Match analysis: Doncaster Rovers face long, hard season if they don't become more sturdy and streetwise
If Doncaster Rovers do not become more sturdy and streetwise they could be in for a long, hard season.
After grinding out a win over Portsmouth in midweek, one laced with positives, there were signs Rovers had turned a corner.
They had talked about turning losses into draws and draws into wins following a sobering September and they had started to deliver.
But against bogey club Walsall they somehow managed to turn a potential victory into a horrible, depressing 3-0 defeat.
Back to square one.
Consistently inconsistent, Darren Ferguson’s team seem to insist on taking one step forward and two back. The wait for back-to-back wins this season goes on.
Some leeway can be given.
This is a young side clearly still getting to grips with a higher level. A few injuries along the way, like the one to Danny Andrew, haven’t helped that transition.
But Rovers’ continued ability to shoot themselves in the foot and make avoidable mistakes at both ends of the pitch is not going to help them distance themselves from the drop zone.
What makes that all the more frustrating is that these lads have a performance in their locker: the displays at Blackburn and Arsenal are the best examples.
But eight defeats from 15 league games tells its own story, and the loss on Saturday was comfortably the worst one of the lot.
Three shots on target, three goals. That says it all.
Apart from their defensive resilience, Walsall showed little else. Rovers’ incompetence literally handed them three points on a plate.
The outcome may have been very different had John Marquis not missed an open goal just before half time after Tommy Rowe had struck the post.
The sweeping, incisive move that led to that chance was an example of what this team can do. But it proved to be an exception to the rule as Rovers predominantly laboured in attack.
Nevertheless, they were very comfortable. There was no sign of what was to come just after the hour mark.
Firstly Joe Wright’s misjudgment allowed Tyler Roberts to keep the ball in play and square for Erhun Otzumer to score.
Four minutes later Joe Edwards was given the freedom of the Keepmoat to maraud forward and tee up an unmarked Otzumer for number two.
And with ten minutes remaining it was game over when substitute Rodney Kongolo’s mistake allowed Amadou Bakayoko to break clear and slide in Kieron Morris to slot past Ian Lawlor.
The nature of the defeat exposed not only a few Keepmoat Stadium ghosts of the past but a soft centre that is hampering Rovers’ progress.
Ferguson showed some positive intent with his substitutions but it ultimately backfired as Rovers, although far from at their best, went from comfortable to careless.
The manager had cut a frustrated figure on the touchline virtually all afternoon, repeatedly barking at his players to do things quicker and press with more conviction.
Niall Mason in particular, replaced by Craig Alcock just seconds before the opening goal, felt the full wrath of Ferguson.
This his withdrawal was no surprise but the removal of Mathieu Baudry and switch from 3-4-1-2 to 4-4-2 was.
Within minutes Rovers were 2-0 down and Ferguson disappeared into the dugout.
His substitutions were a source of debate, but no one could really argue about the changes he made to a winning team.
Matty Blair has been given compassionate leave. Enough said.
And Marquis was recalled to provide more physical presence in attack. His poor form, however, is now becoming a big cause for concern.
Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Bury, Ferguson must now go back to the drawing board.