Big Interview: Darren Ferguson previews Doncaster Rovers' opening day trip to Accrington Stanley
It may have been just a three month break but the start of the new season feels a long time coming for Doncaster Rovers.
The rather embarrassing slump to relegation has crafted a desire to right wrongs and meet head-on the challenge of winning promotion.
Positivity was fostered in a raft of impressive signings and looks to have survived through a horrendous injury situation.
Though not up to full strength and expected to be missing at least five senior players for this weekend’s opening game at Accrington Stanley, boss Darren Ferguson is ready to get started – and you get the impression he has been that way for some time.
Ferguson has been forced to manage through the injury crisis which last week claimed Luke McCullough for the season and saw two pre-season friendlies cancelled.
But he is convinced his side will be ready for the big kick off on Saturday.
“We organised six friendlies and looking at it, we probably organised one too many,” Ferguson told the Free Press. “We’ve only played four but it’s not going to have too much of a bearing I don’t think.
“If we had played those two games, I’d have ended up playing the same players all the time because of the injuries and I couldn’t have done that.
“We’re better off being undercooked than overcooked for Saturday.
“But I don’t think we will be either. I think we’ll be fine.
“It won’t be an excuse.
“What could possibly be my starting team, I’d say most of them have played 90 minutes in pre-season and that’s all I look for.
“As long as they’ve played one 90 minutes, I’m fine with that.”
Ferguson believes that no team is ever at 100 per cent when they kick off the first game of the season.
McCullough joined Mathieu Baudry, Gary McSheffrey, Craig Alcock and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair on the sidelines last week.
But Harry Middleton, Paul Keegan and Joe Wright could all play some part at Accrington after returning to training this week.
Rather than fitness or sharpness, he will be looking out for his players sticking to the principles he has spent an entire summer drumming into them.
On that front, it has been so far so good for the Rovers boss.
“I’m pleased with how they’ve taken it on board,” he said. “But you never can tell until you go into a game situation.
“We’ve got to make sure we play the way we want to play and stick to that.
“It’s about making sure we get possession and control games. They are the only things that matter to me on Saturday.
“Regardless of how games go or results go, it’s more about keeping the belief in what we want to do and how we’re trying to do it.
“I think that was a fault of ours last season. I felt when things went against us we tried to start changing things.
“We’ve got to stick to what we believe and how we want to play.
“I believe if we do that and do well at it, we’ll win a lot of games this season.”
The opening day has presented Rovers with a trip to last season’s surprise package in League Two, Accrington.
The Crown Ground is notorious as a tough place to visit for opposition teams. Accrington lost only three times there in the league last term.
But John Coleman’s side have seen plenty of changes over the summer and Ferguson feels this weekend will be a good time to play them.
He said: “It’s going to be a great example of what we’re going to be up against this season. It’s a good opening game.
“They had an outstanding season and were a minute away from automatic promotion.
“I think the following season from such a successful one is difficult. It’s difficult to do again.
“I’m sure if they start the season well, they’ll think they can do it.
“Accrington is a very difficult place to go. It’s a tight pitch, width-wise and the crowd are right on you.
“They’re a really good footballing team as well. I watched them at Halifax last weekend. They’ll try to play through you.
“They’ve obviously lost some players, but then again so have we. Whether it’s by choice or not, it’s still a relatively new team.
“Saying all of that, I think it will be a very tough game for us.”
After the trying pre-season which followed his raft of signings, Ferguson is certainly keen to get the new campaign started.
He said: “It seems to have gone really quickly which is a good thing. I can’t wait. We’ve just got to make sure we play how I want us to play, have the right spirit and make sure we outwork teams.
“I want the fighting bit right. The ability aspect will take care of itself. I just want that work ethic which I demand of them.”
There is no doubt that the long road back to League One is going to be a slog.
And there is no doubt that Ferguson cannot wait to get going.