Wignall's vision of League return inspires Doncaster

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The Independent Online

If the bottom club in the Nationwide Conference, managerless Northwich Victoria, are beaten at Belle Vue tonight, Doncaster Rovers will climb to third place - and the dream of regaining the Football League place they lost in desperate circumstances in 1998 will not seem so distant.

If the bottom club in the Nationwide Conference, managerless Northwich Victoria, are beaten at Belle Vue tonight, Doncaster Rovers will climb to third place - and the dream of regaining the Football League place they lost in desperate circumstances in 1998 will not seem so distant.

After the shambles of the 1997-98 season, when Donny finished 15 points adrift at the foot of the Third Division, they did well to reach the safety of 16th place in the Conference the following term. Last season's 12th place was, however, below expectations and before the end of the campaign Ian and Glynn Snodin, the managerial duo who had done so much to keep the club afloat in their first year outside the League, were shown the door.

The current man in charge, Steve Wignall, gave up a job he had only just started at Stevenage Borough to come to Belle Vue. For the former Colchester United manager, it was a welcome return to full-time professional football. "Full-time status is important, it's one of the reasons I came here," Wignall said. "It's down to the chairman, John Ryan, and his deputy, Peter Wetzel, to fund that. But it's a long-term plan: it's not just going to happen overnight."

Wignall knows he is lucky to have the backing of an ambitious board of directors. "John and Peter are real fans of the club," he said. "They aim to redevelop this ground or build a new stadium. They won't rest until Rovers are at least in the Second or Third Division. That may sound pie-in-the-sky, but it isn't. We can be as big as Barnsley - our catchment area is just as big, if not bigger."

With five successive home league wins prior to tonight's match, Wignall has resolved one of last term's problems, when they lost nine and only won seven at Belle Vue. "We had to sort out our home form, and we seem to have done that," he said.

Last weekend Rovers secured their first away victory of the campaign with a 3-0 success at Hayes. Key men in the Donny squad include the former Rushden centre-forward Carl Alford, once the most expensive non-League player, and Mark Atkins, who provides a reassuring presence at the back with his experience gained at Blackburn and Wolves. Jamie Patterson, their most skilful midfielder, won the Conference title when with Halifax Town.

Wignall, who acknowledged the foundations laid by the Snodin brothers, is confident Rovers are on the right track. "We are progressing slowly but surely," he said, "and I think people in Doncaster realise that."

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