A QUESTION surrounding the paucity of goals currently being endured by his Doncaster Rovers’ strikers is met with an eclectic response from manager Dean Saunders.
It not only elicits references to Nottingham Forest’s great back-to-back European Cup winning sides of 1979 and 1980, but the Liverpool team he won an FA Cup with as a player himself in 1992 and, also, Chelsea’s more recent Premier League victors.
The common denominator between them all is, of course, they each achieved success, something the Welshman is adamant he will bring to Doncaster regardless of any dry run his forwards may presently be experiencing.
In fairness, ahead of today’s visit from Brentford, that is only a relatively minor quibble of the South Yorkshire club as they bid to secure an immediate return to the Championship.
They are creating plenty, defending stoutly – only League One leaders Tranmere and MK Dons have conceded fewer than their 10 – and could break into the play-off places with a sixth victory this afternoon.
That Chris Brown has struck just one goal in his last nine League games, Billy Paynter returning only slightly better with two from eight and Iain Hume managing only one in his five matches since joining on loan from Preston does not leave Saunders perturbed in any way.
As he explains: “I’d like us to score more goals but Chelsea were league champions three years back and won 17 games 1-0 so, as long as we get the points, it doesn’t matter.
“If you’d have said to me before now that we’d have a game in hand and if we won it we’d be fourth in the league just two points off a promotion spot, I’d have taken that.
“I’m really pleased with how the players have done.
“We’ve defended really well, we’re winning games – it’s now just one loss in the last six – and it’s the whole team really that has to get in and score.
“We’ve only conceded three goals in open play in 11 games. All the rest have come from dead ball situations – corners, free-kicks or long throws – so nobody’s ripping us apart.
“I’ve built a new team here but we look solid and that’s what you start with; you try and become as hard to play against as possible and we definitely are that.
“Then you work your way forward.”
He says the fact that this Doncaster side is still in its embryonic stages, Saunders having brought so many on board in the summer, is partly the reason for his forwards’ current malaise but it is something which will be remedied with time.
“I’m sure it will all come,” continues the 48-year-old, who knows plenty about the art of scoring given his predatory history with the likes of Derby, Galatasary, Aston Villa and Wales.
“It’s just players not playing with each other very much and not knowing where the ball’s going next.
“Going back at Nottingham Forest when John Robertson was playing on the left, he was crossing balls to Garry Birtles and Trevor Francis for years.
“In the end they knew where it was going; when he dragged it, those who remember him, knew where it was going next.
“I think it’s just a case of the players playing together a bit more here and starting to understand where balls from Dave Cotterill or crosses from Tommy Spurr and Paul Quinn are going to end up too.”
Saunders takes comfort from the manner in which others are already easing the burden, including centre-half Rob Jones who came up with a crucial late equaliser at struggling Hartlepool a week ago.
“Browny’s got four in 11, Cotterill’s got four, Kyle Bennett’s has two and Billy (Paynter), while Dave Syers and Rob (Jones) have two each as well so people are chipping in from all angles,” he added.
“Normally, when you look at the team that gets promoted, nearly every player in the squad has scored a goal somewhere during the season. At Hartlepool, there was only one player in our entire team – apart from the goalkeeper – who never had a chance to score which is a good sign.
“If Iain Hume had played I’d have fancied him to score too.”
Hume was away on international duty, scoring for Canada during Tuesday’s humiliating 8-1 defeat in Honduras, a result which ended their World Cup qualification hopes.
He only returned home late on Thursday night, however, before training yesterday so Saunders will assess the 28-year-old’s energy levels before deciding whether to restore a player he admits wanting to keep permanently.
Ninth-placed Brentford, meanwhile, are ahead of Doncaster only by virtue of a superior goal difference and Saunders said: “They are very similar to us.
“They are a solid team who have been together a lot longer, had a few years trying to get promoted, have some really good players and are hard to play against.
“They are not scoring loads of goals, but haven’t lost for 10 games so it’ll be a tough match.
“But if we gel together we can only beat ourselves really; not many teams are going to rip us apart.”
Knowing just that, most visitors to the Keepmoat Stadium this season have adopted stifling tactics and he said: “I don’t think anyone has tried to play against us.
“Even the Crawley game they changed the way they played; every time they won the ball they just booted it behind us and disrupted the game so we couldn’t get any rhythm going.
“I played at Liverpool and teams tried different formations, sitting back, pressing, trying to bully you, frustrate you, everything.
“But eventually we beat them as players on the pitch know what to do. Here, we’ve just got to find a way round that and keep stretching them.”