HALF TERM REPORT: Rovers’ on field struggles should be put into context, argues Free Press’ Paul Goodwin

Paul Dickov's short reign as boss has coincided with an on-off takeover and resignation of John Ryan.
Paul Dickov's short reign as boss has coincided with an on-off takeover and resignation of John Ryan.

Paul Dickov’s brief for 2014 is as straightforward as they come: keep Doncaster Rovers in the Championship.

And whether Rovers achieve that objective by one point or one goal come May, survival in the second tier will be viewed as a major success behind the scenes at Rovers.

For while Dickov is bidding to keep the club’s head above water in a football sense, Doncaster’s owners will continue to do everything in their power to keep the club’s head above water in a financial sense too.

It’ll be touch and go whether that prudent policy can keep Doncaster in this division.

But if it does, and given everything that has gone on (and continues to rumble on) in the background, guiding Rovers to Championship safety would be some feat for such a young, inexperienced manager whose appointment was met with a lukewarm response from supporters last summer.

It would also be an achievement on par with that of his predecessors, winning League One, and worth celebrating with just as much vigour.

Very notably, Dickov has been keen to toe the party line since his arrival, perhaps mindful of his experience at Oldham Athletic where the Scot said he was forced to resign because he was unable to carry out his job properly.

Up until Saturday’s shambles with Stevenage, he has been reluctant to appear ungrateful or demanding, despite the very limited funds he has available.

Late last month he refused to even entertain the fact he had been short-changed before the last loan deadline, stating he was happy with the squad at his disposal despite a crippling injury list.

His press conferences have been punctuated by positivity.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that the ongoing boardroom politics have not made his job significantly harder. That’s an understatement.

This is a manager, don’t forget, who half expected to bolster the spine of his squad with the likes of Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Billy Sharp last summer when the owners first signed up to Sequentia Capital’s takeover proposal only to eventually get cold feet.

In November he then saw his main ally in the boardroom in John Ryan depart as Doncaster Rovers threatened to implode from within, an unwanted distraction as form took a nosedive on the pitch and injuries mounted.

And while the manager has been asked to keep Doncaster afloat on the pitch, chief executive Gavin Baldwin is aiming to keep costs off the pitch to an absolute minimum - the owners want him to repeat in 2014 the £250,000 profit that the Keepmoat Stadium made in its first year under Rovers’ control.

With that in mind, this promises to be a very interesting month.

Dickov, we are told, has the go-ahead to strengthen his squad - with funds or at least wage allowances for two additions - but the proof will ultimately be in the pudding.

Arrivals are most likely to be of the loan and free agent variety and they could be offset by a couple of departures, with Dave Syers, Kyle Bennett and Billy Paynter struggling to force their way into the manager’s plans.

Rovers’ season thus far has been notable for its early promise and an ability to perform better against the big names, before the injury pile-up paved the way for a winter slump of worrying proportions.

From Reading on October 19 through to QPR on New Year’s Day, Rovers collected just nine points from a possible 42.

At times it has felt like a flashback to two years ago when Doncaster slipped out of the Championship.

Back then they were too easy to play against, had a soft centre and conceded too many easily avoidable goals. Those cracks appear to have re-emerged.

When they’ve been good this term, at home to the likes of Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and QPR, Rovers have been very good.

When they’ve been poor, like at Middlesbrough, Bolton and Charlton, and against Stevenage at the weekend, they’ve been really poor.

Finding some sort of consistency will be the key to survival.

And Rovers either need to be cured of the injury curse that has plagued their return to the second tier, or to act decisively in this transfer window.

Adding that backbone of experience, which would guard against the spinal damage to the squad that has contributed so much to Doncaster’s drop into the bottom three for the first time since the opening weekend of the season, would at least give Dickov the tools to keep Rovers up.

This year we are very unlikely to see the sort of dramatic ending to a season we saw in 2013 at Griffin Park, the sort of fantasy football finish we’ll probably never see ever again.

But, after everything Doncaster Rovers have been through since that memorable April afternoon - the on-off takeover, the Ryan resignation and the ridiculous injury list - if they do survive in the Championship this year it would be almost worth celebrating as vigorously as that first ever League One title.

Fourth from bottom would do very nicely indeed for both Dickov and the current owners.

That’s the aim, and it always has been.

And whisper it quietly but it might even give Rovers just a semblance of stability - and it’s that which they need more than anything moving forward.