DONCASTER Rovers star Brian Stock is hoping that it will be a case of third time lucky in tomorrow’s Championship derby against Barnsley at Oakwell.
Rovers have tasted defeat (at Cardiff and at home to Leeds) in both their previous games following international breaks this season.
On both occasions Rovers had banked points - from a 1-1 draw at home to Bristol City and a 3-2 win at Peterborough - in their last game before the break as they did prior to the current break when winning away at Ipswich.
If Rovers are to beat the Tykes on home soil they will need to put back-to-back wins together for the first time this season.
But Stock feels that there are several factors which he feels could tip the scales in Rovers’ favour.
Not only has the break enabled leading scorer Billy Sharp the time to work on his fitness after missing two months earlier in the season, but it has served a similar purpose for the influential midfielder.
Stock made his first start of the season following an ankle reconstruction in manager Dean Saunders first game in charge in the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.
He played the next six before deciding, in consultation with Saunders and physio John Dickens, to sit out the midweek home game against Middlesbrough after complaining of a sore groin.
“I’d worked hard in training beforehand but I’d not had a pre-season and after playing a series of Saturday-Tuesday games the Boro game was one too many,” he said.
“I made the mistake last season of playing in the games against Leeds and Hull away where I thought I was all right and played in the games and I hadn’t been.
“You ask any player and they’ll tell you how important a good pre-season is and I’ve been trying to build my match-fitness up by playing in games.
“In some of the early games I wasn’t able to get about as I would have liked and I had to use my head and not go chasing around otherwise I wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes.
“I’ve been able to work on my fitness during the break and hope to be somewhere near my best on Saturday.”
Stock says he’s not had any problems with his ankle following his return to action: “I’ve not missed a day’s training with the ankle,” he said.
His long-standing back problem has also stood up well to the rigours of training and playing.
But he warned: “The back problem could flare up at any time if I don’t stay on top of it and do regular exercises and strengthening work.”
Rovers went into the game at Portman Road propping up the table and remain there despite taking the spoils.
“We went into that game on nine points and if you’ve only got nine points at that stage of the season you expect to be down there,” he said.
“It has been difficult because we kept chopping and changing the side and we’ve not been able to put out a settled side for three or four games consecutively.”
Despite Rovers having found it hard to break out of the relegation, Stock, for one, is not panicking.
“The majority of the side have been in this situation before, in our first season in the Championship, and we’ll be able to draw on that experience,” he said.
“Players get a bit disappointed when you lose games. But you take a couple of days to do whatever you need to do to get it out of your system and then, as a professional, you’ve got to be able to move on and get ready for the next game because if you don’t you get punished in this league.
“We’ve played almost all of the teams in the league and nobody really worries me. In our first season in the Championship we gave teams too much respect in the first half of the season. We won’t be doing that this season.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game, Stock said: “Oakwell’s always a nice place to go and we were unlucky not to do better than a 2-2 draw late last season. I couldn’t believe that we didn’t win that game.
“It’s going to be tough game and they’ve picked up some good results but hopefully we can pick up a result.”
One player Stock says Rovers will have to keep a keen eye on is young midfielder Jacob Butterfield.
“He’s attracted a lot of interest and has tremendous potential. He is comfortable on the ball and can score great goals.
“Jason Shackell was a big loss for them but they’ve picked up some fantastic results, winning at Reading and beating Hull at home.”
One to watch
Young Barnsley midfielder Jacob Butterfield is tipped to play in the top flight and is reportedly being tracked by several Premier League clubs.
A product of the Barnsley Academy, the creative midfielder was an unused substitute in for the England Under-21 side in the games against Iceland and Belgium this week.
In addition to being able to pick out a defence-splitting through-ball, Butterfield also knows where the net is and is the Tykes’ joint leading scorer with four.
Rovers picked up the point needed to guarantee their Championship status in the corresponding game at Oakwell on Easter Monday when drawing 2-2. They led 2-1, thanks to a brace by striker Jason Euell, and looked to be heading for their first win since early March, until the Reds drew level with an 87th minute equaliser.
Rovers won 1-0 at Oakwell the previous season after losing by the same score at home.