Consolidation key for Donny
After the failure of the Willie McKay project last term, Rovers must steady the ship as they return to the third tier…
Bournemouth ｜ Brentford ｜ Bury ｜ Carlisle
Colchester ｜ Coventry ｜ Crawley ｜ Crewe
Doncaster ｜ Hartlepool ｜ Leyton Orient ｜ MK Dons
Notts County ｜ Oldham ｜ Portsmouth ｜ Preston
Scunthorpe ｜ Sheff Utd ｜ Shrewsbury ｜ Stevenage
Swindon ｜ Tranmere ｜ Walsall ｜ Yeovil
“We've done well to stay in this division for four years. We don't have the fanbase and we've had some shocking refereeing decisions against us.” Those, among the words of Doncaster chairman John Ryan after the club’s relegation from the Championship was confirmed in April. As acts of spin go, it was a Gatting ball. While Rovers’ fate was indeed sealed in controversial circumstances, Ryan himself must accept a significant chunk of blame for the club’s demise. The chairman allowed agent Willie McKay unprecedented control of the transfer policy, recruiting big-name players on short-term deals in a bid to boost their prospects and help Donny’s cause in the process.
Sean O’Driscoll, who had led Rovers into the second tier and engineered no small measure of stability at the Keepmoat, was unceremoniously ditched in favour of Wrexham’s Dean Saunders, an associate of McKay’s. As he battled in vain to prompt a survival charge, he was supplied with a string of new arrivals, including El-Hadji Diouf, Herita Ilunga and Habib Beye. The plan did little for Doncaster’s chances and even less for stability.
Back in League One, the project has been scrapped and Saunders has been left to pick up the pieces.
It remains to be seen whether the shift in recruitment policy will have an impact on Saunders’ position. He knew what he was getting into on arrival but now finds himself working in different circumstances and in a different division. The Welshman has been handed a modest budget with which to rebuild and despite his rash firing of O’Driscoll, Ryan is unlikely to expect too much too soon.
Indeed, it would be unwise for him to expect anything at all. This is new ground for Saunders. The 48-year-old is preparing for his first full season of management at Football League level after a two-and-a-half year spell in charge of Wrexham. He eventually guided the Dragons into the Blue Square Bet Premier play-offs but he was not universally respected following chaotic activity in the transfer market and two seasons of underachievement. This is a significant campaign not only for his Donny future but for his managerial career.
Given the budgetary restrictions Rovers are operating under and the adjustments needed following relegation, fans are expecting little from 2012/13. While they are 14/1 for the title - with only five clubs currently shorter in price – the support envisage a campaign of consolidation. Ryan’s comments late last season would suggest that the club are not interested in going for broke in search of a Championship return. That may change in January if Donny begin the campaign well, but after the stresses of last term, a year in mid-table may be no bad thing. However, with Saunders untried at this level, there will be some with lingering concerns of another relegation battle.
With impressive midfielders James Coppinger and Brian Stock still on the books, despite reported interest from elsewhere; Rovers have reason to be cheerful. Saunders has boosted that midfield further this summer with David Syers arriving from Bradford and David Cotterill from Barnsley but his squad does look short of depth. That concern will be exacerbated if either Stock or Coppinger are lured away before the start of the campaign. Without the resources to attract the bigger names, this may have to be a season in which young talent is handed the chance to impress. It is not the recipe for a top-six challenge even in a division which appears to be a touch weaker than this time last year.
Robbie Blake (Bolton), David Syers (Bradford), David Cotterill (Barnsley).
James Hayter (Yeovil), Sam Hird (Chesterfield), Adam Lockwood (Bury), Habib Beye, Fabien Robert, John Oster, Simon Gillett, Mustapha Dumbaya, El-Hadji Diouf, Pascal Chimbonda, James Chambers, Giles Barnes (all released).
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