Doncaster Rovers 3Â Scunthorpe United 0: Derby win highlights how things have changed '“Â analysis
'We've developed that little bit of grittiness,' said Ben Whiteman following Doncaster Rovers' comfortable derby victory over Scunthorpe United.
'Last year we didn't win enough games without playing well. We probably weren't clinical enough and we were leaking goals at the other end.'
Whiteman, whose sixth minute strikeÂ set the wheels in motion on a sixth win in seven games, was correct in his assessment.
Rovers under Grant McCann have certainly developed a nasty edge and much-needed ruthless streak.
But a lot more has changed in the space of the last 12 months '“ and those positiveÂ changes could pave the way for a veryÂ exciting 2019.
Rovers ran out convincing 3-0 winners against a struggling Iron side without really getting out of second gear. That's always a good sign.
But it is the exuberance,Â fearlessness and personality of this Doncaster team which could generate the confidence required for a concerted top six push.
It is a far cry from some of the predictable, timidÂ football served up by Rovers last term.
McCann has altered the mindset of these players.
He's taken a calculated gamble to commit more bodies forward and get his team firmly on the front foot '“Â and so far it's paying off.
Under Darren Ferguson, RoversÂ arguably played with a degree of fear, scared to make mistakes, desperate not to concede first and foremost.
Under this manager they have a freedom to express themselves, no fear whatsoever, and they are simply desperate to find the net.
Momentum can take you a long way in football and Rovers are ending the calendar year with an abundance of it.
This was their fifth clean sheet in seven games.
They have scored 21 goals duringÂ that period and let in just two.
John Marquis sealed a fourth straightÂ win with his 15thÂ goal of the season.
If Rovers can end this year on a high, and avoid any potentially de-stabilising outgoings in the January transfer window, then there is every reason to be optimistic about achieving a top six finish.
Despite the scoreline, this was not an M180 derby to live long in the memory.
Neither side really showed any prolonged periods of fluency or control on a bitterly cold Saturday lunchtime.
But what Rovers did display again was theÂ clinical edge in both boxes which has really come to the fore over recent weeks.
A training ground move resulted in Wilks teeing up Whiteman for the opener, which sailed in with the help of a deflection.
It was 2-0 after just ten minutes when the superb Herbie Kane pressed to excellent effect, robbing Charlie Goode before dinking it past Jak Alnwick.
Then it was all about the newfound defensive solidity. Scunthorpe could have folded completely. They fought back but there was no way past Ian Lawlor.
Marquis coolly slotted home a third on 85 minutes. Job done.
If anyone personified the confidence currentlyÂ within the Rovers ranks it was Kane.
Quite simply, the play-off push could hinge on whether the Liverpool youngster extends his stay at the Keepmoat Stadium beyond January. He is that good.
At times he toyedÂ with Scunthorpe, always seemingly one step ahead of the game mentally.Â How about thatÂ dummy and cross-field pass? And what about the cheeky free-kick played off Marquis's back?Â The lad is an absolute pleasure to watch.
That confidence ran through the spine of the team: Lawlor took command, Andy Butler and Tom Anderson took charge, Whiteman continues to grow in stature and Marquis has well and truly silenced his critics.
The next game cannot come quickly enough at the moment.