Where has the energy gone? Questions asked after shock defeat to bottom side: AFC Wimbledon 2 Doncaster Rovers 0 – analysis
Doncaster Rovers have lost their mojo and it is threatening to derail what has been an excellent season.
A fourth straight League One match passed by without victory as Rovers suffered defeat at the division's bottom side AFC Wimbledon.
That John Marquis was sent off with 40 minutes to go certainly did not help, and it brought to an end a bright start to the second half.
But Marquis' dismissal - both harsh and needless in equal measure - should not be used as the primary excuse for the defeat. Not that anyone associated with the club quick to fall back on that fact.
Rovers simply did not perform to the levels of which they are capable - just as they have done in costly periods in recent matches.
The zip, energy and sheer relentlessness of much of the first half the season has given way to sluggishness and sloppiness.
Grant McCann posited the word 'safe.'
And they were taught a lesson in ruthlessness by a side who have previously lacked just that. Even with the goals from Steven Seddon and Shane McLaughlin that earned this win, Wimbledon remain the division's poorest goalscorers by some distance.
That Peterborough United - beaten at Bradford City - again failed to take advantage and overhaul Rovers in sixth place was of little consolation.
Rovers need to get their own house in order first before they worry about what promotion rivals are producing.
WHERE IS THE ENERGY?
Questioning the current levels of desire among the Rovers squad would be wrong. No one should doubt their drive to achieve promotion.
But the relentlessness they previously showed in attack, pushing forward from start to finish, has taken a hit.
McCann dismissed suggestions a level of complacency may have set in after the climb into the top six.
It is difficult not to get drawn into believing they are resting on their laurels after witnessing the recent run.
Quick, incisive movement of the ball out of midfield, getting players forward in swarms, a variety of styles of attack - these things are just not present enough in Rovers' play currently. And without them, they are beginning to look a little average.
While Shrewsbury Town and Charlton Athletic both deserved credit for how they imposed their own will and shut Rovers down for spells, just like at Scunthorpe United McCann's side were their own worst enemy as they allowed the opposition to settle into their own game.
Wimbledon had looked set to allow Rovers to attack at will, initially dropping exceptionally deep and inviting them on.
But after ten minutes of zippy play but a struggle to break down the blue brick wall, Rovers increasingly looked to loft balls over the top, down the middle, for Marquis and Mallik Wilks to chase.
With Wimbledon's back line so deep, the space to run into was not there and it made for a futile tactic.
And the hosts soon began to find success on the counter attack with front two Joe Pigott and Michael Folivi providing a promising big man, pacy man combo.
It meant for an uncomfortable afternoon that only worsened with Marquis' dismissal.
THE TURNING POINT
After the non-event of the first half, Rovers had started the second half well as they demonstrated a bit more energetic play. Ben Whiteman lashed a volley which drew an acrobatic save from Wimbledon keeper Aaron Ramsdale.
But on 51 minutes Marquis saw red after a tussle and a tumble with Ramsdale, who certainly seemed to be the instigator in the incident but did a pretty good job convincing the officials it was the Rovers striker's doing.
The yellow card flashed in that incident was certainly harsh and the same could be said for the first one Marquis picked up in the opening period.
But he will also have some looking in the mirror to do with that one. After Rovers won a free kick, Wimbledon's Scott Wagstaff dribbled the ball away and was needlessly pushed by Marquis with both booked.
Rovers initially struggled to settle with ten men, with Wilks increasingly isolated in a lone forward role.
And Wimbledon took advantage on 66 minutes. Paul Downing woefully misjudged a back header with the ball dropping to Joe Pigott who fed Seddon to lash beyond a static Marko Marosi.
McCann had already prepared Alfie May and Tyler Smith to come on before the goal with Wilks and the ineffective Herbie Kane heading off.
And the pacy front line caused a few headaches for Wimbledon, though it was James Coppinger who had the best chance when denied by Ramsdale on the angle.
Wimbledon put the game to bed in added time when Pigott collected Ramsdale's long kick forward and crossed, with Whiteman inadvertently turning the ball on his own goal and forcing Marosi to parry. McLoughlin raced in and slotted into the bottom corner.
WIMBLEDON: Ramsdale; Sibbick (McLoughlin 63), Kalambayi, Nightingale, Thomas, Seddon; Wagstaff (Barcham 64), Hartigan, Wordsworth; Pigott (Hanson 81), Folivi. Subs not used: McDonnell, Watson, Pinnock, Connolly.
ROVERS: Marosi; Lewis (Crawford 46), Downing, Butler, Andrew; Blair, Whiteman, Kane (May 68); Wilks (Smith 68), Marquis, Coppinger. Subs not used: Jones, Anderson, Rowe, Downing.
REFEREE: Paul Marsden (Lancashire)
ATTENDANCE: 4,203 (550 away)