A great 2-1 win at Bournemouth suggests that Doncaster Rovers are back on track after a topsy-turvy few weeks.
The team’s performances and results have generally been a mixed bag since Dean Saunders left for Wolves: Brian Flynn opened with two wins, but Rovers then produced three awful performances in the next four games, with an uninspiring 1-1 televised draw at Crawley particularly painful to watch.
The team looked to have turned the corner with a creditable 1-1 draw that halted Yeovil’s eight-game unbeaten run and then impressive back-to-back wins against Shrewsbury and Hartlepool.
However, Donny slumped back into bad habits with an abysmal 3-0 defeat at MK Dons, and Saturday’s trip to Dean Court was a genuine test of our promotion credentials.
Bournemouth may have been entering the game on the back of four successive defeats but they remain one of the best teams in this league.
The Cherries felt they were worth at least a point, and it was hard to argue against that based on possession and chances. But Doncaster possess a great habit of winning games when statistics suggest they shouldn’t – and that again proved the case.
Rovers received an unexpected boost ahead of the game as inspirational leader Rob Jones was declared fit ahead of schedule – and the team were back to their resilient best with him back in it.
Even though Bournemouth scored a late leveller, the team responded with an even later winner, just like in previous away games against Tranmere and Shrewsbury.
The season-long ability to react positively has been the cornerstone of our success. We have firstly been able to respond to instances within games that go against us and secondly, have not gone on a losing run at any stage. Our worst spell has been two defeats on the spin.
While we are good at winning games in which we score first (a remarkable record of 17 out of 18), we also have a canny knack of rescuing points when we go behind (we are fourth in that particular table) and scoring late winners after being pegged back.
We may not be everybody’s cup of tea – most fans bemoan our style, particularly away from home, claiming that we don’t set out to win – but this is a misnomer.
We may not play like Barcelona and we may not create chances in abundance, but we are clinical and hard to score against. It’s as simple as that.
Saturday’s selection, performance and result suggest that Flynn has ironed out a few problems we have had in recent times. Like Saunders, he appears to be a ‘don’t change a winning team’ sort of manager but the modern game requires more tactical cuteness than that.
What is good for a trip to Crawley may not be what is required for a home match against Colchester – and vice versa. It is very much a horses for courses division; changes need to be proactive and not reactive.
Injuries have deprived us of regular central midfielders Paul Keegan, Dave Syers and Martin Woods, and if Andy Griffin or James Harper were the answer in the engine room, then I’m not sure what the question was.
Flynn opted for winger/striker James Coppinger alongside impressive Everton loanee John Lundstram at Bournemouth, and that proved to be a far more astute choice.
Gary Woods was injured at MK Dons, and although some fans were sceptical about the recalling of Neil Sullivan, it seemed a logical choice to me. Woods has suffered a dip in form recently and while Sullivan’s body may be 43, you are only as old as you feel!
Sullivan’s reflexes and positioning were excellent, and he helped us land the three points; there is no doubt about that. It does beg the question why he has been out on loan when we have needed some help from an experienced custodian.
The selection of left-back James Husband on the left-hand side of midfield despite having out and out wide men available has also proved a masterstroke.
Husband’s energy and defensive attributes have proved important while he has developed an eye for goal with three goals in his last six outings.
While I am not suggesting for one moment that Husband is our very own Gareth Bale, Flynn managed the Tottenham man while with Wales under 21s, so may well have spotted something we all might otherwise have missed.
It is worth noting that Saunders picked Husband in that position in a FA Cup game at Oldham, but this was more out of necessity than choice.
Another important boost was the return of Chris Brown up front, and it speaks volumes for he and Billy Paynter that Iain Hume was on the bench. Hume has been a key player since his arrival on loan from Preston, but Flynn clearly rates Brown, and his link-up abilities means he is our natural line-leader.
Paynter has also been in decent nick in front of goal with four in eight, and his eye for a goal could yet prove crucial in the run-in. He has had a stop-start time at Rovers so far but there is no doubt that he can be a match-winner for us in the last nine games now that he has found his feet.
Talking of the run-in, Doncaster do not have it easy by any stretch of the imagination. We face top-six opposition in Tranmere, Swindon and Brentford, while Coventry and Notts County will still fancy their play-off chances, and Scunthorpe, Carlisle and Portsmouth are all battling to stay up.
The only game against a team who look to have little to play for is Crewe away, and they gave us a footballing lesson at the Keepmoat.
But we are capable of beating anyone in this league and if you asked the other 23 teams, I dare say they’d all bite your hand off if you offered them our position.