Match Verdict & Highlights: Doncaster Rovers 0 Scunthorpe 1

Doncaster's Andy Williams battles with Scunthorpe's Niall Canavan
Doncaster's Andy Williams battles with Scunthorpe's Niall Canavan

The extra punters brought out by the festive period will have spent Boxing Day evening wondering what all the fuss is about.

The Keepmoat housed the greatest number of Rovers supporters so far this season as they welcomed Scunthorpe United from down the M180.

But the perfomance put on by Darren Ferguson’s men was certainly not enough alone to have the more casual fan clamouring for more.

Rovers were a shadow of their recent selves as they fell to defeat to their near-neighbours, for whom Paddy Madden’s 20th minute strike was enough for all three points.

The disappointment of seeing a seven match winning streak against Iron come to a grinding halt paled into comparison with the disappointment of the manner of Rovers’ performance.

‘Off it’ seems the most simple way to describe the showing. The group failed to pay back in kind Ferguson’s decision to allow them Christmas Day off - a gesture which should not be used as a reason for the poor performance.

Rovers' James Coppinger has a shot at goal

Rovers' James Coppinger has a shot at goal

The better the run that a team is on, the greater scrutiny they will find themselves under. And Rovers will have been more closely examined than ever before during their impressive recent form.

Being figured out was something Ferguson foretold as he recalled the manner in which they had been bossed at times by Burton.

He said his side would have to increasingly master the 3-5-2 system in order to deny opposing teams the opportunity to nullify Rovers when it was deployed.

Against Scunthorpe, not only did Rovers come up against a side seeking to stop them finding their flow, they did so when far from their best themselves.

Doncaster's Nathan Tyson narrowly shoots wide

Doncaster's Nathan Tyson narrowly shoots wide

Over the last couple of months, Rovers have shown more than a few signs of an evolution into a thrilling attacking force, one which surges forward with pace, energy and tempo.

All three of those facets were lacking from their Boxing Day performance, something that certainly was not aided by a general sloppiness which prevailed from the first whistle.

Passes were wayward and lacking in real conviction meaning the rapid counterattacks, which have become one of the most pleasing attributes of the current side, were all too rarely sparked into life.

Key to this was the lack of real width, something which is always going to diminish the effectiveness of a team using wing backs. Cedric Evina was determined to get on the ball at any opportunity but Rovers struggled to bring into play Craig Alcock on the right flank.

Alcock’s switch to wing back was the solitary change made by Ferguson who swapped him around with Mitchell Lund. In personnel terms, Ferguson kept faith with the same starting XI for the fourth consecutive game.

The quick turnaround ahead of Monday’s trip to Oldham Athletic will likely see the continuity of the team sheet come under threat. But individual performances from the last two games mean changes are likely regardless of how well players recover in such a short period of time.

As touched upon earlier, to focus entirely on Rovers’ own shortcomings during the game would do a disservice to a strong battling performance from Scunthorpe.

Opting for a 4-3-3 system looked to be a bold move for Iron boss Mark Robins prior to kick off, especially with Rovers having great recent success out wide.

But what was written on paper did not take account of the workrate of which this Scunthorpe side is capable.

Rovers in the second half – and for the second consecutive week – were forced to change to a standard 4-4-2 during the second half, such was 3-5-2 not working.

Iron pressed superbly with the front three of Madden, Tommy Rowe and Luke Williams leading by example. They stayed in the faces of Rovers’ defensive three, preventing Ferguson’s men from playing out from the back and bringing the wide players into the game.

Truly driving the performance was midfield rock Stephen Dawson, back from a knee injury for the first time since August.

He bullied and bossed until he was withdrawn after an hour, mere seconds after being booked for a particularly robust challenge. Rovers had no answer and no equal to the former Barnsley man.

Scunthorpe had the best of the early chances with Madden forcing Stuckmann to save with a first time strike and Alcock needed to produce a last gasp stooping header to prevent the striker from turning home a dangerous cross.

Madden would not be denied on 20 minutes. Williams’ cross was hardly well-struck but it bounced through to the back post where Madden appeared to tap in from close range. Appeals for offside were made but several members of Rovers’ sluggish defensive line played Madden on.

Nathan Tyson was inches away from levelling and he fired first time from James Coppinger’s well-worked low corner kick only to find the side netting.

While Rovers began to forge the reputation as comeback kings in recent weeks, they never really looked like getting anything from the game.

Barring a burst of energy after the break and a more positive approach with the change of system ten minutes into the second half, they remained lacklustre.

Clear sights of goal were hard to come by. Coppinger forged a chance with a piece of brilliance, chesting Evina’s cross, turning and volleying in one swift movement but straight at Luke Daniels.

Substitute Dany N’Guessan clipped a shot just past the post after powering through a tackle.

But the closest opportunity was saved for last when another sub Cameron Stewart cut inside and curled an effort from the corner of the box which rattled the bar.

So a disappointing performance delivered a disappointing derby result and plenty to work on to get back on track.

To the more casual fan - trust us, Rovers are usually much better than they showed on Boxing Day.

the teams

Rovers: Stuckmann 6, Alcock 6, Butler 7, Taylor-Sinclair 6, Lund 5 (Stewart 53 7), Coppinger 6, Middleton 5 (Keegan 45 7), Grant 5, Evina 7, Williams 6, Tyson 6 (N’Guessan 76 6). Subs not used: Marosi, Middleton, Chaplow, Mandeville.

Scunthorpe: Daniels 6, Clarke 6 (Wiseman 85), Mirfin 7 (Goode 69), Canavan 7, Laird 6, King 7, Dawson 8 (Ness 62 6), Bishop 7, Madden 8, Williams 7, Rowe. Subs not used: Anyon, van Veen, Henderson, Wootton.

Referee: Stuart Atwell (Warwickshire)

Attendance: 8,744 (1,238 away)

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