THe sea air of Bournemouth did not seem to possess many reviving qualities for Doncaster Rovers on March 1.
St David’s Day was not a particularly saintly one for Paul Quinn and his team-mates after a 5-0 drubbing at the Goldsands Stadium, prompting a lengthy inquest among disillusioned visiting fans who made the long trek south.
Many that day were quick to tell anyone who would care to listen that Rovers would be relegated from whence they came last May.
The sentiments were similar the previous week after Rovers made a similarly dispiriting trip back from Yeovil, with the messages finding their way to Rovers players such as Quinn, not that they necessarily agreed with a number of the doom-laden comments. But they listened.
A collective shock to the system has not served Paul Dickov’s side too badly, with Rovers heading into today’s derby with Sheffield Wednesday in far ruder health after home wins over Huddersfield Town and Watford and a draw at Nottingham Forest, with a season that was in danger of listing now back on an even keel.
Quinn said: “It was sore-reading after the Bournemouth and Yeovil games and no-one wanted to read the paper or see people on Twitter saying we are going to go down.
“We were like ‘Come on.’ But you take the rough with the smooth and we look forward now.
“I can understand people in the press saying that the 5-0 drubbing at Bournemouth was a kick up the backside and I think it was just a sense of realisation within the squad, club and supporters.
“It was a case of ‘Hang on a minute, we finished above them last season and went to their place and beat them.’
“Maybe the signals were a lot clearer after that. No words were said and it was just sleeves rolled up.
“I spoke to a few supporters at the ticket office when we thanked them for renewing their season tickets a few weeks ago and we said ‘Look, we need to forget Bournemouth and stick together – we need every single person in the club, ticket ladies, cleaners and players for one big push’.
“The fans got behind us against Huddersfield and backed us all the way against Watford when it looked as if we’d possibly blown a good chance and they were great at Forest.
“We were always going to suffer difficult stages in a season, whether it be a week, month or six weeks. But we also knew we had the character as a club and squad to come through that.
“We have shown a great response to defeats throughout the season. We’ve battled through injuries and suspensions and it all has to stand us in good stead for the rest of the season.
“The guts of the squad have been through difficult times at stages in their careers.
“We knew this season would be a totally different ball game.”
When seasons enter the home straight, points make prizes, with votes for artistic merit pretty much spoiled.
This time last season, it is worth noting that Rovers were not exactly pleasing on the eye, but got the job done by way of promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
No-one was complaining and if they chisel out some precious wins in the coming weeks to achieve their safety mission, fans will not care a jot once more.
Quinn, one of the unsung heroes of last season’s League One title class, said: “In some games last season, we could almost bully our way to three points; it wasn’t the most attractive football, but it got the job done.
“That’s what we need to be looking at for the last 10 games. It doesn’t matter how it looks or how it is, but what goes on the board.”
Speaking of bullying, that is exactly what honest Huddersfield Town chief Mark Robins felt that Rovers did to his subjugated side in the first half of their derby encounter a fortnight ago, with his comments intended to be complimentary as opposed to derogatory.
To hardened defenders like Quinn those sentiments were received like nectar, with Rovers showing that, like last season, as a team they are greater than the sum of their parts with a ferocious work ethic.
Much like today’s opponents Wednesday, Rovers players have shown their adaptability across the pitch, with Quinn minding the shop in the heart of defence just as diligently as he did at right-back, currently the domain of a player far more used to life further up the pitch in James Coppinger.
He said: “The Huddersfield game was bullying in terms of tempo and desire to getting the ball back and hurrying things and forcing them into mistakes, while showing we could dig in.
“Everyone is contributing and I am just happy to play anywhere on the pitch.
“I recently said to James Coppinger ‘Do you enjoy it in there (right-back)?’ and he said ‘I’m not bothered, as long as I am playing’ and it’s the same with me.
“Because of confidence, we are now really looking forward to this week. If we hadn’t got the results we had, we’d have been thinking it would be a really tough week against Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and Leeds.
“If we win (today), we are a massive step forward to safety and have got a good base to have a right good crack in the last six weeks or so.”