DONCASTER Rovers boss Dean Saunders challenged his strikers this week to put a run of goalscoring games together to help boost the club’s League One promotion bid.
With the club’s back-four looking increasingly solid, and the midfield looking better balanced since the return of winger David Cotterill, Saunders just needs his three principle strikers Iain Hume, Billy Paynter and Chris Brown to collectively convert more chances.
Both Iain Hume, who scored the winner in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Portsmouth at Fratton Park, and Brown, went close to netting in Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Carlisle.
Hume - on loan from Preston with whom Rovers are trying to negotiate a permanent transfer - hit the foot of the post with the score at 1-0.
And Brown missed out on the chance to add a fourth at Brunton Park when shooting narrowly wide of the far post.
Had Brown hit the target it would have been his seventh goal of the season and taken him clear again of Cotterill, who was on target against the Cumbrians.
Saunders has experimented with playing all three forwards, pairing Paynter and Brown and playing them individually alongside Hume.
The Doncaster boss knows from first-hand experience what makes a strike pairing successful and in recent games when Hume - who missed a couple of games due to being away on World Cup duty with Canada last month - has been available, he has tended to pair him with Paynter.
Statistically, the Hume-Paynter partnership has proved the most fruitful with five goals being scored by the pair when they have both started.
Two of the goals came in the 2-1 win away to leaders Tranmere Rovers, who were defending an unbeaten home record at Prenton Park.
Paynter levelled the scores just after the break with Hume grabbing the stoppage-time winner against his former team.
In contrast, the Brown-Paynter pairing has produced just two goals - though they have played together on fewer occasions.
There were high hopes for the pairing when Paynter helped set up the club’s first league goal of the season in their first game, the 3-0 win at Walsall on the opening day of the League One campaign.
The Brown-Hume pairing has produced just one goal in a limited number of starts.
Brown has come off the bench and made an impact in most games, particularly in the excellent 2-0 win at fifth-placed Notts County just four days after the win at Tranmere.
He chipped in with a second goal just minutes after Paul Keegan had broken the deadlock.
He also came off the bench and scored, in addition to setting up several other chances, in the 3-1 FA Cup first round win over Bradford Park Avenue, who had looked to be in with a chance of forcing a replay until Brown effectively dashed their hopes when grabbing a third Doncaster goal.
“It was a good performance, especially in the first half, when we scored twice but could have had three or four,” said the 27 year-old reflecting on the win at Brunton Park.
With other results going their way on the night, Rovers leaped to fourth.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Brown told The Star. “We’ve got some good players in the squad.
“We’ve played most of the top teams in the league and we’ve got a good record against them and we are proving to be hard to beat, especially away from home.
“Obviously we’ve not done as well at the Keepmoat where a lot of teams have set-up looking for a point or got numbers behind the ball and then try and nick a win from a set-piece.
“When teams get 10 men behind the ball they can be hard to beat so we’ve got to make sure that we don’t give teams a start like we have been doing and hopefully getting an early goal ourselves.”
Rovers take on struggling Scunthorpe at the Keepmoat Stadium tomorrow hoping to claim a third successive victory and help make amends for back-to-back home defeats against Crewe and Bournemouth.
“They’ve not been having the best of seasons but the form book can sometimes go out of the window in derby games,” said Brown.
“Brian Laws has recently taken over and he seemed to have got them better organised and they were unbeaten under until they got beaten by Bury on Tuesday night, so it is going to be a tough game.”
Like any player in his position, Brown is disappointed not to be starting more regularly.
“I want to play as much as I can,” he said.
Teams and ref
ROVERS (possible): G Woods, Griffin, Martis/Jones, Spurr, Husband, Cotterill, Keegan, Harper, Martin Woods, Hume, Paynter/Brown (4-4-2).
Scunthorpe (possible): Milddenhall, Riberio McChrystall, Canavan, Newey, Duffy, Mozika, Walker, Barcham, Clarke, Hawley (4-4-2).
SIMON HOOPER (Wilts): Has issued 37 yellow cards and two reds in his 11 games in charge this season. Last officiated in a game involving Rovers in their 3-2 Championship win at Ipswich Town at Portman Road last November, booking Stock and Gillett.