BRIGHTON arrive at the Keepmoat Stadium tomorrow boasting an unbeaten run of nine league games since the turn of the year.
Their only blip was a 6-1 surrender at Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup when both full-backs were cup-tied and solid centre-back Adam El-Abd had to move out to left-back.
But they have bounced back with clean sheets against Hull (away) and Ipswich (home), picking up four points in the process.
The Seagulls’ last league defeat was a 2-0 reversal at lowly Coventry on New Year’s Eve, which left them 16th.
It was their fourth successive defeat and not too many supporters fancied their chances against leaders Southampton in the first game of 2012 - especially with a makeshift side due to around a dozen players missing through injury or suspension.
The Saints were on top in the first half without being able to turn pressure into goals. The game turned early in the second half when Southampton’s top scorer Ricky Lambert was sent-off for striking El-Abd.
Jake Forster-Caskey, a 17-year-old making his debut for the Seagulls, put Brighton ahead and they eventually won 3-0.
Manager Gus Poyet admitted a few weeks later the Lambert red card might have been the turning point of Brighton’s season.
Gradually players have come back and they now have a strong squad most recently boosted by the loan arrivals from Man City of Abdul Razak (a dynamic midfielder) and Gai Assulin (a very skilful young winger).
Contrary to Rovers, they have made a habit of getting a bit more from some games than they have really deserved, often through very late goals.
However, they were very convincing in the 3-0 win against Ipswich on Saturday, which was probably their best display of the season.
Poyet had been very wary about play-offs talk before then, but has loosened up a bit after that game which saw his side climb to seventh.
“Until the beginning of January we didn’t have enough consistency to be proper contenders for the play-offs or going up,” said.
“If we look at the last two months I’ve got a problem, I’m not going to lie. We have been 10 times better so it all depends what we do now until the end.
“If we can maintain a consistency - I don’t mean not losing, but being a proper team - then who knows?
“I know everyone wants to go to the Premier League tomorrow.
“I want to go as well but we cannot put that pressure on the players because that’s not fair when most of them have not been in this situation in their lives.”
The Seagulls still play the short-passing, patient game which won them many friends on their way to the League One title last season, to a degree, but have also gone more direct at times in the last two games to suit Craig Mackail-Smith’s style of play.
He scored his first home goal in five months against Ipswich.
Probably the best indicator to the depth of squad is that Craig Noone, Vicente, Lewis Dunk, Matt Sparrow and Forster-Caskey currently can’t get in the 16.
Peter Brezovan, a 6ft 6in Slovak, replaced Casper Ankergren in goal after the Coventry game and has done really well, apart from having a nightmare at Anfield.
Former Rovers’ defender Gordon Greer remains the first name on the team sheet and has been excellent again this season