Stevenage analysis and reaction: Doncaster Rovers showing hallmarks of a successful side
Successful teams find a way of winning games, regardless of performance.
And this evolving Doncaster Rovers team is developing a knack of doing exactly that.
They were by no means at their fluent best yesterday against a stubborn Stevenage outfit who made life difficult.
But Rovers still got the job done to record their seventh win in nine league games and, thanks to defeats for Carlisle and Plymouth Argyle, return to the top of the table.
After just about surviving a kamikaze second half display in last month’s reverse fixture at the Lamex Stadium and then losing at Plymouth, Darren Ferguson’s men have unearthed their resilient side at a very good time.
Much like the narrow victories against Grimsby and Notts County, Rovers were made to work hard for a third 1-0 win from their last four games, forced to wait until the 85th minute before Tommy Rowe’s shot was diverted into his own net by Fraser Franks.
On the balance of play it was a deserved win, if not one that was always entirely pleasing on the eye.
But Ferguson will not care one jot. If his side can find a way of winning again on Thursday night at home to Portsmouth they would move ten points clear of one of their main promotion rivals.
“I thought we were in complete control of the game and it was a thoroughly deserved win against a stubborn team,” said Ferguson.
“They were resilient in the way they defended but we believed we would get the winner and we just kept on doing what we wanted to do.
“At times the tempo wasn’t what I wanted but a lot of the stuff was very good. We just lacked that bit of quality at times.
“But full marks to the players for their concentration and determination.
“We had to be patient. We were in complete control through our shape but we said at half time it was about providing a bit more quality in the last third.
“We got a wee bit of luck with the goal but for me it was completely deserved.”
He added: “We’ve had three clean sheets out of four now and at this part of the season that’s really pleasing.
“It’s about winning games and clearly getting clean sheets give you a chance. With the players we’ve got, we feel that someone will come up trumps like Rowey did today.”
Ferguson himself could also take a big slice of credit for the win.
His decision to revert to three at the back, and employ Rowe and Matty Blair as touchline-hugging wing backs, up against Boro’s narrow midfield, was completely vindicated as Rovers’ widemen constantly proved to be a thorn in the visitors’ side.
The return of James Coppinger from suspension and also the presence of loan returnee Conor Grant in midfield also gave Rovers a freshness and good balance, which helped them dominate possession for long periods. All that was lacking was a killer final pass or shot.
John Marquis saw a header saved by Jamie Jones and Grant curled a free kick just wide as Rovers bossed possession and territory before the break.
With Stevenage setting their stall out to contain, the pattern of the game continued into the second half and Doncaster upped the tempo slightly.
It looked like it might not be their day when the impressive Mathieu Baudry had an effort cleared off the line and then Harry Middleton deflected Andy Butler’s header onto the bar. That feeling only intensified when Grant saw a shot deflected inches wide of the post.
But Rovers remained in control, stuck to their game and got their reward with five minutes left on the clock when Rowe showed some neat footwork in the box before unleashing a shot that Franks could only divert into his own net.
They found a way of winning. There’s a long way still to go, but Rovers are starting to resemble a successful side.