IF DONCASTER Rovers’ players are to prove some doubters wrong and get their season back on an even keel, they could do worse than follow the example of one of their own.
The phrase ‘could do better’ is probably a fair synopsis of 18th-placed Rovers’ modest start to life back in League One, although there have been a few redeeming features.
Close to top of the list is the outstanding form of centre-half Joe Wright, who has nailed down a central defensive berth in the absence of the injured Mathieu Baudry and helped to compensate for his personal disappointment at finding his opportunities curtailed during Rovers’ climactic second half of last season’s promotion campaign.
Out of a disadvantageous situation, the gritty Yorkshireman has drawn strength, just as he did when he overcame a serious injury at the start of his career at Huddersfield Town, which kept him out for 16 long months.
Wright’s strong mindset – cultivated in part by some input from motivational speaker Terry Gormley – has shone through and represented an individual triumph of character and resolve.
On a collective level, pertinent questions are currently being asked by supporters about Rovers’ lame – some would say soft – recent form, especially at the Keepmoat Stadium where home fans have not witnessed a league win since early April.
Although, given this season’s evidence, Wright should be largely exempt from any individual criticism on that count.
Wright said: “I have always been the type of person who wants to prove someone wrong. In training, I was putting the extra hours in to try and develop myself to help get into the team.
“I have also had some help in terms of psychology from Terry, who has helped me through my career. He is someone who Copps (James Coppinger) has worked closely with as well. He has definitely helped me in terms of taking positives out of everything.”
He added: “I beat myself up a little bit last season. One mistake would sometimes lead to another.
“This season, the gaffer sat me down and said, ‘just keep it simple, I want you to defend and do the basics – when you get the ball, just shift it into midfield and then your job is done, really’.
“Last year when I was out of the side, it gave me a lot of time to improve my own game. I did a lot of work with Strachs (assistant manager Gavin Strachan), who helped me quite a lot.
“I spent as much time as I could to improve and now I am reaping the rewards. I definitely feel like I am playing well. It’s probably as confident as I’ve been since I have been here.”
Wright may have provided an individual success story, but manager Darren Ferguson is the first to admit that his side, collectively, need to find a similarly single-minded, ruthless and downright nasty edge if they are to truly get to grips with League One.
According to Ferguson, displaying better concentration and communication levels, decision-making and game-management is all part of the required package if Rovers are to haul themselves up the League One table and quieten some dissent.
Rovers will need all those qualities and a bit more besides if they are to enjoy a successful derby day at Bradford City tomorrow, as Ferguson plainly acknowledges.
The Rovers’ chief, who chided his side for switching off at the climax in their last-gasp midweek loss to Shrewsbury, said: “We need to start being a bit nastier in terms of being strong enough to deal with certain situations. For example, losing goals straight after we score and conceding late goals. Those things have to stop.
“Whether it is mental strength; organisation and communication on the pitch is key for me.”
Just as Rovers lifted spirits for their supporters with a defiant cup performance at Arsenal following a hugely disappointing recent home defeat to Scunthorpe, so Ferguson will be hoping for a similar display, but more positive result, at Valley Parade.
Rovers have saved their best for some marquee fixtures this term, having beaten Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park back in August, while also eliminating Hull City in the Carabao Cup after triumphing at Bradford in the previous round.
That fixture in West Yorkshire was played in front of just over 3,000 fans, with comfortably over six times that number expected tomorrow, but it is something that Rovers should relish, according to Ferguson.
He said: “If we have got any aspirations of being a Championship team, you are going to get that (crowd) every week.
“We need to make sure we handle that side of things.
“As a player, you want to play in these stadiums with 20,000 there.
“I am certainly looking forward to it. There is always a great atmosphere there and I am sure both teams will go toe to toe and we will take a big crowd and go there and try and win the game.
“If we can get a result, it would round off the month very well.”