BY his own admission, 2011 wasn’t the best of years for Doncaster Rovers’ defender James O’Connor.
“Our record throughout last year wasn’t good enough,” said the 27 year-old. “It has probably been my worst spell since I’ve been here.
“As a professional footballer you set yourself standards - I know I do - and when you don’t meet them it is really frustrating.”
But the Birmingham-born defender can have no complaints, nor can manager Dean Saunders, about how things have gone since the start of 2012.
O’Connor beat off some stiff opposition to win the man-of-the match award in last weekend’s 0-0 draw against third-placed Cardiff - a result which extended Rovers’ unbeaten home record in the Championship to five games and took them to within three points of fourth-bottom Millwall.
But he knows that Rovers will have to do better on their travels in the first half of the year if they are to be sure of staying up.
“Our away record has been poor for the last 12 months,” said the former Bournemouth favourite who cost Rovers £130,000 - then a club-record fee for a defender - in May 2006.
“It’s hard to put your finger on the reason for that; I think it is the nature of the Championship as much as anything.
“You have to go into every game as prepared as possible but you can see by the number of away games that we’ve lost so far that we haven’t been good enough.
“I think it can become a physiological problem when it happens over that length of time. But whatever it is it is something that we’ve got to try and get over as quickly as possible.
“I think it’s momentum as much as anything.
“When you are at home and you score the crowd get behind you and that gives you a lift.
“I think possibly it’s more important that you score first away from home but like any match you need to stay in the game. Even if you are 1-0 down you’ve still got a chance of picking up a result.
“A lot of games are tight at this level so if you can stay in the game you’ve always got a chance of nicking something.
“We’ve lost 11 of out of 13 away games in the league, but we’ve got to try and put the past behind us and we’ll be trying to do better on the road at the same time as keeping up our home form.
“Our home form has been good for the last couple of months, though the FA Cup defeat against Notts County was obviously disappointing.
“But at the same time it gives us the chance to just focus on the league and we can now concentrate all our efforts on staying in the Championship.
“Bristol City, who we visit tomorrow, also crashed out of the FA Cup at home to lower league opposition so they’ll be in the same position as us.
“With Bristol being just outside the relegation zone tomorrow’s game is a six-pointer, though it’s far too early to start saying it’s a crucial game as there is still a long way to go.
“My view is 55 points would guaranteed us staying up.”
Manager Saunders has set his charges the target of winning nine of their remaining 20 games, but O’Connor warns it won’t be easy.
“There are no easy games in this league; it is very unforgiving,” he said.
“It’s a difficult league and you can see that in the results week-in, week-out. No matter who you are, you have to be on the top of your game if you want to win.”
Teams and ref
BRISTOL CITY (possible): James; Foster, Carey, Nyatanga, McGivern; Skuse, Elliott, Kilkenny, Woolford, Maynard, Wood. (4-4-2)
ROVERS (possible):Button; O’Connor, Hird, Beye, Spurr; Coppinger, Stock, Gillett; Diouf. Hayter, Sharp (4-3-3).
FRED GRAHAM (Essex): Has taken charge of 25 games to date this season and has dished out 53 yellow and three red cards.
Rovers picked up their only point of the season under Sean O’Driscoll when James Hayter secured them a share of the spoils at the Keepmoat Stadium back in August. The Robins took four points off Rovers last season. It would have been six but for a 90th minute penalty by striker Billy Sharp which secured Rovers a 1-1 home draw. Nicky Maynard scored the only goal in the return last April. Ashton Gate hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Rovers in recent years and they hadn’t won there since the 1983-84 season until their stunning 5-2 victory there in the 2009-10 season. Rovers stormed into a 4-1 interval lead with a brace of goals apiece by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Billy Sharp. They lost 4-1 there in their first season in the Championship.