Paul Goodwin’s end-of-year verdict: A change for the better?

Rovers' new boss Dean Saunders applauds the fans before the match against Crystal Palace.
Rovers' new boss Dean Saunders applauds the fans before the match against Crystal Palace.

IT was the year that everything changed at Doncaster Rovers - but only in five months time will we know whether it was change for the better.

A miserable 2011 took a dramatic twist when Rovers and Sean O’Driscoll went their separate ways; what seemed like a marriage made in heaven allegedly ended by a text message.

Then came the shot-gun wedding with Dean Saunders and his best man Willie McKay, and with them came a whole new outlook on life in the Championship.

Now, three months into a relationship which is under intense media scrutiny, the honeymoon period is over.

The only true test of its success will be that final league table in May.

It was more than just Rovers’ manager that changed on that fateful September day.

The board’s decision to swap Sean for Saunders turned the club upside down, and sanctioned a revolutionary way of thinking and operating.

It’s a new approach that is not to everyone’s taste.

But it’s not quite turning into the cheap and tacky Championship bring-and-buy sale that many people were predicting.

The commitment and quality shown from the likes of loan stars Habib Beye, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Carl Ikeme, and short term signings El Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda, has given Doncaster a glimmer of hope.

It is a glimmer of hope that sadly showed no sign of appearing under the previous manager.

And if members of the old guard can continue to keep standards high - like Billy Sharp and Sam Hird over the last month - then Rovers have the recipe for survival.

Eight wins in 48 league games this calendar year is the sorry reality of what has been a thoroughly forgettable 12 months.

It has been a year of injuries and upheaval.

But those troubles - and the intracacies of the McKay Project - will all be forgotten if Rovers survive in the Championship for a fourth successive season.

The long-term aims and objectives of the Saunders and McKay era are yet to be fully explained.

But that’s for another day.

Everything at the club is geared towards retaining Championship status.

Doncaster Rovers do not do things the straightforward way - so expect a thrilling 2012.

John Ryan and co will no doubt be glad to see the back of 2011 at Vicarage Road on New Year’s Eve.

And what better way for the ‘new’ Doncaster Rovers to start the New Year than victory over Barnsley?

Watford 1 Rovers 1

Rovers 2 Barnsley 1