Doncaster Rovers 3 Walsall 1: How the Luton defeat could prove to be a blessing in disguise – match analysis
Rovers’ failure to turn up at League One leaders Luton Town left many on the outside of the club wondering if they had the staying power to last the distance.
Peterborough United, Coventry City and Blackpool were certainly hoping so.
But fast forward seven days and those on the inside have provided a very clear response to both their doubters and rivals.
Proving people wrong is the fuel that is lighting Rovers’ fire.
Back-to-back home wins over Bristol Rovers and Walsall have left sixth-placed Doncaster five points clear of their nearest play-off challenger with games quickly running out.
And the way that Grant McCann’s men have adapted in the absence of key midfielders Herbie Kane and Ben Whiteman will also give the manager plenty of food for thought ahead of the run-in and potential extension to the regular season.
The defeat at Kenilworth Road, and the rather embarrassing nature of it, could well prove to be the shot in the arm that fires Rovers over the finish line.
It was a performance that was nowhere near good enough, devoid of all of the principles and personality that McCann has injected into this team.
And, judging by the way Rovers have burst out of the blocks in both subsequent games, their own abjectness has almost shocked them back to life after a run of seven games without a win which threatened to derail the season.
It would be wrong to say that McCann has rather stumbled across the 4-2-3-1 system employed in response to the lacklustre display at Luton because his team have dipped into that shape on previous occasions.
But the way his side have flourished this week – and the benefits of that particular formation – could have lasting consequences over the coming games.
Rovers have switched effortlessly from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 to minimise the loss of a natural holding midfielder – and one man in particular is revelling in his more central role.
James Coppinger scored twice and made another in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win over Bristol Rovers.
And he was a joy to watch once more against the Saddlers as he constantly found pockets of space in between the lines and his class on the ball constantly threatened to open doors.
That the three players behind John Marquis have had a hand in six of the seven goals scored in the last week tells you everything about the effectiveness of the tactical tweak.
Mallik Wilks, who set Rovers on their way against Walsall by winning a third minute penalty and then scoring a sublime effort 60 seconds later, has gone from strength to strength.
Kieran Sadlier has come to the party on the other flank.
And Tommy Rowe and Ali Crawford have teamed up with good effect behind them, even if they are playing deeper than they would like.
When Whiteman is fit to return, there might well be a temptation to slot him into this system.
STORY OF THE GAME
Rovers blew Bristol Rovers out of the water in midweek but spirited Walsall were much tougher opposition.
They led 3-1 at half time, thanks to Marquis’ spot kick, Wilks' brilliance and Danny Andrew’s free-kick, without having played particularly well.
Doncaster’s vulnerability from set pieces was once again laid bare when they failed to clear a corner and Josh Gordon poked home to temporarily reduce the deficit.
But Wilks and Coppinger ensured that Rovers always carried a threat going forward.
And, thanks to a couple of excellent saves from in-form Marko Marosi, McCann’s men were able to keep the plucky visitors at arm’s length for the remainder of the contest.