David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Dean Saunders’

Wolves’ Double Dip Relegation

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Just under a year ago, when I responded to a call on Twitter looking for a Wolves blogger for my favourite Football League podcast, I distinctly remember thinking, “there’s a fair chance we’ll only be in this division for one season anyway”. Never have I been so right and so so wrong at the same time.

In that first blog I wrote for WAGU!, I made the point that 40-1 was generally available from the bookies, but never did I actually imagine that we would end up with a double dip relegation (if, incidentally, anyone did get on that 40-1, congratulations.)

To be honest, I don’t really know where to start. The season started with so much optimism. It seems ridiculous to say that on 6th October, we won away at Blackburn Rovers to move to third in the table, equaling a club record of three consecutive away wins with clean sheets.

At that point we were flying. Matt Jarvis, Stephen Fletcher and Michael Kightly had all remained in the Premier League, but their replacements had started brightly. Bakary Sako was proving to be an adequate replacement for Jarvis, scoring three (including the Ewood Park winner) and claiming a further two assists in his first seven games for the club. On the other flank, Polish winger Słavomir Peszko worked diligently up and down the flank, linking nicely with Kevin Doyle. In short, it seemed like everything was falling into place.

Except one thing; this is a team full of losers. I don’t mean to sound aggressive, but the club had lost over half the games in the previous season. Losing was the default mode. In the early part of this season, when a game was lost, we’d always managed to bounce back and win the next game. But, after playing poorly in defeat away at Huddersfield, the opportunity to win the following match was thrown away with a last minute equaliser from former wolf Mark Davies at home to Bolton Wanderers. I don’t think at that moment anyone realised how important that goal was.

From that moment on, we didn’t win in the next seven games, and a defence that had been 90 minutes from setting a new club record had conceded 17 goals in nine games. With the club falling from 3rd to 19th, a win at Bristol City sparked a mini revival that saw the club win three in four, but then came the four defeats that would go on to define the season.

Having taken nine points from the previous four points, Wolves entered the Christmas period just six points away from the playoffs, and had two eminently winnable home games against two teams in the bottom five. The first of these was a disaster. At the time, we didn’t know that Peterborough were embarking on a run that would see them gain 41 points from 25 games (form that would have seen them comfortably in the playoffs over a full season), but to lose 3-0 at home was like a kick in the balls for the fans, so I can only imagine the impression it left on the players.

The following game, three days later, was a fixture that had been etched into the minds of all Wolves fans. The Return of the Mick, as Mick McCarthy returned to Molineux for the first time since his sacking the previous season. And of course, he was successful, with Ipswich easing to a 2-0 win. Defeat away at Crystal Palace the following week, and all of a sudden those three wins in four became three wins in 16. Still, at least we had a Cup game against a non-league side the following week….

Just two hours after the defeat to Luton Town, the first non-British born manager in Wolves’ illustrious history was sacked. At the time I wrote that I was worried that this meant the attempt to change the strategy of the club was over. Ståle Solbakken had come to England with his fancy Dan foreign ideas – keeping possession and marking zonally. Would we try and continue this, or would we go back to a blood and thunder typical British approach that had proved so effective under the first four years of Mick McCarthy?

Two days later, Dean Saunders was appointed manager, a man who had taken Doncaster Rovers down from the Championship last season but was well on the way to bringing them back up. It would later be confirmed, as initially suspected by most Wolves fans, that Saunders was the only man ever in the frame. This would perhaps be fair enough if it was José Mourinho, but for another manager to not even be considered, let alone spoken to smacks of a rushed decision. Considering the apparent failures of the club’s previous two managerial appointments, surely the board would do everything they could to get this decision right?

Yet this was a decision made by one man. No one will argue that the owner of the club has the right to appoint whoever he chooses, but given the pressure on the club to get this decision right, for it to fall on one man to make an instant decision was surely a mistake. Steve Morgan has done a lot of good for the club – the training ground is impressive, and has arguably contributed to the most promising crop of youngsters since the likes of Robbie Keane, Joleon Lescott and Keith Andrews were produced.

But he has also made a number of poor decisions. We have one brand new stand that highlights the inferiority of the rest of the ground, and even more so, the inferiority of the players playing in front of it. Could the £16 million spent on bricks and mortar have been invested on the playing staff? Financial Fair Play may have had something to say about this, but it is more than tempting to say that this is the result of having a builder as the club’s owner.

To give an idea of how the club has been mismanaged over the past couple of years, allow me to make a comparison. Take two clubs, both managed in the Premier League by old fashioned British managers. These two clubs sack these traditional managers, appoint their assistants on a full time basis and are thus relegated to the Championship. Both teams then appoint a bald Norwegian in order to establish a new continental style of football from which to launch a promotion bid. When this doesn’t work, both clubs appoint a manager who was relegated from the Championship last season, albeit under difficult circumstances.

Now, as this is about Wolves, obviously you recognised Mick McCarthy, Terry Connor, Ståle Solbakken and Dean Saunders there, but did you spot the other club? For Mick McCarthy, read Sam Allardyce, for Connor read Steve Kean, for Solbakken read Henning Berg, and finally for Saunders read Michael Appleton. Yet, given the attention, and dare I say abuse, received by Venky’s in the media, the extremely similar decisions made by Wolves’ management have gone largely unnoticed. There is of course one big difference between Blackburn and Wolves – Blackburn bit the bullet and made a decision, a decision largely vilified by the national newspapers, but they sacked Appleton, picking up 12 points from the remaining nine games to ease away from the relegation zone.

And this brings us neatly onto the reign of Dean Saunders, a man whose time at Wolves has been defined by a number of questionable decisions and ridiculous sound bites. At the time of Ståle Solbakken’s dismissal, Wolves had 31 points from 26 games, a record that over 46 games would have seen us gain 54 points and may or may not have seen relegation. Under Saunders, this falls to one point a game. I’m putting this so you are aware that Solbakken was not perfect, but given the relative success of his signings who stayed fit, I always felt was one transfer window away from being able to implement his style more successfully. But there is no question that over his 29 games in charge, he was unable to change the losing mentality of the players, and that at the time of dismissal, the results were awful. The question was, would the energetic, excitable and charismatic Dean Saunders be able to turn the boat around?

The answer was an emphatic no. Nine matches and two months went past before his first win. Again, like under Solbakken, there was a mini revival – four wins from five games and there was hope that a corner had been turned. But it wasn’t to be. Four defeats from the following five games culminated in a pathetic 2-1 reversal at home to Burnley which effectively sealed our fate, before the lid was nailed to the coffin with a 2-0 defeat to Brighton on the final day.

During that period, there was very little to get excited with. Peszko was frozen out, as was Christophe Berra who had already decided he was leaving when his contract expires at the end of the season. For some reason Ronald Zubar, whose one game under Saunders was a man of the match performance, had his contract cancelled, while Richard Stearman was allowed to join McCarthy’s revolution at Ipswich.

In came Kaspars Gorkšs on loan from Reading, who is patently no better than any of the three defenders mentioned previously, while two youngsters were brought in at fullback; Jack Robinson who impressed at left back on loan from Liverpool, and Matt Doherty, fresh from a loan spell at Bury came in at right back. Frustratingly, another young defender, Danny Batth who had done nothing wrong in his few appearances this season was left marooned on the bench.

Perhaps Saunders has been slightly unlucky with injuries over the last month or so, with Dave Edwards (who incidentally made more progress over six months under Solbakken than he did over four years under McCarthy) breaking his foot, while the only real goalscoring threat in the team, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake broke his leg before Bakary Sako damaged his hamstring. But, on the other hand, Saunders had the likes of Peszko, Stephen Hunt and Jamie O’Hara fit who missed most of the first half of the season.

Ah, Jamie O’Hara. If two players epitomize the frustration Wolves fans have with the players it is him and Roger Johnson. Both were brought in while in the Premier League, both set to be the players who would transform us from relegation battlers to a mid-table side. But, both were relegated (Johnson has now been relegated in three successive seasons) and neither have stepped up to play the sort of role their transfer fee and reputation should dictate.

It might be harsh to blame those two players, but they seem to bear the brunt of most Wolves fans’ frustration, not helped by their high profiles, and especially Jamie and Mrs. O’Hara’s tendencies to air their grievances on Twitter. This led to a spat between the travelling support at Brighton with O’Hara, who after being told he’s not worth £40,000 a week was first off down the tunnel while most other players (including the much maligned Johnson) came over to acknowledge the fans. O’Hara will surely be the first out the door this summer.

This brings us on to this summer. The one positive is the core group of youth players who are expected to play regularly this season. The likes of Jake Cassidy, Danny Batth, David Davis and Matt Doherty have all had successful spells in League One, while the Under 21 side did extremely well to qualify for the final stage ahead of the likes of Chelsea, Middlesbrough and Manchester City.

But the big question is, who will lead them? I fully expect Saunders to still be in charge in August; after all he left his Doncaster side top of League One. The problem is that Wolves fans are saying the same things as 12 months ago – there needs to be a clear out of the deadwood in the squad in order to allow the youngster to form the nucleus of the team. But, whether we can find clubs to take them, and whether the players will want to leave given how unlikely it is to find anyone who will match their current contracts is another question.

For the second summer in a row, Wolves are in a period of transition. Last summer a new strategy was implemented, but scrapped as soon as the going got tough. This summer, decisions need to be made. The fans already feel disenfranchised, with season ticket sales for next season already 33% down and unlikely to pick up before August. The pressure is on the club to regroup and halt the downward slide that has led to us becoming the first club to twice be relegated from the top flight down to the third division.

Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger & also writes for The Football Network

Tom tweets at @toomb306

Wolves: on the threshold of disaster

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

It’s been a while since my last piece on here, developing a five point plan for Ståle Solbakken at Wolves. And guess how many of those points he took on board? Not a single one of them. Now I reckon he ignored my plans for one of three reasons. Firstly, I don’t know what I’m talking about. This one is perhaps fair enough. The second reason is that he doesn’t actually read this website, but we know that’s not true. Anyone who’s anyone reads WAGU! on a regular basis, and I can see you there nodding your head in agreement. The third possible reason for him ignoring my advice was that he was sacked six days later. In hindsight, that is probably the primary reason.

Since my last blog on here, at the turn of New Year, Wolves have played 12 games of football (eleven in the league, one in the FA Cup). Guess how many of those we’ve won? Well done, the answer is one. One bloody match in twelve; a grand total of eight points from the 33 on offer in that period. That is relegation form. Add that to the three wins in fifteen at the back end of 2012, it’s no surprise to see Wolves firmly ensconced in the bottom three of the Championship, fighting our fourth relegation battle in four seasons.

Yet, we have a new manager, former Welsh international and Liverpool and Aston Villa signing Dean Saunders, poached from Doncaster Rovers, who incidentally, he took down last season. Since Saunders has been appointed, his record reads played eleven, won one, drawn five, lost five. Our honeymoon period under Saunders was over before the vows had been exchanged (by the way, this is the second successive season in which we’ve changed managers during the winter months. The replacement managers have taken twelve points from 24 games, losing over half of them. God bless Terry Connor).

I have always maintained that sacking a manager is an amalgamation of two very different decisions – the decision to release the current manager from his contract, and then the decision to employ a new one. If you get the second decision wrong, it makes no difference if you were right to make the first decision. And so far, the jury is definitely out on that second decision. At a recent Fans’ Parliament meeting (effectively a meeting of the management team of the club and a selection of around 40 fan representatives), club owner Steve Morgan admitted that Dean Saunders had been the only man on his shortlist.

Yes, you read that right; so convinced that Steve Morgan was that Saunders was the right man for the job, he didn’t even stop to consider anyone else (Sean O’Driscoll was the fans’ choice – a Wolves fan as a boy, who had done solid jobs at all of his prior clubs and is doing so again at Bristol City. But more on them later…). This came on the basis of a recommendation from Wrexham’s owner, and Saunders former employer. And then strangely, Doncaster’s owner also backed up this reference, despite apparently not wanting Saunders to leave. But, unsurprisingly, we got our man.

And has he made a difference? Well, perhaps initial signs were promising, with the odd good 20 minutes of football here and there, but never enough to actually buy a win. There was a definite change in style, gone are the slow build-ups of the Solbakken era – when even your silky skilled left winger hoofs it long at every opportunity, you know there has been a change of regime. In fact, perhaps Saunders has even read my recommendations in that earlier blog. We’ve signed a left back, the youngster Jack Robinson on loan from Liverpool while Kaspars Gorkšs has arrived on loan from Reading and youngster Matt Doherty appears to have made the right back spot his own; Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Doyle are no longer our automatic pairing upfront, with Jake Cassidy recalled from his loan spell at Tranmere Rovers and Björn Sigurðarson gaining a modicum of fitness; and for one game, Tongo Doumbia was given the freedom to roam forward. But, they didn’t work, so maybe I was right in the opening paragraph; I don’t know what I’m talking about…

But, despite my best laid plans, things have not taken a turn for the better. On Saturday, Wolves are facing bottom of the table Bristol City, in what is a classic relegation six pointer. Earlier in the season, we beat them 4-1 at Ashton Gate, in what can only be described as a ‘comfortable’ victory (in fact, it’s the only time we’ve won a league game by more than two goals since beating Blackpool 4-0 more than two years ago). Yet, we are going into it with a feeling of trepidation – surely every Wolves fan will look at the two dugouts and wonder ‘what might have been’. A loss and we are rock bottom in the league going into the Easter period. Surely a team full of players who have spent the previous three seasons in the Premier League should not be able to find themselves in this situation. Nothing less than a win will be good enough; a tall order considering the Molineux crowd have seen just four home league victories in over 15 months.

There is currently a sign outside Molineux saying ‘tough times don’t last; tough people do’. It’s about time the players bought into this message, and there is no better place to start than at home to bottom of the league.

Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger & also writes for The Football Network

Tom tweets at @toomb306

Out with the new, in with the old?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

One again Wolves fans find themselves thinking of what could have been and dreaming of what could be.

But this isn’t a sob story. It’s not a plea for pity. Wolves have deserved everything, and the fans have been dragged along for bad measure. Division four, two bouts of bankruptcy, two stands closed by health and safety. A club that passed up on Duncan Edwards and childhood Wolves fan George Best. A club that lined up a deal for a young Franny Lee only to change their minds. A club that tapped up Jock Stein from Hibs only to lose him to Celtic, and lured Alex Ferguson from Aberdeen only to blow the interview.

And now this latest fine mess.

First, what could have been.

Wolves won promotion under Mick McCarthy on the mantra of ‘young and hungry’. Hard working players with a point to prove.  However, for all the praise the team took for it’s worth ethic, the secret weapon was that the team could play a bit of football. Michael Kightly, David Jones, Matt Jarvis (a one trick pony, but boy, what a trick) and Kevin Foley were all good on the ball, and after promotion McCarthy added Kevin Doyle, Nenad Milijas, Andrew Surman. A year later we saw the additions  both Steve Fletcher and Jamie O’Hara. The foundations were there to grow as a footballing team as well as a hard-working on, but somewhere along the way the priorities shifted and McCarthy learned the wrong lessons. Slowly the decent footabllers were marginalised, sold or worked into the ground. Milijas couldn’t get a game ahead of Dave Edwards, David Jones was allowed to run down his contract and leave after asking for a payrise. Surman was sold to Nowrich. Gifted youngsters like Elliot Bennett were allowed to leave and Mark Davies had already been escorted to Bolton. Slowly graft and sweat became the teams only defining traits, and there’s a point when those legs become tired and grafting becomes plodding.

Steve Morgan wanted something new. As Wolves had faded away he’d seen the emergence of Swansea and the steady survival of Wigan. Teams who played good football and did so with cheaper players scouted from abroad. He appointed Stale Solbakken, a manager with a good pedigree and a lot of tactical knowledge, and gave him the brief to, well, deliver everything and now.

What they perhaps neglected to tell the Norwegian was that he was going to have to work with the same faded and broken team that had just spent a year finding new and exciting ways to fail.  I would love to know Solbakken’s thoughts in those early months, as it became obvious that there was to be no clearout, and that his job depended on being able to convert a team of grafters into Barcelona. He was set up for either brilliant success or total failure, and was given no options between. I wonder also how isolated he was at the start? He came in on his own -with two coaches appointed later- and worked with Terry Connor. It must have been hard to convince players of his methods and tactics when he had nobody else to support him.

Solbakken showed promising signs in the transfer market, and it’s only injury that blots the record. Sako has shone very brightly in this division, and both Peszko and Boukari looked positive before suffering long term injuries. Doumbia has both amazed and frustrated, and Sigurdarson has shown flashes of he player he could become.

I wanted Solbakken to succeed. I wanted a team who played a modern zonal style, who played with their brains, and broke teams down with passing and patience. But the stark facts are that he didn’t deliver. He wasn’t helped, and he perhaps never stood a chance, but he did himself no favours by simply failing to pick up points. As with Glenn Hoddle several years ago, he leaves the club with the vague impression that he was the right idea at the wrong time. The lasting memories of both managers will be limp, lifeless football and of men unable to convey their ideas to the players in gold.

Dean Saunders was not on my list. Truth be told, he wasn’t on the list of any Wolves fan that I spoke to. There was a simple and predictable list of names that rarely went beyond Sean O’Driscoll and Gus Poyet. It felt like the right time for O’Driscoll. He is both a Wolves fan and a coach that can combine attractive football with the realities of such a harsh league. It helped that he was available, and that the only competition for his signature was the team at the foot of the table.

It became clear that the fairytale wasn’t going to happen and Saunders was rushed in with a speed that would have been far better received last season. To my mind there is nothing about his record that suggests he is the man for the job –though a passing resemblance to Bruce Springsteen gives me years worth of “Wolves Boss” material- and his teams aren’t known for their football.

And yet, and yet.

Saunders cut an impressive figure at the press conference. He said all the right things. He spoke of harsh lessons, of players needing to start working harder, and of cutting loose any dead wood. Steve Morgan’s comments were also key; he spoke of Saunders’ lower leagues experience as being important to him being able to manage in the championship. Perhaps he is right, and Solbakken lacked that basic understanding.

In truth both managers said more or less the same things in their opening press conferences, but they said them in different ways. Solbakken is quiet, measured and cerebral. Saunders is an entertainer who knows how to connect with people, and more importantly understands the mindset of midlands football fans.

What I realise looking back over my time following the club is that perhaps Saunders fits the Wolves DNA in a way that Solbakken never could. Wolves fans need to hear certain things- they need to see certain things. The club is bigger than the City, and the two feed off each other. Far more than any politician or celebrity, the City of Wolverhampton get’s it’s self-esteem from it’s famous old football club, and they need a strong figure at the helm.

Some football clubs need coaches and some need managers. Roy Hodgson is a perfect fit for Fulham or Albion, but never connected with Liverpool. Celtic fans need a manager that embodies the club in some way, a talisman they can rally around. Mark Hughes was never as comfortable in his own skin at Fulham or QPR as he was at Blackburn. Wolves, I realise now, are perhaps a club that need a leader. They need a Mick McCarthy type, the man who leads by example and gives the fans the simple and clear comments that they trust.  They also need a plan B for when belief in that leader runs out.

Perhaps Saunders can be that leader. The same fans that were talking down Saunders on Sunday are now telling me how much they liked his press conference. There is already a different feel in the air, and I think we might see a sharp increase in attendances for the honeymoon period.

My concern is that the club has once again sacrificed long-term development for short-term gain. As much as Saunders seems to “get” the club, I would rather they had stayed the course. Where would Wolves be now if Solbakken had been given everything he needed last summer? Where will Wolves be in five years now compared to what they could have been after five years of the Norwegian’s project?

Time will tell.

Written by Jay Stringer, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger

Jay tweets at @JayStringer & also writes HERE.

The only way is up

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

It was a difficult summer for Doncaster Rovers, so many players left and we saw no less than eleven players brought in. Old legends at the Keepmoat Stadium such as James O’Connor left for Derby, Brian Stock moved to Burnley and eight years into his Doncaster career James Coppinger left to join former boss Sean O’Driscoll at Forest, albeit on loan. El Hadji Diouf, James Hayter, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird and George Friend also moved on pastures new.

However we have seen the arrival of Rob Jones, Jamie McCombe, Paul Quinn, James Harper, David Cotterill, Dave Syers, Robbie Blake, Billy Paynter and Ian Hume. Although Rovers have a small squad for this season we can only hope and pray that we are not hit by injuries that have plagued our squads in the last couple of seasons, although Shelton Martis is still sidelined.

This season has already proved to be unclear on what we would go onto judge as success, but with the likes of Willie McKay and his ‘experiment’ no more at Doncaster Rovers, a good feeling has resurfaced around the Keepmoat Stadium despite relegation last season. In fact I spent numerous occasions this summer sat outside my front door waiting for my We Are Going Up Allan Johnstone Paint Trophy with excitement in my mind towards the game that weekend!

Nevertheless the season kicked off in good spirits as Rovers travelled down to Walsall and romped to a 3-0 win with goals from Chris Brown, Kyle Bennet and a 40 yard lob from David Cotterill in his first league game for the club. Despite winning this game comfortably, the Rovers were in truth nothing special that day, we didn’t look glorious on the ball and spent much of the match pinned back by Walsall. However our physical dominance and organisation proved enough to defend for long periods before winning the ball back, going up the other end of the pitch and doing the business.

The next game followed a similar pattern; we went down to an average Bury side and were lucky to come out on top, which probably would not have happened if  Bury hadn’t been down to ten men late in the second half. Chris Brown and Kyle Bennet came to the rescue that day as well, and despite not playing greatly, Rovers had two wins from as many games and the season looked like it would be a colourful one.

Unfortunately we couldn’t muster three wins on the trot as we were undone by Crawley, who proved that there are much tougher opposition in this division than Bury and Walsall. The performance was not significantly worse however and Rovers were only beaten by a late deflected goal.

The following week saw the club in in the second round of the League Cup against Championship side Hull City at home, and it looked like the Doncaster contingent should have stayed at home as Hull went 2-0 up inside 20 minutes. However Dean Saunders men proved that we can make a fight out of this season and pulled it back to 2-2 before Dave Syers found the net to secure the win late in injury time. Its very rare Rovers score in injury time to win a game and its even rarer we come from 2-0 down to do it, so credit to the Rovers for that passionate performance which gives us something to gloat about until we meet our East Yorkshire friends again.

The only other game we played was the following Saturday against then-league leaders Yeovil on their home soil. It had been a busy transfer deadline day with James Coppinger moving on but the club had to dust itself down and concentrate on their football. The main talking point was James Hayter who left Doncaster on a free last season to join Yeovil and he looked in fine form already for his new employers this campaign.

Almost as if it was written Hayter – at only 5’8 – managed to weave in-between Rovers 6 foot plus centre backs to head home against his former side. He showed no emotion in the celebration and ran back to the half way line as if he had missed, although the truth is he was showing respect to his former club, and for this I have the utmost respect for him. Yeovil added a second in the closing minutes before Billy Paynter netted his first goal for the Rovers this season, but it was all too little too late and we left the game with a seven hour journey back home and nothing to show for it.

We did have a game for Oldham planned at home but due to the Latics having three international players, they had the right to postpone the game. This may be considered a joke by some because it will create a fixture pile up, and if Doncaster were receive injuries due to this and can’t field an XI  for the rearranged fixture, we won’t have the grounds to call a postponement.

However that leaves the club with six points from four games and a game in hand above everyone else. All is not yet lost and a few good results in the next five or six matches will pin the side right back up into the mix for promotion and the play-offs.

In Rovers We Trust.

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft

R’over and out: A look back on this season

Monday, March 26th, 2012

As Billy Sharp slotted home his second goal at St.Mary’s he pretty much summed up the season Doncaster Rovers are having. Less than two months ago Sharp was a Rovers player.

Those two months seems to have gone by very slowly indeed and Rovers are now five points off safety with eight games to play. The games are running out and the great escape seems more unlikely with each passing day. Doncaster Rovers look as good as condemned to be leaving the Championship in the next month after four great seasons of entertaining football and punching well above their weight. But it was only 16 months ago the club were being described as the ‘next Blackpool,’ so what has gone wrong so much for Rovers to now be fighting against all odds to stay in this division?

Let’s begin on the opening day of the season; away at Brighton and 1-0 up at half time after a great first half performance. The second half saw injuries to both James Hayter and Sharp and Rovers were defeated by a 99th minute Brighton goal. That would be as good as it got as one point was picked up from the first seven games of the season and Sean O’Driscoll was sacked, despite Chairman John Ryan declaring the day before that his job was as safe as Sir Alex Ferguson’s.

Things were beginning to get stale under O’Driscoll, however in his defence he did have a very much depleted squad, and little money to bring in anybody of a calibre who could lift the confidence which had been shattered after a 19 game winless run. Although the manager may not have left on very good terms with the club, he will be remembered by many fans as bringing the glory days back to the town of Doncaster after 50 years.

Who was chosen to take over from the tactical mastermind? Dean Saunders, a prolific goal scorer in his career but with little managerial experience at Wrexham, and whether that was much a success can easily be debated. He had been with the Welsh club for three seasons. In his first two seasons, despite bringing in around thirty different players and expected to win promotion back to the Football League, they could only finish in 10th and 11th respectively, in his third season it finally began to tick and they claimed 4th spot but lost out in the play-offs. Before he left his post, Wrexham were sitting top of the Conference.

Saunders started his managerial career at Doncaster very well, picking up seven points in his first three games and lifting the Rovers out of the Relegation zone. If that didn’t make Rovers fans smile, they had signed Pascal Chimbonda and were being linked with El-Hadji Diouf, Frederic Piquionne and even Carlos Tevez! People were beginning to ask questions on how this was making sense and soon enough a man with the answers stepped into the limelight to receive his praise from the Rovers faithful; transfer agent Willie McKay. However this was not met with the optimism that the club would have hoped for and since making that interview for a Sunday newspaper, a divide has been created at Doncaster Rovers between the fans that will take a very long time to heal.

Since then Doncaster Rovers have signed Chris Kirkland, Damien Plessis, Mamadou Bagayoko, Habib Beye, El-Hadji Diouf, Carl Ikeme, Frederic Piquionne, David Button, Herita Ilunga, Herold Goulon, Habib Bamogo and Lamime Diatta. There was even talk of the club pushing for the play-offs, but it’s fair to say this has quite panned out how anybody expected. Despite the big names coming to Rovers, the team have struggled to shake off that losing mentality and have been stuck in a relegation fight ever since.

It isn’t as if Saunders andMcKay haven’t been genuinely trying to help the club, but the same can’t be said about some of the players, and that doesn’t just include the players that have come here since the pair decided to help the struggling South Yorkshire club.

Relegation would be a blow to Doncaster, the chairman has already stated that the club are operating at a loss at this level and should they go down the loss in TV revenue would mean financial losses in the region of £6 million. I fear for the stability and safety of the club after relegation, wondering what will happen if Rovers do go down.

Some are speculating this will be the end of the ‘McKay experiment’, others believe it will continue, while some fans are unsure and refusing to accept that relegation is a possibility. Some supporters blame Sean O’Driscoll for the current predicament, some are blaming McKay’s transfer policy, questioning whether it is right to allow one player to train with Rovers for two days a week and spend the rest of the week in France.

Are Doncaster Rovers going down the right path? I don’t think anybody knows the sure, especially when earlier this season the club’s future was left in jeopardy when two of the biggest shareholders resigned from the Board of Directors, leaving Chairman John Ryan as the last man standing.

No one can question Ryan’s commitment as a fan of Doncaster Rovers or his loyalty as a Chairman. If ever there was a man who could take on the role of being a Chairman of a business and lookout for the interests of the supporters before his back pocket, and support the team as a boyhood fan, it is John Ryan. And while he remains at Doncaster Rovers, many fans will feel more comfortable with whatever happens because they know everything John Ryan does is in the best interests of the club.

So our future may look bleak, but Rovers still have a fighting chance of surviving this season and I will see it out to the very end. Hopefully that the rest of the Rovers faithful will be doing the same, cheering on the boys, loud and proud until the final ball is kicked. Keep The Faith. R’over and out…

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft