DEAN Saunders, the Doncaster Rovers manager, admits the gruelling fixture schedule is taking its toll on his beleaguered squad.
The Championship strugglers have already played six times in March, winning just once at Nottingham Forest, and have three more matches to contend with before the end of the month.
Rovers face a daunting away double-header at league leaders Southampton and Crystal Palace before entertaining top six hopefuls Birmingham City a week tomorrow.
Back-to-back home defeats against Derby and Millwall leaves Saunders men four points adrift of safety with nine matches left to beat the drop.
Saunders, who confirmed Tommy Spurr will have an operation on his right hand this week, ruling him out for the rest of the campaign, said: “It is like walking into a boxing ring three times a week. I think it takes a toll on you eventually, a little bit physically and mentally. Mentally if you had to go fight three times a week, it is not easy getting yourself ready for it every time.
“It is like a battle in the Championship. We knew Millwall was going to be a scrap all over the pitch until the first goal.”
Rovers were booed off at half-time and the final whistle and a minor section of the supporters vented their frustrations at Saunders, who replaced Sean O’Driscoll at the helm in September, following Millwall’s third goal at the Keepmoat Stadium.
There were even ironic cheers from home fans after midfielder Giles Barnes registered their first shot on target in the 78th minute.
“It is funny how things can change,” he said. “We were flying a week ago. We drew with Reading, who had won eight on the trot, and we could have beaten them.
“Obviously the performance [against Millwall] knocks a bit of confidence out of you but we have got to plough on and go to Southampton on Saturday. If we play like we can do, we can win.
“We kept at it second half [versus Millwall] and tried to keep the players going. The supporters just want to see the players having a go.
“We have got to dig ourselves out of this situation. We have got to produce. Players don’t just land in the Premier League. They have done something and got taken somewhere else.
“If you don’t score in the Championship, you end up in League One eventually. If you score in the Championship, you end up in the Premier League.”
Former Wrexham chief Saunders sympathises with the fans and shares their disappointment.
He acknowledged: “If I was a Rovers fan, I would be devastated - but all is not lost. Have a look at the table and you can see we can still do it.
“We are four points behind with a game in hand; it is a miles better position than we were in six months ago. We are not going to turn into a Premier League team all of a sudden.”
Saunders is refusing to be downbeat about the precarious league position and challenged his players to show some “nerve” in the battle for survival.
“We’ve got to roll our sleeves up,” he said. “We’re all good players when we’re 2-0 up. Who wants the ball when you’re 2-0 down and the crowd are ready to have a go at you?
“I’ll keep fighting and I’ll make sure the players keep fighting.”