THE steely glint in the eye and the quietly-spoken sense of determination never wavered in Paul Dickov at the Keepmoat Stadium yesterday lunch-time.
Given a playing career and a managerial one in which he has periodically handled elements of adversity, you would have expected nothing less.
With a disappointing campaign having petered out pretty lamely over the past month, sections of Doncaster Rovers’ fans are growing disgruntled and increasingly irate.
A more audible number are starting to call for the head of Dickov and, while he understands fans’ frustration, he is prepared to bear the flak on his broad shoulders
That number will increase if Rovers have a bad day at the office against neighbours Scunthorpe United at the Keepmoat Stadium tomorrow, where the hosts have a poor record of just six League One wins from 22 games this season.
Dickov, addressing the press ahead of tomorrow’s derby, said: “I will take criticism on the chin.
“I know fans aren’t happy with us not winning games, because I am not happy as well. I am there to be shot at as manager.
“But I don’t think there will be a change of manager, in fact I am pretty sure there won’t be.
“The board have been really receptive in terms of what I want to do next year and they are fully behind me.
“I don’t think I should have to justify that because people in the club know that and, from my point of view, it will be great for me as there will be no excuses next year and I include myself in that.
“I have got broad shoulders when criticism comes. I played for 25 years and am a strong character. If anything, it gives me a massive desire to prove people wrong.”
Acknowledging his position of needing to win over sections of the fans, and having no gripe about that, he added: “I do. But it has been like that from day one.
“When any manager gets appointed, over whatever length of time it is, you are not going to keep everybody happy, especially football fans.
“If they are disgruntled with me, I have no problem sitting down and having a chat with them and letting them know what the plans are.
“Just don’t take it out on the players – take it out on me.”
While Dickov is the first to admit he cannot wait to turn over a blank page and start planning for next season once Rovers’ seasonal commitments end after the final whistle of tomorrow afternoon’s game with Iron, the merits of a morale-booster heading into the summer cannot be overestimated.
Two wins from their last 12 matches do not make for a glossy brochure when it comes to convincing Rovers supporters to part with their hard-earned cash to purchase season tickets, and a tidy win tomorrow might tip the scales for some.
Iron are certainly lucky opponents for Rovers, who have won their past six matches against their rivals from across the A18 and are unbeaten in their last eight outings.
But the visitors themselves have the incentive of leapfrogging Rovers in the table with victory, but Dickov is keen to sign off a frustrating campaign in the right fashion.
He said: “It’s a local derby and one thing we want to do is finish the season with a win at home.
“They have been few and far between this year.
“We are planning for next year, but, first and foremost, we want to give our fans three points to finish the season.
“We are working ever so hard to put it right.
“If we win on Sunday, we will finish in the top half, which was our aim at the start of the season.
“Recent months have not been good enough. But the plan this year was to finish in the top half of the table and push on next year.
“I think at the start of the season, the top six was unrealistic. But we raised expectations a few months ago by going on a decent run and getting in sixth place.
“I am not going to sit here and say I am happy with a top-half of the table or a mid-table finish because I am not because I am ambitious and want to club to go forward.
“But we did say at the start of the season it would not happen overnight.”
Dickov’s previous two summers have been exercises in frustration for the Scot, with on-off takeover sagas dominating the agenda, with the Rovers boss effectively left hamstrung.
It impacted on both pre-season schedules and, more pertinently, on recruitment, with Dickov missing out on many ‘A list’ targets.
But with the off-the-field situation now calm, planning has already begun in earnest ahead of next season with Dickov to be backed by a competitive budget as Rovers seek to move forward.
A level playing field at the start of a season is all Dickov has ever been after, and what he now has, and he admits to being genuinely excited about the next campaign.
Some big decisions are likely to be made in terms of players leaving the club – and the group whose deals expire in June –and Dickov will be making no apologies for that.
And what he is also crystal-clear about is that he will have no excuses next season with regards to Rovers not having a successful campaign.
He added: “It is particularly good for myself, the board and the club as we know exactly where we are in the summer.
“In the previous two seasons, we have not been able to plan and do that through nobody’s fault.
“We are massively together in what we want to do and the board have been really receptive in what I am looking to do next year and we are all looking forward to it.
“It will be a million miles away to last summer, which was a massive upheaval.
“I can’t come out next season talking about disruptions in the summer.
“Going into next season, there’s no excuses. I am looking forward to it.”