Timing is everything for ponderous and panicky Rovers - Northampton Town 1 Doncaster Rovers 0

Tommy Rowe was one of a trio of Rovers players to be denied by Northampton Town keeper Matt Ingram
Tommy Rowe was one of a trio of Rovers players to be denied by Northampton Town keeper Matt Ingram
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Start strong and quieten the crowd were the instructions from Darren Ferguson.

But the Rovers boss was rewriting his guidance just 24 seconds into Rovers’ trip to Northampton Town.

After defending the kick off, George Smith was released to surge past Joe Wright down the left flank and cut inside into the box before pulling a pass back to Matt Crooks who slammed open in acres of space after Andy Butler and Tyler Garratt were caught ball-watching.

Rovers were a goal down with some supporters yet to reach their seats.

And Sixfields was buoyant on three of its four sides as Crooks’ goal continued the good feeling generated by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s arrival as manager earlier in the week.

Taking the lead allowed Northampton to focus the injection of energy and desire Hasselbaink’s presence has clearly given them into restricting Rovers. And they did a pretty good job of that.

Rovers boss Darren Ferguson

Rovers boss Darren Ferguson

Rovers could not get into their stride for the remainder of the first half.

After the break, and following the half time introduction off the bench of James Coppinger, they were much improved and penned the Cobblers into the final third of the pitch.

Northampton keeper Matt Ingram produced excellent saves from Tommy Rowe, Coppinger and Ben Whiteman as Rovers found no answer to their repeated knocks on the door.

For the fourth time this young season, they failed to score, which did nothing to calm concerns.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The timing of the goal certainly did not help.

It gave Rovers somewhat of a mountain to climb as it handed Northampton a cushion to cling to for so much of the game.

Rovers now appear best suited to attacking on the counter - launching forward quickly, making the most of space and hurting the opposition when they are their most vulnerable.

Falling behind takes away any vulnerability in the opposition because the intensity with which they go forward no longer has to be as strong. And, consequently, the space is no longer there.

Northampton pressed intelligently and denied Rovers room to operate. Even in the second half when Rovers were well on top, they were shepherded out wide and forced to fling balls into the box, which also suited the hosts.

The first goal is increasingly key to Rovers’ fortunes - so it is best when they do not concede inside 30 seconds.

HOW TO MAKE IT RIGHT

One week Ferguson says Rovers need to believe more. The next he says some players are believing their own hype.

It may seem like a bi-polar view of the situation he is facing but there is merit in what he is saying.

In the first half in particular, Rovers were both incredibly ponderous and incredibly panicky.

At times they complacently dwelled in possession with their passing play lacking anything resembling zip.

But there were also times when they simply needed to keep the ball longer and build attacks more steadily, rather than launching balls forward with little aim and forethought.

Both approaches played into Northampton’s hands, allowing them to close down slow play and hack clear early balls.

It laid bare the lack of assurance Rovers are currently feeling. Unlike last season when they were a confident, juggernaut of a side, they are currently unsure of themselves - and it is costing them points.

We know they can do it but how do you bring it back out of them.

Ferguson looks to have a tricky task on his hands right now.

CHOICES DIDN’T WORK

The 3-5-2 system deployed by Ferguson simply did not work against an energetic Northampton side who seemed pretty clued up on ways to hurt Rovers.

Their forwards pressed Rovers’ back three and made them incredibly nervy, forcing misplaced passes and mistakes.

Chris Long consistently stood in the space between Tyler Garratt and debutant wing back Harry Toffolo, giving Northampton a valuable outlet ball.

A switch to 4-4-2 for the second half made a considerable difference, particularly with Coppinger replacing the disappointing Toffolo. The Norwich loanee produced poor delivery and offered little defensively.