well win them as many matches. Glen Wilson