New Year is a time for looking ahead with positive and hope – and Doncaster Rovers are in a position to do just that.
Saturday’s 3-1 win at Gillingham and the manner of the performance which delivered it ensured Rovers ended 2018 with positivity firmly back on the agenda.
And after a largely impressive opening half of the campaign, it is deservedly so.
Goals from John Marquis, Mallik Wilks and Danny Andrew helped Rovers shake off the disappointment of Boxing Day defeat at Fleetwood Town and power into 2019 with their best performance of the last few weeks.
They maintained a real composure and intent to ride through a scrappy start to the game and take control, dominating the middle of the park with incisive passing and excellent break-up play – led by the superb Ben Whiteman whose continued growth in the role has been one of the real pleasures of the opening half of the season.
And they forced the issue so much they made Gillingham’s defensive efforts grow all the more desperate so a comfortable scoreline always looked likely.
With a supremely solid defensive base behind them, dealing with whatever Gillingham could throw with relative ease, Rovers showed a little swagger as they maintained an impressive tempo until the game was well and truly won.
At times this season they have allowed their tempo to drop when faced with a brick wall, out of frustration and an over-eagerness to create quickly – but this was not the case at all on Saturday.
Marquis set them on their way after 28 minutes with a scrappy effort. It came after excellent build-up play which culminated with a Whiteman shot, only for the ball to hit Marquis who got it under control and fired past Tomas Holy via a deflection.
The goal gave Rovers comfort and allowed them to open up further, a freedom which only increased just after the break when Wilks forced an error between indecisive Holy and defender Connor Ogilvie to nip the ball away and slot into an empty net.
A rout looked likely once Andrew added a third, nodding down a clearance from a corner before lashing a shot from 25 yards to catch out flat-footed Holy and grab his first ever Football League goal.
For the first time at his point the tempo dropped but the game was won, even after Connor Reilly pulled a late goal back for the hosts via a wicked deflection off substitute Jermaine Anderson.
At times in this game Rovers were as fluid and threatening as they have been for some time.
Heading into the decisive second half of the season, it was a welcome reminder of what they are capable.
DEPTH OR NO DEPTH?
There was an interesting dichotomy about the Rovers squad on Saturday with both strength and weakness displayed simultaneously.
The presence of youth team players Myron Gibbons and Rieves Boocock on the bench showed Rovers are currently down to the bare bones in terms of fit bodies available. Shane Blaney and a player in Mitchell Lund seemingly heading out of the club only added to that.
It exposed that there is a fragility to Rovers if a few injuries are picked up. With no disrespect to the youngsters involved, there were few game changing options among the substitutes at the Priestfield.
But, at the same time, the three changes made to the starting XI by Grant McCann demonstrated there is depth within the squad.
Matty Blair did a typically admirable job deputising at right back with both Niall Mason and Shaun Cummings injured.
Tommy Rowe – with his first league start since September 1 – delivered a timely reminder that the club possess in him a high quality option as he delivered arguably his best performance since his return from injury.
And Alfie May was a lively addition to the side, capitalising on space in wide areas with his pace as Rovers swept forward.
With several players set to return over the next few weeks, Rovers do possess strength if a handful of changes are required.
But it cannot be denied that it does remain a fragile situation.
GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
It appeared as though the presence of Boocock and Gibbons on the bench would be a needs-must scenario that would nevertheless give useful experience to both young forwards.
But it was great to see Boocock emerge from the bench for the final couple of minutes of the game, making for a memorable moment.
The 18-year-old is well into double figures with goals for Rovers’ impressive U18 set up and gained just reward for his efforts.