THERE may be a new man at the helm, but Doncaster Rovers continue to have the measure of Peterborough United.
Rovers chalked up their sixth successive victory over the Posh at sun-drenched London Road to climb out the relegation zone for the first time since early season.
The South Yorkshire side came from behind to win 2-1 and give new boss Dean Saunders, who has now seen Rovers bank seven points in three games since taking over from Sean O’Driscoll, his second win in eight days.
It has been a dream start to his first managerial post in the Football League for Saunders.
But he must have feared that his hopes of Rovers going into the international break with an unbeaten record under his leadership were about to be dashed.
Although still in the frame at only 1-0 down at the break, Saunders knew that his charges had rode their luck in the first 45 minutes and on another day the game could have effectively been over as a contest.
But for the third time in as many matches, Rovers upped their game in the second half and claimed a result.
Rovers’ win, and defeats for teams immediately above them, saw them climb four places to fifth bottom.
Still nothing for Rovers’ fans to get too excited about. But if Saunders - who now has the luxury of fortnight’s break to work with his new charges - can get them playing for 90 minutes like they do in the second 45 - it could just be the start of a much more spectacular climb up the table.
Whatever was said in the dressing room had the desired affect - though not before Lee Frecklington had had a couple of attempts on goal.
Brian Stock showed what Rovers had been missing during his long injury lay-off with a spectacular equaliser on 55 minutes.
John Oster latched on to a loose ball just outside the area and laid it back to Stock who rifled the ball home from around 30 yards out.
“I remember scoring a similar goal at Nottingham Forest which is up there (among the best I’ve scored) but the timing of it and the fact it served to kick-start the team to pick up three points was special,” said Stock, like all his team-mates delighted by the change in fortunes since Saunders took charge.
“Sean O’Driscoll left the club with his head held high because of what he achieved,” said Stock. “But obviously the board felt that something needed to change and that we needed a fresh face and he has come in and lifted the lads and we’ve responded really well.”
Jon Parkin went close to giving Rovers the lead three minutes later with a curling 20 yarder which came down the wrong side of the line as far as the visitors were concerned after hitting the underside of the crossbar.
The game marked record signing Billy Sharp’s eagerly-awaited first start since being stretchered off in the opening game of the season at Brighton with damaged ankle ligaments.
Sharp has done well to get back playing as quickly as he has, but he is still some way short of being back to his brilliant best, as is only to be expected, and made little real impact - a lack of good service in the first half not helping.
Although the former Sheffield United man appeared to be a little unhappy at being brought off after an hour, he will be the first to admit that his replacement Kyle Bennett presented the Peterborough defence with more problems.
It was the former Bury man who scored what proved to be the winning goal on 72 minutes.
He capitalised on a mistake by defender Ryan Bennett, called up in midweek for the England Under-21 squad, and then placed his close range shot through the legs of keeper Paul Jones.
Not only was it Bennett’s first goal at Championship level but the first time that Rovers had scored more than once in the league this season.
Despite the fact that Posh had been nowhere near as dangerous on attack as in the first half, Rovers couldn’t afford to rest on their laurels and that point was hammered home on 72 minutes, Tommy Rowe hitting the far post with keeper Neil Sullivan beaten from a quickly-taken free-kick. Paul Taylor also hit the woodwork.
Rovers continued to look dangerous, however, Parkin tested Jones with a low 20 yarder. Grant McCann shot wide when placed late on.
It was McCann who had given the home side the lead on 19 minutes.
Keeper Neil Sullivan got a hand to his fierce angled 25 yard shot but there was never any way he was going to keep it out.
Rovers had been all at sea in the first 15 minutes or so, during which time Emile Sinclair and George Boyd shot wide and Sinclair headed over, and they could have few complaints about going behind.
The pacy home side continued to make the running after the goal. Boyd squandered a good chance in a one-on-one with Sullivan, who could only push McCann’s free-kick on to the near post later.
Sullivan, whose form of late meant that the club’s official No 1 keeper this season Gary Woods spent his 21st party sat on the bench, also did well to deny Sinclair late on.
Jones had a far easier first 45 minutes, the only time he was really tested was when he was called upon to punch clear under pressure from a George Friend free-kick.
Posh can count themselves unlucky to finish empty-handed after being denied by the post three times and squandering several other good chances, but Rovers were long overdue 0some luck which Saunders seems to have brought with him in abundance.
But Rovers’ win wasn’t all about luck. Saunders deserves credit for getting it tactically right after making changes to the game-plan midway through the first half, as do the players for the character they showed in the second half.