The Opposition View: Doncaster Rovers

How confident are you that Doncaster can achieve automatic promotion after the season you've had so far?

It's been a strange old season for us here. Now we've taken over at the top (I hesitate to say we are clear) it's definitely generating a confident and very positive mood in the camp. I feel that if we keep injuries to a minimum then we have everything in the tank to get over the line and earn promotion.

That would be a fantastic achievement in my book as Dean Saunders gutted the whole squad last summer and had to reduce our wage bill by a good couple of million. That has been done whilst building a strong side and I think everyone from the now departed Saunders and his staff to Brian Flynn have to be commended for that.

We only had 10 players on the books a week before the start of the season so I'd say we've done well. We have players with the ability to win matches under almost any circumstances and that is proving crucial.

Plus it'd be a fantastic added bonus if we go up ahead of local rivals Sheffield United.
Is it safe to assume that Brian Flynn is a popular man amongst Rovers fans?

You know what, I wouldn't actually say that right now. The opinion on Mr. Flynn seems to be very back-and-forth at the minute. If we win he is hailed as a master and it's a great appointment by the board, but if we go on a bad run the leadership is questioned. Perhaps that is par for the course with fickle football fans, but it is clear Flynn has experience in abundance and knows what he is talking about. We recovered from a brief winless run and have continued to grind out wins with late winners in matches at Shrewsbury and last week at Bournemouth.

These were frequent under Dean Saunders so it's good to see our resiliency is still in place after the change. Flynn still feels like an interim appointment to me and I think that we will re-evaluate the managerial situation in the summer, even if Flynn steers us over the line and earns us promotion.

Nearly every Pompey fan that went to the match at the Keepmoat Stadium last season say that it was one of the biggest robberies in recent football history. What are your memories of that day?

That day will live long in my memory. Although we were both already surely consigned to inevitable relegation it was made official for us with that result and the manner of the defeat left such a sour taste in the mouth for all of us.

We had fought so hard to not only get into that early 2-0 lead but recovered from conceding two extremely dubious penalties to retake the lead and still we had it snatched away from us. Nobody is ever forgetting the names of Mick Russell or David Kitson put it that way.

I'm not sure anybody in the country or even the world could argue that we weren't hard done by with at least the red card decision for Habib Beye that got you back into the game or the blatant foul and handball by Kitson for the third goal. It was nothing short of farcical.

Kitson has already come back to bite us again since as well, robbing us of a well deserved win against Sheffield United on New Year's Day with another injury time blow.

David Cotterill wasn't too great when playing in a Portsmouth shirt. How has he performed for your team? 

I think the best word to describe David Cotterill is "gamechanger". He can do nothing for an hour of a game and then suddenly pop up with a top class cross or shot and totally change a game in our favour. He's scored 10 goals for us this season which is the joint second highest behind Billy Paynter, and I would say that 9 of those 10 goals are genuinely all brilliant finishes. He just doesn't do boring games. He has been phenomenal and I feel a real steal on a free transfer as he is a cut above this league.

I haven't seen too many players I can say that about this year but he is one of them. I believe he also leads the division in assists with 16 (2nd place has 12 assists) which is also an absolutely fantastic haul. It seems he struggled to find a rhythm at several of his previous clubs but he's taken his chance to shine this season and I hope it leads to more success in the future for him.

Have you seen much of Andy Griffin and if so, what do you think of him?

Griffin has been in and out of the team largely due to injuries but I think the general consensus with Rovers fans is that he is a quality player. I certainly agree with that notion.

Griffin has shown class and experience as well as leadership at a time when we have lacked real leaders and I'm delighted that Dean Saunders brought him in. It's a shame he hasn't been able to manage a solid run in the side due to injury but when called upon he has seldom played less than very well.

Our first choice right back Paul Quinn has hit form in recent months so Griffin has only managed to get in the side when we needed a firm hand in the centre of midfield and surprisingly he performed well here too. Sadly another injury curtailed his run in that position too. But overall yes, another good acquisition for us this season.

What are the biggest strengths of this Doncaster team? 

I think we have become well known this season for doing a 180 in terms of our football philosophy and now lean on size and power. It would be foolish to ignore the sheer brutality that we have added to our side this season and I think it plays a big factor in why we have been so hard to beat, especially away from home where we set a club record 12-game unbeaten run from September to February.

Both of our central defenders are well over 6 feet tall and the same can be said our strikers. Not that this means we don't try and pass the ball around, but it is certainly not our only plan now. Plus, as you will see if you make the long trip on Saturday, our terrible pitch doesn't really compensate if you want to play the ball on the floor.

Something else we have in abundance is resiliency and belief. When we played in the Championship under Sean O'Driscoll one goal always seemed to kill us. The heads would go down and we would never come from behind, and if we lost a lead we'd never get it back again and would usually go on to lose the game. It became expected by the fans and probably the players alike, but not anymore.

Time and again we have hit late goals to earn draws and wins this year, including twice scoring in injury time immediately after the oppositiom had scored to equalise (at Tranmere and Shrewsbury) with another example of this coming with the late win at Bournemouth last week.

Apart from appointing Mick Russell as referee, what can Pompey do to beat this Rovers side on Saturday? 

Nice touch, but don't speak the name of Mr. Russell too loudly on Saturday or you may get a hostile reception! We are far from infallible despite the aforementioned strengths of our squad and I think if Portsmouth can utilise what they've got then they can get a result. If you want to exploit our weaknesses then pass the ball around as well as you can. We are good at turning possession over in midfield if the right player's are in the side but if our midfield lacks steel then you could have a field day.

Also, exploit the channels up front. I'm not sure what you've got in the way of pace up front since the departure of McLeod but if you can get the ball on the floor, played through with someone to run onto then our fairly slow defenders will struggle. We've also started to become quite slack at set pieces which is unusual for a big side like ours, but the concentration levels have not been there recently.

Predict the outcome of the game. 

I have to go for a home win I'm afraid. We are fighting to stay at the top of the league and I think the players will be more determined than ever to keep that winning feeling alive and gaining retribution for last season. We've still got a few players who felt that pain last April including 9-year club veteran James Coppinger who nearly broke down on the pitch at full time. So a Rovers win.