Doncaster Rovers 2 AFC Wimbledon 1: Tommy Rowe’s return provides much-needed shot in the arm – analysis 

Ali Crawford celebrates his goal.
Ali Crawford celebrates his goal.
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There is no substitute for quality.

And skipper Tommy Rowe returned from injury to provide a very timely reminder of what Doncaster Rovers have been lacking over recent weeks to fire them to a much-needed win over AFC Wimbledon.

Tommy Rowe scores the winner

Tommy Rowe scores the winner

Rowe, sidelined for two months with a hamstring problem, came off the bench with quarter of an hour remaining and duly slammed home an 86th minute winner to end a run of six games without a victory.

Rovers initially coped admirably with the loss of Rowe, winning six from eight after the midfielder hobbled out of September’s Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Newcastle United U21s.

But more recently results have dipped due to defensive frailties and a notable lack of attacking thrust.

It is pretty clear that when Rovers are at full strength, or very near full strength, they will give anyone a serious game at this level – and they possess the armoury to beat the best in League One.

However, the debate rages on whether they have enough quality in depth, enough players of the quality of Rowe, to last the course and mount a sustained promotion push.

The return of Rowe is a real shot in the arm for a side that was in need of a lift.

But the continued absence of centre back Joe Wright has also clearly disrupted the defensive mechanism.

And, at the other end of the pitch, the idea of talisman John Marquis missing a prolonged period of time doesn’t bear thinking about.

A hard-earned victory over the Dons moved eighth-placed Rovers level on points with Charlton Athletic, in sixth. Time will tell whether they have enough depth of quality to finish this season any higher.

JOB DONE

Rovers did exactly what they needed to do against a struggling Wimbledon outfit – win the game.

It wasn’t pretty.

The visitors were a big, physical team who made life difficult and, to their credit, opened the scoring courtesy of a well-worked goal from Mitchell Pinnock.

Grant McCann’s men again looked somewhat nervy at the back and never really clicked into gear going forward.

There wasn’t the quick tempo and spark about their play that we became accustomed to earlier in the season.

But, most importantly, they got the job done.

And, with four of the next six games on home soil, it could potentially turn out to be a very significant win – if indeed it does turn out to be a turning point in the season.

Rovers were tentative in some of their work at both ends of the pitch, understandably low on confidence following a disappointing sequence of results.

Centre back duo Andy Butler and Tom Anderson endured a testing first period, while little went right for Marquis all game in attack and his fellow frontmen remained very much on the fringes of the contest.

But Rovers stuck to the task in hand and two moments of individual brilliance earned them the points.

Not long after Pinnock had broken the deadlock, the home side were level when Ali Crawford exchanged passes with Ben Whiteman and curled a glorious 25-yard effort into the top corner.

Rovers controlled the second period but the game appeared to be heading for a draw before Rowe found space in between the lines, slalomed past a couple of defenders and lashed home the winner from distance.

Rovers will need to raise their game again to ensure that their form remains on an upward curve, particularly with a difficult trip to Barnsley this weekend.

But having played excellently in their last home game against Sunderland and ending up with nothing, it felt far more satisfying to have won this one without playing particularly well.

MIDDLE MEN DELIVER

With the exception of Niall Mason, who was efficient and energetic at right back, the defensive unit were not at their best.

And, alongside Marquis, Alfie May and James Coppinger were also kept quiet.

But Rovers’ middle men could reflect on a job well done against a Dons outfit who were not afraid to put their foot in.

It is becoming abundantly obvious that a top six challenge could rest on keeping hold of Herbie Kane in January.

The Liverpool youngster’s energy and tenacity was key yet again, as he rose above some of the borderline challenges aimed in his direction.

Crawford more than justified his selection with a busy performance and sensational goal. He was the one constantly trying to play a killer pass, taking a risk.

Whiteman continued his good form, confident in possession.

And Rowe showed in 15 minutes what Rovers lacked at Coventry, Charlton and Chorley – that clever link between midfield and attack.

SET PIECE SHAKE-UP

McCann might be reluctant to repeatedly talk to the press about Rovers’ recent set piece woes, claiming such conversations could heighten the issue and make the problems worse.

But there was no doubt on Saturday that the matter has re-focused minds and is being addressed in-house.

Rovers brought everyone back for corners, which was different.

They also adopted a mix of zonal and man marking.

So far, so good.