Wimbledon 2 Doncaster Rovers 0: Rovers lack ideas and energy
It only takes one bad day at the office to pull the rug out from under your feet.
And with one particularly bad day, Rovers’ impressive and unbeaten start to the new season is over.
Defeat at AFC Wimbledon was not unimaginable. No result ever is.
But what was unthinkable was a listless, uninspiring performance as a follow up to what had been a strong, expectation-raising first month of the campaign.
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat can be put down to a disastrous two minute spell when Wimbledon broke the deadlock with goals from Kwesi Appiah and Andy Barcham.
But it tells only a small proportion of the full story of a deeply disappointing performance from Rovers.
It started with a first half of little incident for both sides, one which failed to deliver a single shot before the 38th minute and not one on target.
Though defensively they kept a lively Wimbledon at bay with very little trouble, at the other end of the pitch they lacked the invention required to make headway in the final third.
They seemed to find it at the start of the second half, along with a good dose of energy. Rovers managed the game’s first shot on target on 48 minutes when Danny Andrew’s free kick to the near post drew a decent save from on loan Sheffield United keeper George Long.
But just when they seemed to be in the ascendancy, they were blitzed out of sight inside two minutes.
First, Appiah ghosted between the centre halves and produced a superb touch to take his clear on goal, where he slotted past Ian Lawlor.
And before anyone could catch their breath, Wimbledon were clear. Barcham strolled through midfield unchallenged and lashed a shot in off the post from 20 yards.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
No energy, no ideas, no taking risks.
It’s been rare over the last year but the majority of Rovers’ players had an off-day - particularly those in the more advanced positions.
Throughout, on a hot afternoon at Kingsmeadow, they lacked the zippy, high-tempo play which had helped them start the season so well.
A major factor in that was an uncharacteristic hesitancy. Runs off the ball were no where near positive enough, ensuring team mates ran down dead ends with the ball.
And there was a ponderousness in possession, particularly in the final third when one touch too many was taken on far too many occasions.
It all allowed Wimbledon to defend with relative comfort. In truth, even as they saw more of the ball after falling two goals down, Rovers never looked like scoring.
MAY’S DAY TO SHINE
Alfie May got his chance to start a game following his impressive scoring run of four goals in four games and his excellent performance in starting against Hull City earlier in the week.
While he was undoubtedly the most positive of the attackers and ran the channels usefully in the first half, Rovers may actually have been better served with Liam Mandeville starting the game.
What they so desperately needed was the ball to stick in advanced areas, something which Mandeville increasingly shows capable of crafting.
Possession was lost cheaply in the first half, with attacks breaking down far too quickly. Mandeville may have been the better option to make sure this did not happen.
STILL a POSITIVE START
Overall, August has been good for Rovers.
They may have only won one League One fixture but the performances in draws with Gillingham and Blackpool were packed with plenty of positives to take into the season ahead.
And then there is the cup run and the tie with Arsenal to come.
Saturday’s defeat is a result and performance which needs a quick and emphatic response.
It was one to forget to end what should have been an opening month to remember.