Paul Goodwin’s Doncaster Rovers Verdict: Rovers won’t be rebuilt in a day

Rovers' James Husband drives with the ball against Stevenage. Picture: Andrew Roe
Rovers' James Husband drives with the ball against Stevenage. Picture: Andrew Roe

ONE in seven was a statistic that ultimately accounted for Sean O’Driscoll.

Fast forward a year and those same numbers illustrate the changing face of Doncaster Rovers.

When Dean Saunders took the job last September he inherited a squad prone to injury, one struggling to fight back in games.

They had one point from seven games.

Twelve months on and Saunders’ robust Rovers have avoided any major casualties. They’re also making a habit of coming from behind.

Tellingly, Saunders has made one change in seven games.

Paul Keegan in for the injured Billy Paynter at Colchester is the only change Rovers have made to their League One starting eleven this season.

It is a quite staggering stat. But it is also one which provides a huge insight into Saunders’ way of thinking.

Rovers’ new boss might argue that the side has picked itself this term on the basis that those on the bench are not fully fit.

But just like James Harper missed pre-season, Paul Quinn did too. Iain Hume hardly kicked a ball at Preston but the same could be said of Paynter at Leeds.

With the exception perhaps of Kyle Bennett, players with physical strength have been given the nod.

To the detriment of James Husband, experience is also utmost in Saunders’ mind.

His search for an older and wiser goalkeeper, however, has been curbed by Gary Woods’ impressive start to the campaign.

Consistency in selection is something that Rovers lacked during last season’s Championship demise.

Through the work of fitness guru Mal Purchase, that stability is now the heartbeat of Rovers under Saunders.

Saunders is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to squad rotation.

He wants his first choice eleven to build partnerships, like the blossoming one between centre backs Rob Jones and Jamie McCombe, and develop an understanding on the pitch.

But he also does not want the likes of Chris Brown and Martin Woods, who have had their injury problems in the past, to burn out before Christmas.

Freshening things up might seem like the obvious thing to do after an uninspiring performance against Stevenage, and Harper, Hume and Husband all did themselves no harm with their contributions.

But Saunders is clearly keen to keep changes to a minimum; to let the side bed in and to foster a culture of playing for the shirt and for the right to keep it.

For those reasons, the loud jeering heard at the Keepmoat on Saturday was harsh in the extreme.

Okay, it wasn’t pretty.

And Rovers do need to stop going long too soon, particularly with just one up front.

But it’s very early days.

And this team has already proved they are more than willing to do the ugly things required at this level and to wear the shirt with pride.

If people are jeering because the team are not playing the O’Driscoll-inspired passing game, harking back to days gone by, then it is a pointless exercise.

A lot has changed at Rovers - different manager, different players, different tactics.

But Saunders’ reluctance to change his team is perhaps his way of minimising the effect of a difficult and disruptive summer.

The rigours of League One are a marathon not a sprint and Rovers, ultimately, must learn to walk before they can run.

They’ve not made a bad start - and they certainly have nothing to fear in this division.