Doncaster Rovers: Mark Wilson interview

Doncaster Rovers are firmly on track and nicely nestled in just behind the play-off pack, ready for a New Year gallop.

That's the message from midfielder Mark Wilson, with Rovers not just among the Championship long-shots any more, but most definitely in the cluster of fancied runners and riders as they bid to last the course in 2010-11.

Two impressive mid-table finishes over the past two seasons have marked out Rovers – tipped as relegation candidates in 2008-9 and 2009-10 – as a dark horse and one to watch.

Two seasons ago Donny – rock-bottom at Christmas – ignited their campaign with a Yuletide double over Nottingham Forest and Burnley, en route to a four-match winning streak and a jet-propelled second half of the campaign which represented promotion form. Their return of 13 wins was bettered only by champions Wolves.

Last term the Keepmoat Stadium outfit, buoyed by four successive victories in December, flirted with the play-offs following a steady first few months of the new year, only to fall away in the final furlong after a run of just one victory in their final six league outings.

Fast forward to now and after a solid start to the campaign everything is in place for Rovers – who would have jumped to fifth but for Swansea City's last-gasp leveller in their 1-1 Keepmoat draw on November 20 – to walk the play-off walk and potentially follow the much-publicised path of Blackpool.

Plenty of hard yards between now and May will have to be negotiated before then, but Wilson is adamant that it remains a realistic aim if Rovers avoid the perils of complacency – something that shouldn't be an issue given that grounded boss Sean O'Driscoll simply wouldn't countenance it.

Of a push for the play-offs, Wilson said: "Why not? Our squad is

certainly good enough.

"Our goal is to be in the pack and within touching distance (by Christmas), to be honest. It's then important you go out of the Christmas and new year period with a bit of momentum.

"We're on target. You can say the last few seasons, we've looked to consolidate and not get relegated.

"But you look at the squad of players we have, and the talent we have in the team, and it (the play-offs) has to be the target.

"And it's important the players raise that bar upwards and we do maintain our goals we had at the start of the season at the end of it.

"We've got a great group. The players do drive the standards, and the manager does as well, but he likes the players to. Hopefully, we'll get to where we want to be.

"The progress we have made year-in, year-out has been great. We've got to a level now which we have to maintain and complacency is always

going to be the biggest problem with us.

"But we've got a talented group of players and, for me, we can achieve great things this year.

"It's important we keep that bar high and keep performing."

While disappointment reigned after the dramatic denouement to the recent game with the high-flying Swans, Rovers did at least prove they could trade footballing punches every inch of the way with the much-lauded Welshmen – despite O'Driscoll's pre-match assertion that Brendan Rodgers' upwardly-mobile promotion-chasers were "miles ahead" of the South Yorkshiremen.

Wilson insists it was just an astute piece of kidology from the Rovers boss, who is happiest when his side slips under the radar.

And don't expect the softly-spoken Midlander to engage in wanton talk about Donny emerging as Yorkshire's top dogs in a White Rose- flavoured division containing four near neighbours either – something he leaves firmly to supporters.

Scunthorpe-born schemer Wilson, who penned a new two-year-deal in the summer, added: "I think the gaffer is very clever with the way he deals

with things and we understand that.

"As much as he talks teams up, we are well aware of our capabilities. He's quite cute and we accept what he says."

On the Yorkshire 'top dogs' issue, he added: "We tend not to thing about it, though there probably is a little bit of 'needle' in there when we play those (Yorkshire) teams.

"We always want to come out on top and if do that, fantastic. We'll see."

In the cold light of day, the positives far outweighed the negatives in Rovers' draw with the Swans, with on-song James Hayter's fifth goal in successive games and the bumper season's-best gate of 13,614 chief among them.

The attendance eclipsed the crowd of 13,293 for the home clash with Leeds United in September as Doncastrians took advantage of a cut-price ticket offer.

And the impact of a packed-out Keepmoat was not lost upon the players, according to Wilson.

The 31-year-old said: "You really do notice it and they really got behind us (against Swansea) and long may that continue.

"They appreciate the brand and style of football we've created over the past four years and you'd like to think – hopefully – the attendances may stay up now.

"We are in a recession, and times are hard, I understand that but the more that can get here, the better, and it can make a huge difference.

"Obviously, we were disappointed with the goal at the end against Swansea, but we could take a lot of positives from the performance.

"The goal was a kick in the teeth, but we gained a bit of perspective when we chatted about how the game had gone."

And on hot-shot Hayter, who hit a purple patch just when it was needed in the absence of injured million-pound man Billy Sharp and was this week named as the npower Championship player-of-the-month for November,

Wilson added: "James is one of those players who you might look at as not being the most glamorous in the team.

"But he's vital and one of the first names down, as his work ethic is second to none.

"He can score a goal out of nothing and is so important to how this team plays. He's a man we hit from the goalkicks and set-plays and he's got so many different talents. He's one hell of a player.

"His heading abilities are great; it's all timing and spring with him. He's just a great all-round player."

While more bumper home crowds could add a potent 12th man element to Rovers' quest to make the Keepmoat a fortress in their bid to reach the Promised Land of the play-offs, another factor is aiding their cause on home turf – the pristine state of their home playing surface.

A combination of rugby league matches and a long, hard winter last season took its toll on a pockmarked surface on occasions, but it's avoided a buffeting thus far, with the slick surface aiding Rovers' free-flowing style of football, according to Wilson.

#He said: "The pitch has helped, yes. We do like to pass the ball and

having a good surface to play on is huge and a big plus.

"Last season was a bit 'bobble city' and didn't really help with our game. But I think you have to adapt, especially when you go to some teams in January and February when you have to change your style of play.

"But, at home, it's important the pitch is maintained and we can play our game." Meanwhile, assistant-boss Richard O'Kelly has lauded the impact of loan striker David Healy on and off the pitch following the decision to extend the Sunderland forward's stay for another month.

The record Northern Ireland scorer bagged winning goals in the victories over Millwall and Portsmouth in his first month at Rovers and the former Leeds United and Preston North End ace has quickly settled into life at the club following his shock move south.

On the extension to Healy's loan, O'Kelly added: "It's excellent news. He's a very intelligent footballer. We knew that before we brought him in.

"But he's also got a great personality and good work ethic. He fits in with what we do quite well."