Doncaster Rovers v Barnsley: Paul Goodwin's verdict

IT was noticeable that Rovers' brief spell on top at Vicarage Road came when they had five in midfield.

Dean Saunders sent his team out for the second half with El Hadji Diouf playing from the left, Simon Gillett tucked inside and Billy Sharp leading the line on his own.

It was a throwback to the formation that the old guard were used to playing under Sean O'Driscoll.

And it paid instant dividends - only for Herold Goulon's indiscipline to then completely ruin the plan.

Sadly Doncaster were unrecogniseable from the team who started 2011 by popping it around nicely to beat Scunthorpe on New Year's Day a year ago.

But Rovers clearly benefitted from having an extra man in the middle - and they might just need that extra body in there again when they start 2012 with a massive derby clash against Keith Hill's Barnsley.

Gillett has struggled for form this term and the diminutive midfielder offers very little when he plays left in a four.

And that bank of four - Gillett, Goulon, Giles Barnes and James Coppinger - failed to fire as a unit at Vicarage Road.

They failed to protect the back four when Sordell ran clear to open the scoring.

And they failed to provide Sharp and Diouf with any sort of service during a dire first half.

Damien Plessis is still waiting for international clearance but with Martin Woods also close to a return to fitness, Saunders at least will have a few more options in the middle for the second half of the season.

But, for me, Rovers look a far more durable outfit when they operate with three central midfielders - and Billy clearly relishes the lone front man responsibility.

Barnsley star midfielder Jacob Butterfield limped off during their impressive 4-1 win over Leeds United and must be a doubt for Monday.

But, whether he plays or not, Rovers would benefit from that extra man in midfield against a side playing in a style not dissimilar from O'Driscoll's Doncaster.

George Friend must also surely be close to a recall after a very poor display from Herita Ilunga at Vicarage Road.

Saunders said the derby debacle at Oakwell proved to be a watershed in the season.

It was a performance never to be repeated.

Tomorrow's clash with the Tykes has even more importance - it could be the springboard for a much happier new year.