Saun­ders sets a sur­vival tar­get af­ter open­ing with Rovers win

But Don­caster play­ers ‘re­warded’ for vic­tory by be­ing told to work Sun­day

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - Front page - Ian Ap­p­le­yard

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.

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