Doncaster Rovers: Reality check in seasisde slip-up ... Blackpool 4 Rovers 2
Don't get too comfortable just yet.
Whether they needed it or not, Rovers were delivered a harsh reminder that life in League Two will be far from plain sailing as they were swept aside by Blackpool.
Decidedly below par, they struggled to mount any threat against one of the division’s supposed strugglers.
And they showed a worrying defensive frailty in being so easily sliced apart by Blackpool.
It had started so well with a goal just 40 seconds in. James Coppinger beat his man and cut a pass back from the byline which ricocheted off Blackpool defender Andy Taylor and in at the near post.
But Rovers failed to capitalise, allowing Blackpool to enjoy decent spells of possession to get a foothold in the game.
The hosts equalised on 25 minutes when the Rovers defence was caught napping. Kyle Vassell took a quick free-kick and slid the ball through to Brad Potts who smashed in at the near post.
Rovers’ defending was suspect again as they fell behind six minutes from the break. Danny Pugh was given the freedom of Bloomfield Road to whip a cross from the corner of the box and find Kelvin Mellor at the back post who lobbed Marko Marosi with a side-foot volley.
The first three minutes after half-time could hardly have been more disastrous. First Potts smashed in a piledriver from 30 yards from Pugh’s tapped free-kick.
And moments later Vassell latched on to James Coppinger’s misplaced pass and picked his spot in the bottom corner from 25 yards.
Rovers were given a lifeline on 66 minutes when Jack Payne tripped Tommy Rowe in the box with the Rovers midfielder slotting into the bottom corner from the spot.
But Rowe failed to increase the pressure on Blackpool five minutes from time. John Marquis was hauled down by Blackpool keeper Sam Slocombe who quickly atoned by parrying away Rowe’s second penalty.
It was not Rovers’ day.
Darren Ferguson switched to a 3-4-3 system from the 4-4-2 diamond which has served Rovers so well so far this term, confirming afterwards he was motivated by a desire to field three forwards rather than make defensive errors.
But the change did not help at either end of the pitch.
Rovers were largely toothless, managing just two shots on target - both from the penalty spot. Wide forwards Rowe and Coppinger were not involved nearly enough.
There was a major lack of cohesion in possession. Passes were sloppy, decisions were poor and this allowed Blackpool to establish control.
And at the back, a unit which had looked rather strong over the last month was suddenly far from a unit. Little protection came from midfield and the back three was hesistant rather than decisive.
Rovers have not convinced with Ferguson’s favoured back three for a long time and Saturday’s performance did nothing to reassure anyone that it could yet be their best option.
A MISSING PARTNERSHIP
Andy Williams’ absence was never likely to be easily dealt with.
But it is not merely goals that are lacking as Williams sits on the sidelines.
Strike partner Marquis did not look nearly as dangerous without him. When he dropped deep in search of the ball, there was no Rovers option further forward, which prevented them from mounting their usual high-tempo attacks.
The onus will fall on other players to fill the void left by Williams. But Marquis may well have to adapt his game during his partner’s absence.
PERSPECTIVE IS IMPORTANT
Should Rovers beat Wycombe Wanderers next weekend, they will have taken 12 pointsfrom 15 available during October. Promotion form to say the least.
They have triumphed in games where they have not played well, beaten top-quality opposition and shown some resolve.
After three consecutive below-par performances, questions are beginning to be asked.
A decent performance against Wycombe would help to see them answered.