Preview: Bournemouth v Doncaster Rovers

Rob Jones will be sidelined on Saturday with an ankle injury.
Rob Jones will be sidelined on Saturday with an ankle injury.

IT would not be like Doncaster Rovers to do it the easy way would it?

Victory at MK Dons on Tuesday night would have re-established a six-point cushion to third and sent Doncaster into their final ten games with a real head of steam.

Instead, a limp performance and resounding 3-0 defeat raised doubts about Rovers’ stamina for a tough-looking promotion run-in.

The start of that run-in begins at fellow Championship chasers Bournemouth this weekend, with Rovers knowing all too well the importance of this fixture not just in terms of their own destiny but also keeping the Cherries at bay.

Brian Flynn recently made a point of stating that his side would be ready to hit their straps for the last ten games - and that looked set to be the case after Saturday’s destruction of Hartlepool.

But following the setback at Stadium MK they will board the coach today minus several key members of the squad for the long trip to the ironically named Fitness First Stadium.

With Captain Marvel Rob Jones now added to the list of casualties, along with Paul Keegan, David Syers and Martin Woods, Rovers’ treatment room has not been busier all season.

Injuries have gripped at just the wrong time. Typical. But, like I say, if you follow Rovers, you soon get used to the guaranteed ups and downs along the way.

Let’s face it, the club’s recent history has been like a giant rollercoaster ride.

And as it stands, with Rovers in a rather unexpected pole position, there’s just no knowing which way this campaign is about to turn next.

In fact, the joy of this season has been its unpredictability from start to finish.

No one in their right mind expected Doncaster to be in this position before a ball was kicked.

But now the goalposts have moved so much that it will be seen as a huge missed opportunity if Doncaster do not finish the season in a top two position.

However, as Rovers are discovering as they head into the final straight, the League One promotion race is a marathon not a sprint.

It’s all about who finishes the strongest now - and the performance at MK Dons raised several doubts about whether Rovers have the stamina to last the course.

The fact that injuries have ripped out the spine of Rovers’ well-oiled machine at such a vital stage of proceedings is rotten luck for all concerned.

It is a situation which also makes former fitness guru Mal Purchase, who departed for Wolves with boss Dean Saunders, look like something of a magician.

Purchase’s legacy was a squad that negotiated the first half of the season without as much as a graze.

But that injury-free period could yet prove to be a false dawn which comes back to haunt Doncaster.

The club’s priority this season was always to work within a set budget, to reduce costs dramatically and get the club back on a financial footing.

Purchase’s methods helped the club get by with a bare minimum 21 senior players - and the close-knit nature of that squad is a major reason why Rovers have since exceeded expectations.

But only now, as we head into the final few decisive weeks of the season, are those numbers starting to catch up with Rovers.

Without Syers, Keegan and Woods, they are woefully short in central midfield. Without Jones, there’s a huge gap to plug at the back.

One of Rovers’ other strengths this season has been getting back on the horse quickly after a bad result.

They recovered from a poor performance at Yeovil to go on a record-breaking run away from home.

They responded to a heavy defeat at home to Coventry by winning five of the next six.

But Doncaster’s wafer-thin squad is becoming more and more fragile with every hit.

Rovers staggered to their feet after the recent Bury and Walsall defeats, they can land a huge blow on Bournemouth’s promotion bid by returning to winning ways tomorrow - it’s one final push for the finish line.