Paul Dickov exclusive: Character is key as Doncaster Rovers plot promotion push

Paul Dickov
Paul Dickov

Doncaster Rovers met their brief last season.

Though there were plenty of hints that more could have been achieved, Rovers’ 13th place finish was enough to hit the target handed down in pre-season.

Paul Dickov

Paul Dickov

Not that Paul Dickov was happy with it.

Standing in glorious sunshine in the middle of a plush Keepmoat pitch, the Rovers boss cannot hide a sense of frustration at the events of last season, with the slump after pushing into the play-off places.

But there is also a strong air of excitement and optimism emanating from Dickov as he looks forward to the campaign ahead.

“We finished midtable which was the brief last year,” Dickov told the Free Press. “But we got ourselves in a position in the top six.

“People talk of a fear of failure but I think some of them were scared of success.

“We got in the top six and it was like ‘woah, what are we doing here?’

“Whereas the group I’ve now got all know how to do it in this division and higher.”

There was no holding back Dickov’s frustration a little more than three months ago when he stood pitchside at Notts County’s Meadow Lane home, after watching his team’s capitulation against a side that would be relegated a week later.

That day he spoke about building a squad with character, one that could handle the pressure and one certainly not scared of success.

Six new face have arrived this summer, all of which come with good pedigree, and Dickov is confident the new group can better the performance of that from last season.

So what are the differences in the two squads?

“It’s character, it’s experience, a determination and a belief among the group,” Dickov said. “A lot of them have been there before and that goes a long way.

“The lads who were here last year worked extremely hard for me so I’ll never point my finger at that.

“But there is a real character in the group and the willingness as well.

“It’s only been five weeks so I’m not going to get carried away. Things can change.

“Once you start picking your first XI and people are left out, things can change very quickly but I don’t think it will.

“The togetherness and the way they have pulled each other through things on the pitch and off it, makes me feel confident.”

Character and belief will play a major role in making sure the mistakes of last season do not prevail in the new campaign.

And the top item on everyone’s list of trends to banish is home form.

Rovers won just seven league games at the Keepmoat last season. Of those sides not relegated from League One, only Coventry’s record was worse and they spent a good chunk of the season playing their home games in Northampton.

The performances in three of the four home pre-season friendlies will have boosted confidence that the Keepmoat wrongs may have been righted.

But Dickov insists there has not been too much focus put on the specific issue.

He said: “My players, especially the senior players, aren’t stupid.

“I wouldn’t say it’s something I’ve spoken about at length because we want to come out here and let our football do the talking.

“Home form as in results - and people might shoot me down for this - were poor.

“But some of the performances we had at home, if you take the results away from them, were good.

“We conceded way too many silly goals by not defending properly as a team.

“We’ve worked on that relentlessly throughout pre-season and I think we’ve largely seen the benefit of that here during pre-season.

“First and foremost we have to be really hard to beat, hard to play against and eradicate mistakes.

“If we do that, with the players we’ve got in the team now, we’ll create and score chances.”

The age old adage is that when team can win without playing well, it is ultimately going to be successful.

It is fair to say that when Rovers did not play well last season, they did not win.

And even when they did play well, it was not always a guarantee that the points would follow.

Eradicating mistakes is high on Dickov’s agenda as he plots a push for promotion this season.

It is how he plans to cut the metaphorical eight point gap between Rovers and the top six over the next nine months.

“League One is about fine margins, just like it is in the Championship,” he said.

“We didn’t pick up enough points last season when we didn’t do well.

“For us to win or draw games, we had to play extremely well.

“We didn’t seem to have that ability to grind out results when we weren’t at our best.

“We want to play well every game – anyone that knows me and has seen our stuff in pre-season knows that’s what we want to do. But you can’t do it every week.

“You need to have the characteristics when you’re not doing well that players will drag others through to grind out results.

“That’s what I’m looking for more of this year and I’m confident we’ve got it.

“As much as it was disappointing how we ended last season, we finished eight points off.

“I think there was a spell of eight games when we were in and around the top six where in five of those we lost 12 points from being ahead.

“Cut that down and you’re not far away.”

League One was fiercely competitive last season, particularly the chase for fifth and sixth spot which encompassed much of the division until late in the campaign.

And Dickov is expecting more of the same. “There’s the usual suspects but there’s a lot of good teams that don’t get credit.

“There’s also a lot of teams spending a lot of money and recruiting a lot of players.

“I believe massively in what we’re doing here right through the club.

“And I believe in my squad.

“What we have to do is not get too carried away about being confident – quietly confident – in what we’re doing here.”

So what is the brief for Rovers this year? “Improve on last year,” Dickov puts it simply. “But I want to finish in the top six.

“Without putting too much pressure on the club and the players, that’s what I want to do.

“There’s still a lot of teams with big resources and bigger resources than us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do well.

“I just can’t wait to get started now.”