Match analysis and highlights: Mentally scarred Rovers facing monumental Easter double-header

Easter might fall earlier than normal this year but it looks set to be no less defining for Doncaster Rovers.

Monday, 21st March 2016, 3:49 pm
Updated Monday, 21st March 2016, 3:59 pm
A disconsolate Nathan Tyson after the final whistle against Peterborough

Nothing is usually won or lost at this time, but it can lay the foundations for either success or failure.

And for a Rovers side still in the midst of one of the club’s worst ever runs of form, Easter now serves up two monumental games against teams who find themselves in the same boat - Colchester United and Blackpool - looking to clamber to safety in League One.

Rovers' Andy Williams has a clear header at goal but it goes over the bar

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You get the distinct feeling that Darren Ferguson’s men must now win at least one of those games - and at least avoid defeat to Blackpool - to give themselves a fighting chance in the battle to avoid the drop.

In boxing terms, Rovers are well and truly on the ropes after a woeful run that has seen them take just one point from the last 30 available and drop into the relegation zone for the first time since Ferguson’s first week in charge in late October.

They have been punch drunk in recent weeks, seemingly wilting under the pressure and producing particularly lame performances in their last two defeats at Scunthorpe United and Bradford City.

So after eventually coming round, pulling themselves together and finally showing some fight and pride against Ferguson’s former employers on Saturday, to end up losing the game in the fashion they did - conceding yet again in horribly soft fashion, this time right at the death - was like kicking them while they are down.

Peterborough's Ricardo Almeida Santos celebrates his last minute winner

Ricardo Almeida Santos’s winning goal was very harsh on a Rovers team that at least looked like it was up for the scrap.

A draw would have been a fair result after the visitors shaded the first half on points and Rovers controlled the majority of the second period.

So it was understandable, given Doncaster’s improved display, that almost their entire team should drop to its knees as one when referee Sebastien Stockbridge blew the final whistle just moments after Santos’s telling blow. That distressing image said everything about the current state of mind within the Doncaster dressing room.

This is a team that has now taken hit after hit after hit after hit since the turn of the year, to the tune of 13 games without a win.

Doncaster's players celebrate James Coppinger's goal

Given the way certain individuals have quite clearly gone into their shells over the last three months, they are a squad whose collective mental strength has quite rightly been questioned over recent weeks.

But after taking so many punches there is now a real danger of a complete mental black-out. Perish the thought that Rovers take two more hits over Easter - because that could prove very difficult to come back from.

Ferguson will face a massive task on the training ground today just keeping people’s chins up after the latest setback. But his message to the players is likely to be a simple one: if you show the same sort of attitude and application as you did against Peterborough for the remaining nine games, you are very likely to be playing in League One next season.

Everything was seemingly going to plan for Rovers when they took just five minutes to break the curse of the first goal - through none other than returning skipper James Coppinger.

Rovers' Andy Williams has a clear header at goal but it goes over the bar

The 35-year-old led by example as he popped up in the right place at the right time to finish from close range after Andy Williams picked the pocket of Santos at the by-line and laid it across goal.

It was the first time Rovers had scored first in a game at the Keepmoat Stadium since November 24 and ended a run of nine consecutive games in which they have gone behind.

They arguably scored too early, but you could clearly see the positive effect it had on the players. They had a spring in their step, were working hard to close their opponents down, and might have extended their lead around the half hour mark when Coppinger and Cedric Evina fired efforts narrowly wide.

Rovers knew they were in a game though. An attack-minded Peterborough team flooded the midfield and responded very well to going behind.

Michael Bostwick, Harry Beautyman and Gabriel Zakuani all went close for the visitors before they grabbed a deserved leveller on the stroke of half time. Star man Marcus Maddison was given too much time and space to deliver a teasing ball into the corridor of uncertainty and Aaron Williams crept in at the far post to finish.

Rovers had much the better of the second half and saw Posh keeper Ben Alnwick make important saves from Cameron Stewart and Nathan Tyson, while Williams headed Luke McCullough’s cross just over.

Peterborough's Ricardo Almeida Santos celebrates his last minute winner

But they failed to convert that element of control into goals and disaster struck inside stoppage time when Thorsten Stuckmann inexplicably flapped at a high Maddison cross and Santos was left with a simple tap-in after Williams’ header came back off the post.

Rovers: Stuckmann 5, Taylor-Sinclair 7, Alcock 6, Butler 6, Evina 6, Coppinger 7, McCullough 7, Middleton 6 (Rowe 46, 6), Stewart 6 (Calder 90), Williams 6, Tyson 6. Subs not used: Jones, MacKenzie, Chaplow, Keegan, Mandeville.

Peterborough: Alnwick 6, Santos 6, Zakuani 6 (Fox 60), Bostwick 6, Smith 6, Forrester 6, Oztumer 6 (Samuelsen 71), Beautyman 6, Taylor 6 (Coulthirst 64), Maddison 8, Williams 7. Subs not used: Tyler, Gillett, Nichols, Angol.

Referee: Sebastien Stockbridge (County Durham)

Attendance: 7,884

Doncaster's players celebrate James Coppinger's goal