Comment: One step back to go forward - Doncaster Rovers are moving in the right direction again
There is a very good argument to suggest that last year's relegation may turn out to be one of the best things to happen at Doncaster Rovers since the club's recent brush with the Championship.
Of course, it didn’t feel like it at the time. Quite the opposite.
But, after sleepwalking to relegation from the second tier in 2014 and then drifting rather aimlessly under Paul Dickov, it was arguably just the shot in the arm that the club needed to wake up from the doldrums and arrest its worrying downward trajectory.
Dropping into the fourth tier of English football for the first time since 2004 put the football arm of Club Doncaster firmly at the top of the agenda last summer. Three relegations in five seasons? Enough was enough.
After admitting taking their eye off the ball somewhat following the FA Cup defeat to Stoke City, the board now had no option but to prioritize Rovers and put football matters first - securing promotion back to League One at the first attempt became the number one priority.
In Darren Ferguson they had a manager they themselves had appointed, they believed in and were willing to back - in spite of that stomach-churning 17-game win-less run. That faith would be well rewarded.
It was the cue for the slate to be wiped clean, a significant overhaul of the playing squad, a whole host of staffing changes behind the scenes and a more pro-active approach to transfer dealings and indeed in general.
Out of it also came the now well-documented ‘five-year plan’, in which the stated ambition is for Rovers to be back playing in the Championship by 2022.
Driven in part by the relentless, tenacious nature of Ferguson, Rovers now had renewed drive, focus and a very clear target - and their professional approach was about to be replicated on the pitch.
The club’s vision for the future persuaded Tommy Rowe to stay on and the wheels were in motion in what would turn out to be a successful season - a season that could hardly have gone more to plan (putting the last four games to one side).
Okay, to finish with four straight defeats and throw away the league title was a bitter pill to swallow.
The way Rovers went into their shells in the second half at Hartlepool on Saturday provided an unwanted flashback to last season and gave Ferguson food for thought ahead of his fourth transfer window in the job.
It also opened up a few old wounds and again raised question marks about both the mentality in the dressing room when the going gets tough and also the manager’s ability to prevent a poor run of form escalating into something more serious.
But this Rovers team should clearly be judged on 46 games, not four. And they should be lauded for the way they scored goals for fun, stuck to their manager’s gameplan, dealt with the expectation placed upon them, and achieved the target of promotion with time to spare.
Ferguson is also by no means exempt from criticism when it comes to the title collapse. But it is incredibly short-sighted to focus on that and forget the brilliant job he has done over the last 12 months; getting the recruitment right, creating a tight-knit group who had each other’s backs, driving up standards and, most importantly, winning games of football.
He’s back to where he started now, and must ensure Rovers kick on again next season. But for now he can reflect on a job well done - getting Rovers moving in the right direction again.