Analysis: Things have changed at Doncaster Rovers - there's now momentum on AND off the pitch
Things have changed at Doncaster Rovers.
And not just the performances and results on the pitch.
Nine wins out of the last 11 in League Two mean Darren Ferguson’s table-toppers are brimming with confidence ahead of Saturday’s visit of Crewe. Things are going to plan - and long may it continue.
But underpinning performances on the field is a renewed sense of drive and purpose off it - a feeling that the club’s owners have decided to ‘give it a go’.
In manager Darren Ferguson that drive has never been called into question, in spite of last season’s abject failure.
The board stuck by their man and Ferguson’s ambition, ruthlessness and sheer unwillingness to accept anything other than the best has unquestionably been a driving force behind Doncaster’s surge to the summit.
But rewind two years ago, prior to sleepwalking back into the fourth tier, and things felt very different. It felt like Rovers were drifting.
The party line from the top table was that the Championship was the target but, following a disappointing 13th place finish in 2015 under Paul Dickov, a continuing over-reliance on loan signings and a number of cutbacks off the field, there was precious little to back that up.
Now things are different.
Building a sustainable club remains at the very heart of the owners’ thinking but sticking around in the backwaters of English football is clearly not.
The signing of Manchester City goalkeeper Ian Lawlor on a two-and-a-half-year deal, in preference to another stop gap loan deal, was a significant statement of intent and evidence of a change in tack. As was the rejected bid for Conor Grant, which Ferguson said showed “where we want to go as a football club”.
All the signs suggest that the purse-strings are in the process of being loosened in a genuine attempt to re-climb the Football League ladder.
The vibe coming out of Rovers is that if they can finish the job this season they would fancy their chances of winning back-to-back promotions.
And one of the most pleasing aspects about the turnaround on the pitch is the sense of strategy and planning behind it.
The average age of the squad has been reduced.
It’s now quality over quantity when it comes to loan signings.
And the move to signing more younger, arguably hungrier, players is a refreshing change from a transfer policy that previously seemed to be a magnet for those who simply saw Doncaster as a springboard to better things.
The Rovers rollercoaster has been a rocky ride in recent years and the direction in which it was heading seemed unclear not that long ago.
Now things are different.
Dons chief executive Carl Hall went on the record recently about Club Doncaster’s five-year plan, said “the training ground is going to be a big part of the plans going forward” and that the aim for Rovers was to be back in the Championship by 2022.
That ambition is now there in black and white - and that gives everyone involved at the club focus and direction.
Last season’s relegation prompted root and branch surgery behind the scenes which saw change at almost every level - change in personnel, and a change in approach.
There’s plenty of work still to be done, of course. But at this point it looks like change for the better.