Football: Snodin's higher view

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WHEN IAN Snodin returned to Doncaster Rovers in the summer of 1998 to take on his first managerial job, it was an achievement just to put a team out on the pitch.

The South Yorkshire side had been relegated from the Football League after a shambolic 1997-98 season, and they had only just escaped from the clutches of Ken Richardson, a justifiably vilified chairman who is now serving a prison sentence for attempting to burn down the main stand at their Belle Vue ground.

Snodin, the former Leeds and Everton midfielder who started his playing career at Doncaster, inherited a squad of just five players. Given the number of emergency signings a poor start was inevitable last term, but Snodin eventually lifted his side to a safe mid-table position in the Nationwide Conference and also saw them lift the League Cup, the Endsleigh Challenge Trophy.

After a much more settled close-season, hopes were high at Belle Vue that a challenge for the title would materialise this term. The new campaign has not gone to plan, though, and after eight games Rovers have accumulated just eight points and are in the bottom half of the table.

Their latest defeat came on Tuesday at home to Altrincham, a rugged side who were second best on the night but snatched all three points thanks to a bizarre late own goal by Doncaster's experienced centre-half Dean Walling.

Urged on by a vociferous crowd of just under 3,000 (the Belle Vue average is around 4,000, the best in the Conference) Rovers produced a sparkling attacking performance, with passes played to feet and plenty of width and movement off the ball, but were unable to find the net.

Doncaster badly missed their highly-rated striker Ian Duerden, who scored a hat-trick on the opening day of the season but has been absent in recent weeks with a thigh injury. The experienced Mike Newell, once of Blackburn and Everton, was asked to bear too much of the attacking burden against Altrincham. "We need somebody up there with him," Snodin admitted.

The manager, whose brother Glynn (another former Leeds player) is Rovers' director of coaching, is urgently seeking new recruits - and he has been given some money to spend by the chairman, John Ryan, who also arrived at Belle Vue last summer.

"I'm not saying he's impatient," Ian Snodin said, "but the chairman wants it to happen this season. We're working hard to get players in. We need one or two big strong lads who will put themselves about and be leaders out there."

Snodin, who was visibly upset after the Altrincham defeat, knows that expectations of success are high at Belle Vue this term. "We should be up there with the leaders, but we've performed badly this season," he admitted. "We've lost four games already - and that's just about all you can afford to lose all season if you want to win the league."