Leeds United v Doncaster Rovers: Paul Goodwin’s verdict

Captain Brian Stock appeals to the linesman, against his decision. Picture: Liz Mockler D1780LM
Captain Brian Stock appeals to the linesman, against his decision. Picture: Liz Mockler D1780LM

AFTER watching his new team sink without trace at home to Leeds United in October, Dean Saunders questioned whether he had the players he needed to play the way he wanted.

The defeat sparked a run of five games without victory as Rovers struggled to find their feet under their new boss - and struggled to come to terms with a seismic shift in playing style.

Fast forward four months and James O’Connor, Brian Stock (pictured above) and John Oster are likely to be the only three survivors in Saturday’s starting line-up from the last time these sides met.

That in itself is not a huge surprise, given Rovers’ revolving door transfer policy and the extraordinarily large number of players they have used this season.

But, with the treatment room currently the sparsest it has been for months, it shows that Saunders has come a long way in a short space of time in terms of moulding his own team.

And Leeds can expect a much tougher test against Rovers this time around.

Saunders stated after the 3-0 reverse at the Keepmoat that he learned more about his players in the defeat than during his unbeaten start against Crystal Palace, Hull and Peterborough.

It is fair to say that the same is now true vice versa - the players have since learned exactly what Saunders wants and expects.

The work ethic that paved the way for wins over Southampton, Leicester and Barnsley typified the type of all-action display that Saunders expects - and will demand again at Elland Road.

And unlike against Blackpool, Rovers need to be at it from the word go.

From the moment John Oster gifted the ball to the Tangerines direct from the kick-off to the point at which Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s second strike of the evening struck the back of the net, Rovers were nowhere to be seen.

They left themselves a mountain to climb and for the majority of the first half they looked every inch a side suffering from a serious case of ring-rustiness.

Galvanised by El Hadji Diouf’s unrelenting efforts - and cheeky penalty - Rovers were still very much in the game at 2-1 and things might have been very different had Matt Gilks not managed to keep out Martin Woods’ close range effort in spectacular style.

The spirit was still evident, but Rovers gave themselves too much to do against a quality side.

Saunders’ task before Saturday is to keep his players’ heads up after they ended Tuesday evening back at the bottom of the Championship.

And, although time is fast running out, one saving grace for Doncaster is that they will not come up against many sides as good as Blackpool between now and the end of the season.

What they cannot afford to do this weekend is give Leeds any sort of head start.

Confidence is fairly thin on the ground in West Yorkshire - and it is hardly abundant in the Doncaster dressing room.

Saturday is unlikely to be a classic.

But if Rovers put the sort of graft in that Saunders expects, they can claim at least a point - and they CAN survive in this division.

Leeds 1 Rovers 1