Analysis: Doncaster Rovers 2 Luton Town 1 - Rovers show some substance to go with early-season style

Rovers' players celebrate Ben Whiteman's winning goal.
Rovers' players celebrate Ben Whiteman's winning goal.

Success and sexy football do not have to go hand in hand.  

The best teams find different ways of winning.

And that is exactly what Doncaster Rovers did as they dug deep to beat a dangerous Luton Town side and claim an overdue victory.

Grant McCann’s men played significantly better in their previous two league outings, a pair of encouraging draws against high-flying Portsmouth and Peterborough United.

But the way they gritted their teeth and worked as a team to defeat a slick Luton outfit was arguably even more satisfying.

McCann’s team have shown flashes of attacking panache and a willingness to take the game to the opposition during the opening weeks of the new campaign. 

They have not been getting the rewards their performances have deserved.

But on Saturday the boot was very much on the other foot as the newly-promoted Hatters played with a swagger and controlled long periods of the game but found Rovers, who were without a win from their last six games in all competitions, a tough nut to crack and ultimately came away from the Keepmoat Stadium empty-handed.

Doncaster fans know all too well about the characteristics required to get out of this division.

They did it in style under Sean O’Driscoll. 

Dean Saunders then built a team of real substance.

If McCann can mix the two - and the early signs are promising - then he could deliver on his promise to turn Rovers into genuine promotion contenders.

POSITIVE VIBES

McCann has been making positive statement after positive statement since his appointment. Last week he claimed Rovers can win League One.

And whether it is as a result of clever psychology on the part of their manager, or a consequence of performances on the pitch, Rovers are attacking this division. They are really going for it.

There is not a hint of any sort of inferiority complex.

Last season we heard on numerous occasions that the players needed to believe in their own ability a bit more.

It felt like a learning process, a team acclimatising to life back in the third tier.

But this Rovers team genuinely believes in itself.

They don’t just believe they belong in League One either. They believe that they they can beat the best teams in the division.

Young players like Niall Mason, Joe Wright and Ben Whiteman are coming of age. They are playing without fear.

And, on the back of one Rovers’ best displays of recent times at London Road last weekend, that was evident again from the start of both halves against Luton.

They simply shrugged off the setback of losing to Newcastle’s youngsters in the Checkatrade Trophy in midweek by quickly getting into their stride in this game.

And they made their confident start count on the scoresheet courtesy of Matty Blair’s superb individual effort after six minutes.

Luton are  no mugs and displayed plenty of confidence themselves.

But despite the visitors wrestling back control of the game, and eventually netting what seemed like an inevitable equaliser in first half stoppage time through Elliot Lee, Rovers responded in the best possible way.

They got themselves organised at the break and burst out of the blocks at the start of the second period – and just 35 seconds later re-took the lead thanks to Whiteman’s deflected shot from the edge of the box.

Mallik Wilks and Danny Andrew curled efforts narrowly wide and James Coppinger later wasted a gilt-edged chance to put the match beyond Luton.

But on this occasion, as the Hatters continued to prode and move the ball quickly, it was not attacking that was Doncaster’s best form of defence.

All 11 players in red and white, as well as substitutes Alfie May, Jermaine Anderson and Paul Taylor, played their part in keeping the impressive visitors at bay. They kept their shape, put their foot in and stayed strong as a unit.

PASSED THE TEST

They had given a very good account of themselves against Pompey and Posh but just came up a little short.

With 20 or so minutes remaining this was another real test of Rovers.

After buckling under the pressure and conceding one equaliser, could they hold onto what they had against another team expected to figure in the promotion shake-up?

Luton ensured it was a stiff examination but they came through it. Unlike so many times last season there was to be no late equaliser, no late heartache. Rovers had shown a different side to their game and found a different way of winning.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

During the first few weeks of McCann’s reign you got the feeling it was going to be 4-3-3 all the way.

But he showed a degree of tactical flexibility in this game, borne out of respect for the opposition.

During the first half Wilks and Coppinger played deeper than normal, tracking back to help the full backs and making it more of a 4-5-1 than 4-3-3.

And the second period saw Rovers match up the Hatters’ midfield diamond with Coppinger back where he played during most of last season.

It ultimately worked – and McCann deserves credit for making those changes.