DONCASTER Rovers celebrated the start of the New Year by climbing off the foot of the Championship table - and sparked a debate among fans as to the best way forward in 2012.
Fans opposed to the club’s policy of bringing in a number of French-born players on short-term contracts will have been pointing to the fact that due to injuries and suspensions debutant keeper David Button and defender Herita Ilunga were the only players in the Rovers’ squad not at the club when manager Dean Saunders took over in September and that they looked a better team for it.
Those in favour of the club’s actions, designed to help them retain their Championship status countered that Rovers beat the likes of Ipswich, Southampton and Leicester thanks in part to the boost provided by the new recruits.
Manager Dean Saunders defended the club’s controversial recruitment policy.
“As a manager if I see any weaknesses in the team I try and improve it and all the players I’ve brought in are good footballers most of whom have played at the top level,” he said.
But he was quick to praise his charges, who he said needed no motivation to try and avenge the 2-0 defeat at Oakwell in November, on duty against the Reds.
“That’s the hardest we’ve worked I think as a group and some of the players who have not been getting a game or whatever, stepped up to the plate today and I thought all of them were brilliant,” he said.
“I’m going to find it hard to leave any of them out who played today. If players play well they stay in the team. If we keep winning I’m going to keep the same team every week.”
James Hayter celebrated his return to the starting line-up for the first time in two months when giving Rovers an early lead with Kyle Bennett, who last started a game in late October, adding a second in the dying minutes to make sure of a third successive home win. Both men attracted praise from Saunders, a much happier figure post-match than had been the case at Vicarage Road following Saturday’s 4-1 defeat against Watford.
“James Hayter is a great lad; a great character,” said Saunders. “He’s kept his head down and trained and hasn’t given me a moment’s problem. He’s one of those you’d like in the trenches with you.
“I’m learning about the players all the time. I’ve only been here three months and sometimes you get the wrong impression and then after a while you realise (what you’ve got) and I know that I can rely on him.”
He added: “I’ve spent more time working with Kyle Bennett than anybody since I’ve been here,” he said.
“He has got to get some structure and discipline into his game and he’s got to be able to be part of a team and play in a position where he’s asked to play. He’s got to have some sort of foundation to his talent so that he can fall back on it.
“He’s got marks all over his legs and he doesn’t normally get that but he did today because he was pressing and doing the other side of the game. If I can get him doing that then we’ve got a really good player on our hands because he’s got talent.
“I played him today because of the way he trained yesterday; he was unstoppable. I’m also pleased that he scored a good goal because he’s had some stick off me.”
Saunders was also impressed by leading scorer Billy Sharp, who set-up Hayter’s goal.
“His hold-up play was miles better,” he said. “I’ve said to him that if he wants to go to the next level that he has to get better at all the other stuff because he knows where the ball is in the box and he’s brilliant at it.”
Saunders said that the club had already rejected a bid for Sharp since the January transfer window opened and admitted he feared that the 25 year-old striker would be leaving the club in the next week or so.
“I hope he stays for obvious reasons; he’s scored nine goals in something like 16 games for me,” he said.
Pascal Chimbonda, who suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury in his comeback game on Saturday, was booked in for a scan.
The club will also be checking on centre-back George Friend who came off early in yesterday’s game with suspected medial knee ligament damage.
There were allegations that a handful of Barnsley fans chanted particularly offensive taunts to Billy Sharp during match, but that has not been confirmed.
Sharp posted on his Twitter page: “If there was a few people chanting that then I hope you’re proud of yourself, but I can’t imagine anyone being so disrespectful.”