COMMENT: Trying times for Doncaster Knights

Knights' Dan Smith goes over to score a try against Melrose. Picture: Andrew Roe
Knights' Dan Smith goes over to score a try against Melrose. Picture: Andrew Roe

THAT whistling sound you can hear at Castle Park is the pressure rising at the home of Doncaster Knights.

A 30-29 defeat to Scottish side Melrose in the British and Irish Cup stretched the Knights’ winless run to 17 matches.

A draw against Cornish Pirates is all Brett Davey’s side have to show for their efforts so far in what has been a horrendous start to the season.

The big questions right now are how long will this run go on for and what can be done to stop it?

After the customary post-match talk, Dougie Flockhart trudged away from the clubhouse to the opposite end of the ground and sat alone in the Brewster McBride stand with his head buried in his hands, still in full kit.

Flockhart – who mere moments earlier had scored and converted a last minute try – cut a forlorn figure in a scene perfectly reflecting the current situation at his club.

A desperate situation has brought desperation to on-field performances and confidence appears rock bottom.

Play is over-thought, ensuring poor decision-making in both attack and defence.

Nerves are shot which has led to handling errors at key moments.

The lack of strong performances has led to a turbulent selection process and the lack of a settled side.

No player has demanded selection by putting together a string of consistent performances, particularly at full back.

Dante Mama looked to have grabbed the position with both hands with his performance against the Pirates but paid the price for the horror show at Leeds.

Never has a win been more needed, simply to show this side that they are capable of it.

It appeared that may have come against Melrose, despite a poor performance.

Mistakes were plentiful all over the field for the Knights throughout the game.

But it appeared as though they would be strong enough to win regardless as they carried a 19-7 cushion into the break.

The visitors charged out of the blocks in the second half, stunning the Knights by establishing a 30-22 lead.

Melrose – featuring a number of part timers – simply wanted the win more and that was enough to deal another hammer blow to the Knights’ shot confidence.

The last gasp try scored and converted by Flockhart reduced the gap to one point to leave a scoreline that more flattered the Knights than reflected the true pattern of the game.

Losing has infected the side.

It started in February when injury hit the Knights hard and early qualification for the promotion play offs allowed Davey to field fringe and young players.

There seemed to be no recovery from the harsh last gasp defeat in the derby with Rotherham Titans.

And a lack of momentum led to a torrid six game play off campaign with just one game – at London Welsh – where the Knights looked capable of winning.

Despite the plentiful changes to personnel in the summer, the infection has prevailed.

There has been plenty of understandable talk of the much-changed squad needing time to gel.

The problem is, this side appears to be going backwards rather than forwards.

The performance in the draw with the Pirates suggested the Knights were moving in the right direction, particularly after a decent show in the previous game at London Scottish.

But the show at Leeds Carnegie saw that decent progress grind to a halt.

The dismissal of Adam Kettle did not help but it only helped to mask a poor performance.

Leeds had little resistance from 15 men for the first 20 minutes, never mind 14 for the subsequent hour.

Each match quickly becomes must win.

The Leeds game was as it would have ensured the Knights would enter the B&I Cup break on a winning note.

Then the Melrose game, as one that probably was a should-win, ahead of a visit to Nottingham where Doncaster never have much joy.

One match that certainly is a must-win now is the first league game back, when Moseley visit Castle Park.

The Birmingham side sit just above the Knights in the Championship table with two wins under their belts.

Should the desperately-needed victory fail to come by the final whistle on October 26, the increase in pressure will likely lead to an explosion.