MICHAEL Appleton is excited by the growing pressure on his play-off chasing side after admitting he relishes seeing fear in the opposition eyes.
An in-form Rovers are quickly becoming the side to beat in the Championship, after a six-match unbeaten run and Saturday’s FA Cup win at Arsenal, but Appleton insists they should relish their new-found reputation.
Rovers’ squad struggled to cope with the Championship favourites tag put on them earlier in the campaign but, ahead of tonight’s crucial trip to Hull City, Appleton believes his players are now made of stronger stuff.
Hull boss Steve Bruce has already described Rovers as the team to watch from the chasing pack as Appleton’s men look to close the six-point gap between themselves and the play-off spots.
Appleton said: “As a team coming down from the Premier League, it was always going to be the case that we would be the team to beat and it was about how you deal with it.
“Earlier in the season, there was a time where the team really, really struggled to deal with that pressure. We certainly hope we don’t get ourselves in that type of mess again.
“Dealing with that pressure is quite exciting more than anything because you know they do fear you, you see fear in the opposition eyes. They fear ‘these could turn us over if they play well’.
“What we will always do is respect the opposition. We have a tough period of games and there are a lot of big games.
“Players will have to realise we are the team to beat and getting the result on Saturday just escalates that ten-fold because you are in the press and media.
“Hull is as big or bigger than the Arsenal game. We are coming up against a side who are riding high in the league.
“But there is a bit of a mentality growing around here at the minute, a bit of steeliness and hopefully we can get the right result. ”
Having already added DJ Campbell, David Bentley and Karim Rekik to his squad in the last few weeks, Rovers’ play-off push was boosted further by the sight of seeing Leon Best and Dickson Etuhu feature for the reserves last night. With Adam Henley also featuring for the reserves and David Dunn close to full fitness, Appleton believes strength in depth could be key in a tough season run-in.
He said: “I would prefer a smaller squad with bags of quality and when you find yourselves in the position we are in at the moment, with loads of games, and I need to pull players out because they are looking jaded, I don’t see us any weaker putting another player in.
“There are a few clubs who can do that because they have recruited properly.
“The teams at the top of the table can do it because they have recuited right. If they make changes it doesn’t weaken them.”
Appleton was also keen to stress that Rovers fans shouldn’t expect too much from Best this season with the striker on his way back from a cruciate ligament injury which has prevented him from making a competitive start for Rovers since signing from Newcastle United in the summer.
Appleton added: “Leon is going to be at least a fortnight away from being involved in the first team.
“With his type of injury, his impact will come next season when he has had a pre-season.
“But you know what players are like, they are durable, they are excitable and once they have been training, all of a sudden they think they can be a big influence and maybe they can.
“Maybe the adrenaline will give us something extra from him.”
Appleton added that Etuhu was also close to returning to the starting XI adding further competition for places.
“Dickson has been very good in training for the last fortnight as well. He is chomping at the bit. He is desperate to get back involved,” added Appleton.
“There is a respect between all the players at the minute. They respect each other in terms of their roles. Even when players are not playing and not in the squad they are in the dressing room congratulating each other.”