Saunders sets a survival target after opening with Rovers win
But Doncaster players ‘rewarded’ for victory by being told to work Sunday
DEAN SAUNDERS celebrated victory in his first game as Doncaster Rovers manager and immediately set his sights on a mid-table spot this season in the Championship.
Rovers had gone 19 games without a victory prior to Saunders’s arrival but a goal by John Oster ended that sequence and put paid to Crystal Palace at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Although Rovers are still bottom of the table ahead of tomorrow night’s home game with Hull City, Saunders is targeting a second consecutive victory to maintain a revival.
“Winning stops the panic,” he said. “The target now is to get to halfway and then start looking up the other way in the table.
“I’m not counting my chickens, we’ve won one game and I know football can slap you in the face quickly,” he added.
“But I don’t have to be scrambling around like a lunatic now trying to get loads of players in and I can have a look at what we’ve got.”
Rovers would have equalled a club record of 20 consecutive games without a win if they had not beaten Palace and Saunders dedicated the result to the club’s supporters.
“A win was important for me but not as important as it was to the fans,” he said. “They have gone 19 games without winning and they were in a rut. It must have been agony.”
Former Welsh international Saunders quit Wrexham just 24 hours before Saturday’s game and replaced Sean O’Driscoll, who had been sacked by Rovers after five years in charge.
Assessing his new side’s performance, Saunders said: “I thought we were poor first half.
“I’ve just left a team that’s been winning and winning and winning for a long time and whose players are confident and who all wanted the ball.
“We have got some really good players but we are bottom of the league and it was noticeable that we were nervous – which is understandable. We were nervous and frightened of making mistakes.
“We were hitting too many long balls and kicking it out of play too many times. But we had a chat at half-time and I just said: ‘Relax, get the ball down, I want you to pass the ball to each other.’ And we did. Hopefully, that three points will settle them down and we can win on Tuesday.”
Although Rovers’ style of play had often been pleasing on the eye under O’Driscoll, Saunders feels it now needs tweaking to guarantee future success in the Championship.
“The way they play and the way they have been taught to play is the way I want them to play,” he continued.
“I want to sit there and enjoy the game myself but football is also about winning games and the best passing football is the one that puts someone in on goal and we don’t do enough of that.
“I want them to play football but we are not a five-a-side team,” he said.
“We have got to put the ball in the box at the right time and I will have to keep working with them.”
Despite Saturday’s victory, Saunders insisted on his players reporting for duty yesterday and is determined to eradicate the injury woes that have handicapped Rovers over the last two seasons.
Striker Billy Sharp returned from injury against Palace and midfielder Brian Stock started for the first time this season, but Rovers still have eight first-team players unavailable.
“The injury situation is a concern to me,” said Saunders.
“We hardly got any injuries at my last club and that was down to the way we play, the way we train, the way the players eat, the protein they get into their bodies after they train, the way they do individual programmes.
“They avoided getting injured – so I will have to look into that side of it and see if I can improve that.
“The players will be in on Sunday, they will be getting a bit of protein in their legs, and getting in the swimming pool.
“We have got a game on Tuesday and I have got a couple of days where I can just go over what we have done. But I might miss out on the first half and go straight to the second half,” he added with a smile.
Much-travelled Saunders revealed that his mobile phone had been inundated with text messages from former team-mates and managers after landing the Rovers job and winning his first game.
The former Liverpool, Aston Villa and Derby County striker, who also played for Sheffield
Although Rovers’ style of play had often been pleasing on the eye, Saunders feels it now needs tweaking.
United and Bradford City among others, said: “I didn’t realise I had so many friends and I’ve had text messages from people I’ve not heard from for years.
“Graeme Souness has texted me and said ‘good start’, Ron Atkinson, Arthur Cox – all my old managers who probably never thought I would ever be a manager.”
Saunders also expressed pleasure that his former club, Wrexham, had won 3-1 against Grimsby Town to move top of the Blue Square Premier League
“That was important to me,” he said. “ I’ve put everything I’ve got into that club, I know every blade of grass on the training ground, and I know all the kids in the Academy.
“I treated it like my club and to leave was disappointing. But I’m pleased because if they’d got beat today I would have felt dreadful.”
Former Rovers manager O’Driscoll and assistant Richard O’Kelly are due to meet club officials today to discuss settlement of their one-year rolling contracts.
Tomorrow’s opponents, Hull, moved into the top six for the first time under Nigel Pearson with a 1-1 away draw.
Robert Koren netted for the Tigers for a second successive game but Bristol City equalised at Ashton Gate through Brett Pitman late on.
Also in the Championship, second-placed Middlesbrough had to settle for a 0-0 home draw with Ipswich Town.
Birmingham City looked as if they would fall to a home defeat to Barnsley after Jacob Butterfield scored in the 33rd minute to put them ahead.
Chris Burke, however, secured a 1-1 draw for hosts City with four minutes remaining.
In League One, Danny Wilson’s Sheffield United are in second position despite Stuart Beavon’s well-struck effort sending them to a 1-0 defeat at Wycombe Wanderers.
Gary Madine’s brace complemented by a goal from James O’Connor helped Sheffield Wednesday to a 3-0 home win against Exeter, which lifted them to seventh.
They are a point above Huddersfield Town, who stretched their unbeaten league run to 35 games as Leyton Orient clawed a surprise 2-2 draw at the Galpharm Stadium.
Alan Lee and Jack Hunt gave the Terriers a two-goal lead, before seeing Jamie McCombe sent off in the 84th minute.
Kevin Lisbie pulled one back moments later before Ben Chorley netted the equaliser in stoppage time.
In League Two, Southend lie in the final automatic promotion spot after a thumping 4-0 win at Rotherham.
Peter Gilbert and Neil Harris complemented Michael Timlin’s brace at the Don Valley Stadium.
Jack Midson and Christian Jolley netted in AFC Wimbledon’s 2-1 win at Bradford, who had opened the scoring through Michael Flynn.
DEAN SAUNDERS: Hoping for swift revival to climb off bottom of Championship table.