Doncaster Rovers: Ten games to save a season and save face - how did it come to this?
How did it come to this?
That’s the question on people’s lips ahead of Saturday’s vital home clash with Peterborough United.
Just a couple of months ago Doncaster Rovers were talking about keeping their season alive.
Well, they have certainly found a way of doing that - by becoming fully embroiled in a battle for League One survival.
Darren Ferguson has already stated that the next ten games are unlikely to make for pretty viewing as Rovers look to scrap their way to safety.
And that has to start this weekend against the Posh - to save face for everyone concerned.
The current 12-game sequence without a win is not reflecting well on a group of players who were flying before the turn of the year when everything was hunky dory under their new manager.
It is now becoming a serious problem for Darren Ferguson who appears uncertain how to end one the club’s worst runs since 1997/8, the season Rovers were relegated to the Conference.
And it is embarrassing for the club’s hierarchy who thought a top six push this season was still a realistic possibility when Ferguson was appointed in October.
Ahead of this weekend’s game, our sports writers gave their verdict on a season that promised so much but could yet end in disaster.
I think there has been a certain degree of complacency since the New Year, a belief enough had been done in the two or so months before that relegation would never become a factor.
Following the Sheffield United defeat - a third straight loss - when Rovers dropped to six points clear of the bottom four, I asked Darren Ferguson whether the players perhaps needed a gentle reminder of what they could be embroiled in if the poor run continued.
While insisting Rovers were not too good to go down, he brushed off the question, saying I should go down to the dressing room and tell them myself.
I’m not accusing Ferguson himself of complacency. It is clear he expects high standards - standards which were being met before Christmas - and nothing has changed on that.
But I think a view persisted among the playing arm in January and early February that Rovers would be all right in the end. Before they knew it, they were deep in a relegation battle and the time since the last win was being measured in months rather than weeks.
On finally waking up to their predicament, the players have become incredibly panicky and clearly lack any sort of confidence at all.
In a desperate bid to steady the ship, Ferguson has made numerous changes to personnel, systems and even the captaincy. The reasons given for the changes are often due to how the opposition line up, which is worryingly reactive rather than positively proactive.
Rovers need to decide on a solid plan of how they are going to tackle the next ten games. And while it goes against Ferguson’s attacking football mantra, it must start with a steadfast focus on not conceding.
I completely agree. As the play-off dream faded, Rovers seemed to be lulled into a very false sense of security.
They weren’t helped by injuries on the day of the Gillingham game but they really haven’t helped themselves on the pitch.
I still think they will be okay and that things will turn when they finally manage to score first in a game. But if that is the attitude in the dressing room, where you get the impression one or two of them are looking round hoping someone else will bail them out, then Rovers really have got problems. They need to make it happen, not simply think about it.
Doncaster have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, a phrase Paul Dickov also used very early in the season, in a matter of months and there appears to be a mental fragility among these players. It is something that needs addressing urgently in the summer - hopefully ahead of another season in League One.
Rovers need a total re-think on the policy of relying on young loan players too. But, before then, they must just do everything to survive - because relegation would be an unmitigated disaster.