THE storm season may be upon us, but Doncaster Rovers are showing no signs of being blown away.
The sight of Rovers nestled in the League One play-off positions and level on points with promotion favourites Sunderland and Barnsley may be an arresting one for some, but for Joe Wright and his team-mates, there is no sense of shock whatsoever.
Speak to them and it is certainly no fluke. The perceived view is Rovers, if anything, are actually a little short of their own internal expectations.
It is a stance also echoed by Grant McCann.
The new Doncaster manager set out his stall in the Spanish sun in July, telling his players what he expected of them during their pre-season training camp at the popular Murcian venue of La Manga – and nailing down some team targets throughout the course of the season.
While Rovers head into today’s all-Yorkshire affair with Bradford City in a good place – after exhibiting contrasting characteristics in wins of substance against Walsall and Luton Town – the notion is that they expect more.
Wright, enjoying another sturdy season after a solid 2017-18, said: “As soon as the gaffer came in, he let us know what he expected of us and set us some targets.
“We are a little bit short of that at the moment, but we will be trying to put that right on Saturday. Personally, I think it does help you and gives you something to aim for and you know what is expected as a group and there is no second-guessing.
“We know what the gaffer wants and have got to try and deliver.
“The goals do help us and drive us along. It is not allowing any of us to get carried away that we have done this so far and, ideally, we want to be doing better. It is great that the gaffer has so much faith in us and it is showing on the pitch. Copps (James Coppinger) said after Saturday’s game (at Walsall) that it is early days and we are not getting carried away.
It was a lot of players’ first season at this level last time and we have learned a hell of a lot in terms of how to manage games, kill it a little bit and when to go on the attack and get another goal. It is a joy to play in this team, to be honest.Joe Wright
“But as long as we keep our standards, I am sure we will keep going in the right direction.
“I don’t think there is anything to fear, but, at the same time, you cannot be complacent.”
Wright’s last line may be eminently sensible, but breaking down Rovers’ start to the season provides evidence to suggest that they have the ability to stick around in their current position this term.
On the one side, Rovers have shown their free-flowing attacking traits in wins against Walsall and Wycombe, periodically, and in the dominant draw at early pace-setters Peterborough.
Crucially, it has been complimented by resolution and impressive game management in the recent win with Luton. A clean sheet and encouragement also arrived in a goalless draw against leaders Portsmouth.
Wright observed: “A lot of our performances last season were good, but it was just the fine margins of managing a game which went against us.
“We should have probably finished higher than we did and, as players, we took responsibility. But this year, you are seeing the learning curve and how it is developing.
“It was a lot of players’ first season at this level last time and we have learned a hell of a lot in terms of how to manage games, kill it a little bit and when to go on the attack and get another goal.
“It is a joy to play in this team, to be honest.”
That enjoyment was showcased wonderfully in last weekend’s dynamic 4-1 victory at Walsall, arguably as good a performance as any League One side have delivered this season. More especially, given that the Saddlers were unbeaten heading into the game.
It has emboldened confidence ahead of today’s White Rose game, for sure.
“We are feeling good off a good win last Saturday. Spirits in the camp are high and we are looking forward to it,” said defender Wright.
“Performance-wise, we have been good in most games, if not all of them, in spells. But I just thought we were ruthless last Saturday with each of the front three getting a goal.
“It is all about belief and we are a group who believe in ourselves. There is definitely more to come. It is still a new system and a lot of people do forget that we did not play 4-3-3 last season. But we have adapted to it really well and over time, it will get better.”
The form book may point to a home win today against a Bradford side on a four-match losing sequence and who have won just once in 14 away league games since January 1, losing 10.
That run included a miserable televised loss at Rovers in March.
Yet former Huddersfield Town defender Wright believes today’s outcome is not so clear-cut, more especially when scrutinising the Bantams’ squad list, which featured several players who have plied their wares at Championship level, including someone whom he knows in ex-Terriers team-mate Sean Scannell.
Wright said: “They have had a couple of managers since we last played them. But we are not taking anything for granted. We know it will be a hard game.
“They are a good team, no doubt about that, and I am quite surprised to see them where they are. They have got some quality players, especially going forward.
“I knows Scanns a bit. I was just a young lad, but trained with him a few times, but he played a couple of times for the Under-23s, so I have a good idea of what he is about.
“I am surprised to see them where they are; especially with the players they have got going forwards with the likes of Scanns, Payne and Doyle. There’s a lot of quality there.