If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Doncaster Rovers this season, it’s a sense of relaxedness around the club.
Behind the scenes there’s a semblance of stability that was sadly missing this time last year. Paul Dickov is as positive, and jovial, as ever. And, although the press no longer have access to Cantley Park, I can sense a calmness about the players too.
There’s no stressing about relegation (or at least there shouldn’t be). And unlike the season before, there’s no particular pressure to bounce straight back to the Championship either. As a result, the staff and squad at least appear to be quite happily going about their business. The players look like they’re enjoying their football. Or at least they did prior to the defeat at home to Oldham.
Trust me to go and put my foot in it. Bright-eyed and bubbly, like everyone following the superb win at Watford, I pointed out this apparent ‘relaxed mood’ to former club historian Tony Bluff in the build-up to a sobering 2-0 defeat. He agreed, sort of. This so-called relaxed state, in my view, was helping players to perform at a good level.
Take Kyle Bennett. He looks like a new man, free of the stresses and strains of times gone by. James Coppinger was rolling back the years in a more advanced role. Nathan Tyson, by all accounts, is happy just to be playing football again. Talk about tempting fate then.
Because, unlike the slick, professional displays against Colchester and Watford the performance against the Latics was anything but relaxed.
The chances fashioned in the first half were snatched at, and the anxiety of the home supporters seemed to rub off on the players during a second half that saw Doncaster banging their head against a brick wall.
So my point about being ‘relaxed’? Well my view hasn’t changed. The general lack of expectation at Doncaster has helped contribute to what has been a fairly decent start. Being more relaxed could also help explain Doncaster’s contrasting home and away form. Away from the Keepmoat, Rovers have more freedom to express themselves and less mental baggage.
The moment Rovers relax, as they did from three set pieces in the defeat to Port Vale, they get punished. And when that state of relaxation goes full circle, and becomes one of anxiety like it did in the second half against Oldham, performance levels will also suffer.
So, hopefully, Rovers will have had a productive, and also very relaxing, international break.
The secret of their early-season promise might just be their state of mind. Keep calm and carry on.