Paul Goodwin: Doncaster Rovers can flourish this season - but first must conquer their League One demons

John Marquis has given Rovers a nastier edge - but is it enough of one?
John Marquis has given Rovers a nastier edge - but is it enough of one?

Expectations seem fairly grounded ahead of Doncaster Rovers’ return to League One - probably with good reason.

Almost one in two people who voted in my recent twitter poll (45%) said their expectation was for a top half finish; to continue building on last term’s success.

One in three (31%) thought a play-off push should be the target, just one in 20 (5%) expected to challenge for the top two, while one in five (19%) cautiously suggested that staying up and stabilizing should be the club’s main priority.

The current squad is one that should have no trouble remaining the division.

Rovers’ catastrophic relegation in 2016 is one that could and should have been avoided, and this group of players is a significant improvement on the one that haplessly surrendered their third tier status.

Darren Ferguson’s squad at present, however, might just lack the depth and also the durability to mount a sustained challenge for promotion.

Aiming for the top half, with an eye on muscling into the play-off picture, certainly seems like the most sensible and realistic aim before a ball is kicked.

Ferguson has assembled a youthful, energetic group - with a nice blend of experience - that has the potential to carry on improving.

But, despite a considerable overhaul in personnel over the last year, Rovers must first of all adapt to their new surroundings and show they are a much better team than the one that slipped through the League One trapdoor.

They must continue last season’s much improved form on home soil at the Keepmoat Stadium.

They must impose themselves far more effectively on the opposition, avoiding that annoying habit from 2015/16 of falling behind and constantly having to chase the game.

They must be better organised and have more discipline in terms of team shape and defending, becoming more resistant to counter attacks and goals from set pieces.

They must stand taller and stronger against teams who are more physical in their approach. Stand up to the bullies.

And if things start going against them, they need to show a lot more character than that pitiful Rovers team that went 17 games without a win.

After a somewhat frustrating summer transfer window, at least thus far, one of the biggest question marks is also about the depth of the squad.

How would Rovers cope with an injury to a key man, like a John Marquis or James Coppinger?

With Mathieu Baudry again sidelined for the start of the season, a player so central to the way Ferguson wants to play, we will get a very early indication of whether there is enough quality waiting in the wings.

Another big concern of mine is whether this Rovers team are nasty enough? Or are they too nice?

Are there enough leaders in there ready to really take the bull by horns, and drag their teammates along with them, when things start to get difficult?

Does this group have the physical and mental durability that was so obvious in the Doncaster side that won promotion from this division in 2013?

Can Rovers mix it with League One’s physically bigger teams and will they be able to adapt their passing game against rougher and readier opposition who won’t give them the time on the ball they had last season?

And can they really get going when the going gets tough?

If they can do those things, and address some of those concerns, then anything could be possible.