Former Rovers managers Sean O’Driscoll and Dean Saunders come face to face today as Bristol City and Wolverhampton Wanderers meet in the Championship. In issue 62 of popular STAND Jack The Miner imagined a meeting of the two in order to settle the debate over which was indeed the better manager.
Sean O’Driscoll’s 2007/08 promotion winners or Dean Saunders’ promotion-in-waiting side of 2012/13? Which is best?
We’re not talking about what these sides might become in the future but their qualities within the nine months of the promotion season itself. We asked Sean and Dean to settle the issue.
Just after New Years, in a secret location – a hotel lounge somewhere in South Yorkshire – the two men meet and shake hands.
SO’D: Good morning Dean
DS: Hiya Sean. New cagoule?
SO’D: Yes. A pack of three for £19.99. Three different colours. Map pocket too. Have to say I wish I’d bought two packs. Chances like that don’t come along very often. I should have just gone mad.
Sean orders a cup of tea. Dean asks for a Champagne Daiquiri. There is a short delay when Dean asks for one of those small paper umbrellas.
DS: I know you’ll talk about performance and players taking responsibility Sean but it’s a results business. And my lads have got points winning nailed.
SO’D: That’s odd. I’ve seen your boys at home several times this season and not seen them win once.
DS: It doesn’t matter where you pick up the points. We will go up automatically. We won’t need the play-offs like you guys. You averaged 1.73 points per game. We’re on 1.92 points per game.
Dean leans back in his chair and asks for a fresh cherry for his cocktail.
SO’D: Maybe, but we did things with a bit of class. Look at our defence. We had international defenders in Sullivan and Roberts in their prime. Perhaps the best defender in the league in James O’Connor and the huge potential in Matt Mills. Whereas you have…let’s say, solid dependable performers.
DS: I might take the younger O’Connor from you and Sullivan too but, frankly, I ‘m not sure I’d change anything else at the back. Your superstar defence conceded 0.89 goals a game. My lads have conceded 0.92 per game. There’s nothing in it.
SO’D: Roberts and O’Connor were more of an attacking force than Spurr and Quinn.
DS: Maybe, but we’ve got Rob Jones contributing at set pieces. I don’t recall your defenders chipping in too much. And we score from corners and set pieces. Your side never did that.
Sean unzips his cagoule and investigates the plate of biscuits. He ignores the chocolate digestives, Bourbons and Jammy Dodgers and selects a Rich Tea.
SO’D: You forget we did it creatively from open play. We were creative. Incisive. We had the engine of Paul Green, the quality of Richie Wellens and Brian Stock and the occasional genius of Jamie Coppinger.
DS: Is that the Paul Green you left out because you preferred Mark Wilson?
Sean shuffles in his seat and stirs his tea.
SO’D: It’s all about the right player at the right time. We had an exciting midfield whatever the line up.
DS: Yes, I heard about playing forty consecutive passes before the ball eventually ended up back with Sullivan. Anyway, my midfield can excite too. Look at Cotterill and Bennett.
SO’D: Take Cotterill out of your team and it doesn’t function. We were never heavily reliant upon one player. We didn’t even need Heffernan in the play-off final. We had Coppinger, Stock, Price and Wellens. Players that would get supporters off their seats. With respect, you’ve only got Cotterill that can do that.
DS: But we have firepower up front.
SO’D: Firepower to compare with Heffernan and Hayter?
DS: We average 1.5 goals per game. Everyone chips in. Your side averaged 1.41goals a game. We score more. We defend just as well and win more points. I rest my case.
SO’D: So how come a table topping side like yours is playing in front of dwindling crowds? The fans might enjoy looking at the league table but they don’t want to pay to watch your side.
DS: The crowds are affected by other factors. It’s not just entertainment value. When you were in charge you couldn’t hold a lead despite your ball holding abilities. When you went behind the game was over. My side don’t give it away once we are in front and we’ve come from behind more times in one season than your teams ever did, boyo. Fans like a bit of fight in a side.
Dean orders a pink gin.
DS: Did I tell you I was friends with Mark Lawrenson?
SO’D: On a number of occasions…You know Dean, all these statistics are very well but one important fact is that I finished the job. I got my side out of this league. Read the history books. It’s there. Your job is only half-done. 20 games left. The pitches are still heavy. Suspensions will start to mount and the opposition know all about you now. Rovers history won’t be kind to you if you don’t get your side over the finishing line for some reason.
At this stage we brought in Dave Penney as a neutral observer. What did he think about the two sides?
DaveP: To be fair it’s a tough choice.
DS: Dave, why do you always say that?
DaveP: Say what?
DS: To be fair…
DaveP: I didn’t know I did. No-one has mentioned it before, to be fair…One side could be attractive to watch but brittle. The other isn’t easy on the eye but it doesn’t lie down and die. Both are effective, to be fair.
SO’D: You’re right Dean, he does say that a lot doesn’t he?
DS: He does.
DaveP: I reckon if Saunders Rovers visited O’Driscoll Rovers as the away side they might nick it. I can see Sean’s team getting bogged down in midfield and bouncing off the Saunders back four. If Dean’s side were the home team they’d not win. They just don’t function at home. You wouldn’t keep Heffernan out for two games running and there’d be at least one spark of magic from Stock, Coppinger or Price to make it all square on aggregate. It’d go to penalties to be fair.
Dean finishes off his pink gin and puts the little umbrella in his pocket to take home. Everyone shakes hands. Sean zips up his cagoule.
DS: So, still looking for work?
SO’D: Biding my time Dean, biding my time. If the Norwegian at Wolves doesn’t work out I’d really like the Wolves job. And you? You seeing it through at Rovers?
DS: Oh, sure, yeah. I’ve got no medals on my management C.V. yet. Can’t see a bigger club coming in for me…to be fair.
Both men wander off chuckling to themselves leaving Dave Penney to pick up the bar bill.