DONCASTER Rovers romped to their biggest ever away win on the opening day of a Football League season in Saturday’s League One clash at the Banks’s Stadium.
The club’s 3-0 win over Walsall was their best since they beat Wrexham by the same score at Belle Vue back in the 1983-84 season.
Rovers were promoted that season after finishing runners-up to Division Four champions York City and I suspect a few of the 1,000 strong following will have harboured similar ambitions as they headed back up the M1 on Saturday night.
But even after seeing his charges post their biggest win since he took over last September, Rovers’ boss Dean Saunders knows that it is far too early to start making predictions as to how well the team will do this season.
His No 2 Brian Carey said recently that the management wouldn’t know how things are likely to pan out until the club have played at least 10 league games.
Given the fact that they had eight players in their 16-man squad making their Football League debut for the club, Saunders would probably have taken any result on a ground where Rovers hadn’t won in 19 years.
But Saunders’ new-look side, playing together for the first time, did themselves proud and Walsall, for all their neat football, can have no complaints about the result.
Saunders got his ‘smash and grab’ tactics just right on the day and the size of Rovers’ victory could easily have been even more emphatic.
That augers well given that the team is still trying to gel and that several recent signings are well behind their new team-mates in terms of fitness.
Having seen Rovers concede the most goals in the Championship last season, Saunders will have been delighted to see his side keep a clean sheet.
Jamie McCombe was reunited with former Scunthorpe team-mate Rob Jones at centre-back and his arrival allowed Saunders to move Tommy Spurr - who had filled in at centre-back for most of pre-season - back to his favoured left-back role.
With summer signing Paul Quinn having his best game in a Rovers shirt, there was an encouraging solidness at the back combined with a willingness for the full-backs to push forward when appropriate.
On the occasions that Walsall, who included former fans favourite James Chambers in their starting line-up, got the better of the Rovers back-four they found keeper Gary Woods in good form.
It was Spurr who helped create the opening goal after just five minutes.
He picked out Chris Brown with a long pass and he in turn cleverly laid the ball off to new signing Billy Paynter.
Walsall keeper David Grof failed to hold his angled shot and Brown was on hand to put the ball into the back of the net.
The two men, who were briefly together at Hull City, worked well as a pairing and there could have been a goal for the former Leeds United man a few minutes later had he got his header on target from David Cotterill’s cross.
Rovers doubled their lead on 27 minutes with an early contender for the club’s goal of the season.
Cotterill, who had scored three goals in pre-season, spotted Grof had strayed off his line and chanced his luck from around 40 yards wide out on the right.
“It’s the best I’ve ever scored,” he said. “I’d seen that the keeper had come off his line so I just went for it.
“It was nice to get off to a good start with with Brownie scoring the first goal and the second gave us some extra breathing space.
“But 2-0 is still a bit tricky and we were a bit sloppy at the start of the second half. We probably forced the ball a bit too much.
“The third goal (scored by Kyle Bennett) was very important. If they had scored first (after the interval) I think we’d have had a fight on our hands.
“They kept the ball very well but we knew that they would play that way.
“We’d analysed their back-four and I thought we did extremely well and our tactics went to plan and hopefully we gave our fans something to smile about.”
Bennett’s goal lost nothing in comparison with the two previous strikes and is likely to be the first of many in a division where defenders will struggle to come to terms with his pace and ball control.
He dropped his shoulder as he cut in from the left and ghosted past a couple of players before unleashing a shot from just outside the area which gave Grof no chance.
“The gaffer has been working with me in training and I practice doing that a lot,” said the 21 year-old.
“I’ve scored a couple like that in the past and every time I’m in that situation now that’s what I’m looking to do.”
Bennett says Rovers’ emphatic win will act as a statement of intent to the rest of League One.
“With the players we’ve got at the club we are capable of going anywhere in this league and winning 3-0,” he told The Star.
“We’d obviously have settled for a point (prior to the game) because going away is always tough, but three points will always be our target.
“It’s a great start but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves; there is another 45 games to go.”