A GOOD sense of humour is a vital weapon in Dean Saunders’ armoury as he battles to keep Doncaster Rovers in the Championship.
“The manager has got a knack of making everybody laugh; he’s got a very good way of picking the players’ morale up in training,” said Rovers’ skipper Brian Stock.
“Any number of people will tell you what he was like and some players say he was one of the funniest players they ever played with.
“You can sense that though he’s got a side to him that is more managerial - a sterner side - when the time is right he can make you laugh.”
Saunders admits that when Rovers lose he doesn’t sleep well that night.
Stock predicts that the former Welsh international could soon be having sleepless nights for another reason.
“With players coming back from injury, competition for places is going to be high and it is probably going to give the manager a selection headache,” said the influential midfielder.
“But one thing he’s always said is that if we play well and win games, and you perform well, then you’ll stay in the team.
“That’s an incentive for everybody including the players - some of whom he hasn’t seen play yet - who are coming back from long-term injuries.”
Stock says that training might prove something of a culture shock to some of the returning players.
“Training is different than under Sean O’Driscoll; it’s short and sharp since Dean Saunders took over,” he said.
“But I’ve benefited from the training under (fitness coach) Mal Purchase because it gets you fit to play the sort of game the gaffer wants.
“When I first came back I was a bit sluggish because I hadn’t played any games and the reason he played three in the centre of midfield was to try and help me out.”
Stock says that Saunders has adopted a ‘hands-on’ approach in training
“He tries to get involved as much as he can and it sort of reminds me of when I was a kid and just wanted to kick a ball and he’s exactly the same now.
“He’ll tell us how to do things and then shows us and whatever he says he can usually back up his words
“When we are doing set pieces he’s the one who is showing you what ball he wants; he’s showing you what corner he wants.
“He’s still a good player and you can tell by the technique he’s got that he’s played at a high level.”
Stock admits that Rovers’ style of play is different than under O’Driscoll, but insists that they are still playing good football.
“People might say we aren’t playing football any more but we are; it’s just a slightly different style,” he says.
“Having been a footballer himself he (Saunders) wants us to play football, but he also wants us to play in the right areas. What he likes are players who can play the right pass at the right time.
“Sometimes when you are down at the bottom, and you start playing, you can be your own worst enemy.
“You start passing the ball and teams sit in a lot of times at the Keepmoat and just wait to hit you on the counter attack.
“The manager spends a lot of time on work ethic and on getting players to pressure the ball. If you look back to the home games against Barnsley and Cardiff, for example, we were still going strong in the 80th minute and constantly going at them.
“And although we haven’t always played brilliantly we’ve matched every team in recent weeks for work ethic and commitment and we’ve played a lot of balls at the right time.”
Stock admits that Rovers haven’t always produced their best form this season after having had a Saturday off, and says they can’t afford a repeat showing against Hull City at the Keepmoat Stadium tomorrow.
“Hull are on a good roll and are a typical Championship side and will be hard to beat,” he warned.
“Nick Barnby has done a fantastic job to continue the work that Nigel Pearson did. He’s got them winning games and they are a very young side and they’ve got some very talented players. It’s going to be a tough place to get a result.”
Teams and ref
Hull City (possible): Mannone, Rosenior, Chester, Hobbs, Dawson, McKenna, Evans, Stewart, Koren, Brady, McLean.(4-2-3-1).
Rovers (possible): Button O’Connor, Hird, Lockwood, Spurr, Bennett, Gillett, Stock, Diouf, Barnes, Hayter (4--3-3)
REFEREE: Jock Waugh (South Yorkshire): Will be taking charge of only his fifth Championship game of the season and his first of 2012. He has handed out 59 yellow cards and three reds in his 22 games this season. He booked seven and dished out a red card in the Notts County-Scunthorpe League One game.
One to watch
IDFIELDER Robert Koren, pictured, is not only the Tigers’ playmaker but he is their joint top-scorer along with striker Matty Fryatt.
Hull beat off interest from several other clubs to sign Koren before the start of the 2010-11 season after he had captained Slovenia in that summer’s World Cup and scored seven goals for Nigel Pearson’s side in his first year at the KC Stadium.
He had surprisingly been freed by the Baggies after three successful seasons at the Hawthorns.
YOU have to go back over 50 years for Rovers last away win over the Tigers. That was in the 1950-51 season when the Belle Vue side won 2-1 at the old Boothferry Park in a Second Division clash. Rovers lost 3-1 on their last visit to the KC Stadium, where they have yet to avoid defeat, late last season in a game which marked Billy Sharp’s return to action after a long injury lay-off. A Simon Gillett goal earned Rovers a 1-1 draw when the sides met at the Keepmoat in September in Dean Saunders’ second game in charge.