WHEN the team-sheet was pinned up on the wall of Doncaster Rovers dressing room before their meeting with Burnley, it is safe to say there would have been some bewildered expressions exchanged between the players.
Dean Saunders’ team selection certainly raised a few eyebrows. In total, the Rovers boss made nine changes to his starting line-up. Only Adam Lockwood and Simon Gillett survived the cull. It was actually Lockwood who gifted the Clarets the winner late on after a clumsy foul on Danny Ings enabled Charlie Austin to make it 2-1 from the spot.
In from the cold came Gary Woods and James O’Connor and Sam Hird and company. Of all the players Saunders has recruited, only Fabien Robert started, prompting suggestions a decision had been taken to dtich the raft of high-profile short-term signings brought in under the watch of agent Willie McKay.
But Saunders has rubbished claims Rovers deliberately took a stance to jettison the foreign players, saying; “No, it was just injuries. I was not going down that route. I put that team out and they had a go.”
Frederic Piquionne, El Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda (hamstring), Carl Ikeme (toe) and Habib Beye (ankle) were all sidelined for the Burnley clash, and Saunders blames their lengthy injury list for Rovers lowly league position. The club look destined to go down but Saunders is adamant the temporary signings have improved the team.
The Welshman said: “Have the short-term players injected some life? I don’t think you can argue with Piquionne, Diouf, Ikeme or Beye. They have come into a tough situation where we are bottom of the league.
“Five of our better players are injured and, if you include Shelton Martis, Paul Keegan and Martin Woods, we’ve got a full team there that might have got a starting spot.
“I thought the players did great considering we had all those problems.”
Rovers played nine times in 31 days in March and Saunders feels the gruelling schedule has also hampered their chances of escaping relegation. He admitted Chris Brown, who netted the equaliser versus Burnley, should not have featured, having failed a fitness test just hours before the game.
“We had a run of games Saturday, Tuesday, Friday and playing Leicester has finished a few of them off,” he admitted.
“It’s an accumulation of having tired on top of tired and having to scrap for points. Eventually something’s got to give.”
A major clear-out is expected in the summer, with Saunders confirming “14 to 15” players are out of contract.
He said: “This is a challenge and we have to keep going. I know what I need to. I have not been able to do it so far.
“We lost our top goal-scorer half-way through the season, what does that tell you? When you see chances going past the post, don’t be surprised.”