Saunders puts faith in towering pairing

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DEAN SAUNDERS insists he would not swap his twin defensive peaks of Rob Jones and Jamie McCombe for Stevenage duo Mark Roberts and Jon Ashton.

If circumstances had been different, the Boro centre-backs could have been lining up for Doncaster and not the visitors at the Keepmoat Stadium this afternoon.

Both were close to the top of a lengthy list of centre-half targets drawn up by boss Saunders in the close season, with Rovers reportedly failing in a bid to sign the duo in July.

But that unwittingly opened the door for captain Jones and McCombe once Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town made the two men available.

The rest, as they say, is history with Saunders having been delighted with the impact on and off the pitch of the pair, who were in particularly immense form in Tuesday’s derby draw at Sheffield United.

Saunders said: “I had a list the size of a piece of A4 paper of centre-backs in the summer.

“But Rob and Jamie weren’t available at the time and only were later on.

“Ashton and Roberts are doing well and are big, strong lads, but I would not swap them for the ones I have got. Sometimes things work in your favour.

“Rob and Jamie are good characters more than anything – forget how big they are – they want to win.

“Rob does half of my job for me, he’s like a manager on the pitch. He’s also telling them to train properly and buck their ideas up and all that.”

Saunders, who is hoping to have Billy Paynter back in the fray today, insists Stevenage, flying high in second spot despite losing a stack of players in the summer, will represent Rovers’ toughest test so far.

He added: “They have done brilliantly as they have lost so many players from last season. But it doesn’t surprise me as the spirit at Stevenage has carried them from the Conference right the way through and they are still getting results.

“Everybody thinks they just launch it and are big and physical. They are, but they are also playing football as well.

“I think we have got to play really really well and need luck on our side to get a result. It will be our toughest game of the season so far.”

Saunders admits he will continue to resist the urge to throw Iain Hume, Robbie Blake, James Harper and Shelton Martis into the fray and is determined to ease them back in with the quartet still a way off registering 100 per cent match fitness.

He said: We’ve got some many at different stages of fitness and that’s because I scrambled a team together in the last week of pre-season.

“They aren’t exactly in tip-top condition. But I trying to get them fit as we go along without actually killing them. I’ve got to try and ease them in.”