The Verdict: Rovers are taking shape - slowly but surely

Kyle Bennett in action at Bradford Park Avenue.
Kyle Bennett in action at Bradford Park Avenue.

IT has been a long, difficult summer for anyone connected with Doncaster Rovers - particularly Dean Saunders.

Restricted by a well documented budget deficit, Saunders has been frustrated in his attempts to overhaul his squad.

And with little more than a fortnight to Rovers’ opener against York City in the Capital One Cup, it is still anyone’s guess who will - and who won’t be - lining up in the red and white hoops.

But it not just the personnel over which doubts continue to linger.

There is also an intriguing question mark surrounding how Dean Saunders will set his team up this season.

And the suggestion from pre-season so far is that Saunders himself is still searching for the magic formula.

Saunders, who was known to favour a 4-3-3 during his time at Wrexham, may be limited to a wafer-thin squad and few resources to strengthen.

But he has had all summer to stamp his own identity on a tightly knit group of players that will form the nuts and bolts of his biggest season to date in management.

Saunders’ preferred formation will ultimately be determined by which players he has available when Rovers meet the Minstermen on August 11.

His problem is that he is still missing players in key positions right through the heart of his team: goalkeeper, centre half, centre forward and, if Brian Stock leaves, centre midfield.

With the spine of the team still requiring major surgery, it is hard to read too much into the four pre-season games so far against Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Bradford Park Avenue and Rotherham.

But those games have offered certain clues about Saunders’ style of play, and have also suggested Rovers’ boss is moving more towards a 4-4-2 formation of sorts.

The first half at Grimsby, which saw Paul Keegan sitting and David Cotterill, James Coppinger, Dave Syers and Kyle Bennett all given licence to support a lone striker, offered up the most exciting 45 minutes so far.

Rovers showed a willingness to get the ball down with some incisive short passing in the final third.

Bennett is being groomed to play as a secondary central striker and caused Town plenty of problems playing between the lines.

Less effective was the diamond shape employed at Bradford, although the state of Park Avenue’s pitch turned Saturday’s 3-3 draw into purely a fitness exercise.

Rovers’ players seemed less sure of the demands placed on them, while the lack of any natural wide midfielders exposed full backs James Husband and James O’Connor.

At Rotherham, Saunders reverted to a 4-4-2; Keegan again impressed in a position just in front of the back four, while Bennett once again played just behind Brown.

Slowly but surely Rovers are taking shape.

But with ongoing uncertainy over the futures of the likes of Stock and James Coppinger, that shape could change again before the big kick off.

H Rovers would like to remind fans that Tuesday night’s friendly at home to Hull kicks off at 7.30pm.