Analysis: How Darren Ferguson has turned things round at Doncaster Rovers
This time last year Doncaster Rovers were embarking on an excruciating run of 17 games without a win that saw them inexplicably relegated from League One.
But the response, so far, has been exemplary.
Rovers face Crewe tomorrow sitting four points clear at the top of League Two and ten clear of fourth place.
Darren Ferguson’s men have put their foot down in the promotion race by winning nine of their last 11 league games and, if they maintain their high standards, promotion back to the third tier at the first time of asking is there for the taking.
So how has Ferguson turned things round? Here’s a look at some of the key reasons behind the Rovers revival.
Nothing quite epitomises Ferguson’s excellent summer recruitment than the stark contrast between two centre forwards, past and present.
Curtis Main, shipped off to Portsmouth, often seemed to cast a rather lonesome, serious, self-critical figure. He lacked confidence and any sort of consistency.
His replacement, John Marquis, on the other hand, embodies the spirit and endeavour of Fergie’s new-look side. The 13-goal frontman plays hard, but with a smile on his face.
Tommy Rowe, Mathieu Baudry, Matty Blair and loan men Jordan Houghton and Niall Mason have also contributed massively to a lovely blend of experience and youthful exuberance.
One of the stand-out quotes from Ferguson not too long after he was appointed was about the “lax” and “stale” feeling within the playing arm of the club. Even more alarming was his suggestion that, for some, training seemed a bit too much like hard work at times.
Things are very different now.
Ferguson has fostered a culture within his squad of continually striving for improvement and demanding the best from each other. The effect of that is now showing on the pitch.
Ferguson stuck with three at the back too long last term and teams worked Rovers out.
But this season, thanks to some hard work on the training ground, he is almost able to change formation at will before and/or during a game in a bid to get the upper hand.
His players, particularly the likes of Rowe and Blair, have shown superb versatility and adaptability in the process.
Goals, goals, goals
Rovers, as the second highest scorers in the EFL with 52 goals from 26 games, have clearly embraced Ferguson’s attack-minded philosophy.
Crucially, goals are being shared out too, with Marquis (13) and Liam Mandeville (10) already returning their best ever tallies for a season.
James Coppinger (8) also surpassed his previous season’s best with Rovers by scoring twice at Barnet last weekend.
There was a time not so long ago that Doncaster seemed to dread playing at the Keepmoat. The opposition would get men behind the ball, frustrate and then pounce on the counter. Visiting teams had Rovers’ number.
So a run of 16 league games unbeaten on home soil, stretching back to March, is testament to how far this team has come in a relatively short space of time.
There is an inner confidence about Rovers now at the Keepmoat. They assert themselves on the opposition, have the ability to come on strong late in the game, and have also improved at closing games out.