Liam Hoden's review of the season: No one at Doncaster Rovers is happy with consolidation
Whatever you think of this season for Doncaster Rovers, you should know one thing.
No one is truly happy about the final outcome.
Consolidation may have been the goal laid out for Darren Ferguson and his players before a ball was kicked.
But just because they got the job done, does not mean anyone is pleased about it.
At this time of year, players and staff alike are asked to reflect on the campaign just passed.
And every single member of the Rovers squad or coaching team we have spoken to has expressed some form of regret, or frustration, or disappointment at what has happened over the last nine months.
They wanted more. They felt there was a capability with the squad to push towards the top six.
For long periods it was not difficult to see where such a belief was coming from.
The season has largely been characterised by fine margins - a feature which saw them claim points when they did not particularly deserve them but, more often than not, seeing them come away with less than what their performances deserved.
The way the balance tipped was down to bad luck on occasions but often due to switching off at key moments.
There was the run of games where goals conceded came from set pieces. And then there were all those late goals shipped.
I had the privilege of seeing each of Rovers’ 46 games in person and I can count on one hand the truly poor performances.
AFC Wimbledon away, Northampton away, Wigan away, Walsall away, Scunthorpe away - games to forget but collectively not bad from an underwhelming campaign.
It felt for so long that Rovers were so close to being a good team at the level, a side capable of competing if things just clicked into place.
Perhaps the most telling period of the season was the final few weeks.
There was certainly an element of Rovers running out of steam. And being robbed of their key creative players hardly helped.
But the lack of creative spark, game after game, showed just how much work is to be done to push Rovers into the status of being a good League One team.
A lack of creativity brought a drought in goals that left a manager of typically free-scoring teams scratching his head over how it happened.
Rovers had their build-up play sorted and continued to play some decent football.
The problem was, that all ended when they reached the final third. The impotence of the side was disappointing and frustrating.
Defensively however, Rovers got that side of things right by the end of the campaign. Though there will be a good deal of change in the defensive ranks with departures and potential arrivals over the next few months, Rovers seem to have the formula right.
But the whole picture is not complete. Two thirds correct, one third still lacking.
That no one is happy with their lot is a major positive going into the summer.
They know they need to be better to avoid such disappointment again, and to genuinely compete at League One level.
There is a good deal of work to be done between now and August.
But the focus is in the right place to make sure that work is done and there is no talk of disappointment next May.
SEASON IN BRIEF
It was a long time ago but there was something special about winning at Blackburn in August. Early season optimism it may have been but Rovers deserve tremendous credit for showing excellent resolve and a ruthless edge on the counterattack.
Walsall away. Awful, awful, awful. That Rovers managed to score two late goals flattered them. Defensively they were all over the place and going forward, they lacked any real spark. It was awful.
There’s no looking beyond Alfie Beestin’s injury time header at Scunthorpe. Rovers had been awful throughout and deserved nothing. But what is better than earning a point in those cicrumstances against bitter rivals?
The same but in reverse. The 103rd minute at Rotherham. Rovers had nullified a side who were rampant at the time but could not keep up their efforts in all that injury time. A real sickener.
Veterans proving they’ve still got it. James Coppinger continued to turn back the clock to prove himself as still the club’s most creative player. And Andy Butler was a rock at the back, showing everyone he remains more than comfortable at League One level.
The kids are all right. Leading the charge is Alfie Beestin, whose continued development and composure has been astounding. But there was another positive campaign in the Checkatrade Trophy in terms of youth development.
A lack of development from others. Liam Mandeville has failed to kick on following his superb few months of last season. His undoubted ability has not been delivered on a consistent basis and he finds himself transfer-listed.
Injuries. The worst of these came for Danny Andrew, robbing Rovers of the balance they had sought at the back. The manner in which he had started the season made his absence even more strongly felt. Alex Kiwomya’s illness was another big blow for the side.