Analysis & match highlights: What's gone wrong at Doncaster Rovers?
Since there was a power cut at the Keepmoat Stadium in mid-January it is like the plug has been pulled on Doncaster Rovers' season.
If they are not careful, it will soon be lights out on League One.
Defeat in Saturday’s six-pointer with Shrewsbury Town saw Doncaster’s run without a win extended to ten games, their worst sequence of results since the back end of the 2011/12 season when Dean Saunders failed to keep the club in the Championship.
And the current stats have ‘relegation form’ written all over them.
Rovers have taken just three points out of the last 27 available.
They have scored three goals in their last eight games.
Incredibly, for nine successive home games they have conceded the first goal. The last time they scored the first goal in a match at the Keepmoat was against Chesterfield on November 24.
In fact, they have gone behind in nine of their last ten matches. That power cut, it seems, has a lot to answer for.
What’s gone wrong?
Well, the injuries suffered that day against Gillingham unquestionably knocked Darren Ferguson’s men out of their stride. Rhythm and momentum count for a lot in sport and Rovers had it, now they don’t.
The confidence, freedom and renewed drive that engulfed the club under their new boss has since drained away in equal measure, and with it the goals, shots and openings have dried up.
You might also question the merit and motives of a January transfer window that saw Rob Jones, Richie Wellens and Harry Forrester all depart, replaced by Craig Alcock and young loan players with no Football League experience.
Are there enough leaders in the dressing room? Are there enough people in there really demanding that bit extra from their teammates?
And is the post new-year lull, which currently shows no signs of ending, symptomatic of a group of players who perhaps think they are too good to go down, just like they thought they were good enough to get in the play-offs last season?
You might argue too that when Ferguson recently insisted “we’ll not go down” it only added to a complacent vibe coming from within the Keepmoat corridors. Only last week Andy Williams said talk of a relegation dogfight was “dramatic”.
Well, Andy, after a fifth defeat in six, one that saw Rovers drop to 20th in the table, a dogfight is exactly what it looks like to most observers now.
And the display against Shrewsbury did very little to dispel fears that Doncaster could be the team who drop into trouble at just the wrong time. There’s always one team that sinks into it.
For, as promising as Rovers’ first half performance was against the Shrews, they again failed to score, they again conceded a horrible goal, and they again ended up with absolutely nothing.
In the second half, when the visitors went up a level, Rovers went completely missing. They looked every inch a side in big trouble.
After yet another soft defeat at Swindon in midweek you could fully understand why Ferguson reverted to a flat back four. The recalled Andy Butler made his presence felt in both boxes, seeing a second half header cleared off the line while the game was still goalless, while Luke McCullough impressed in a midfield holding role.
His decision to drop top scorer Williams and start Liam Mandeville was bolder, and less effective. Mandeville, like his strike partner Nathan Tyson, was anonymous for large chunks of a game in which the majority of chances came from dead balls.
A midfield comprising of three young loan players from the Premier League also caught the eye. And while Lynden Gooch, Riccardo Calder and Conor Grant offered plenty of enthusiasm in a first half that Rovers had the better of, they were significantly less effective after the break when Shrewsbury came out and took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Gooch was Rovers’ main creative spark and he tested Jayson Leutwiler with a low effort after some neat link up play with Tyson, while McCullough kept the visiting goalkeeper on his toes with a rasping drive from 30 yards.
Shrewsbury barely offered an attacking threat, but they came out after half time and got their foot on the ball and started to dictate. Rovers had little answer, they huffed and puffed.
The decisive moment came just after the hour mark and it summed up Doncaster’s ailing fortunes. Shaun Whalley’s inswinging corner from the left was allowed to go straight in past a red-faced Thorsten Stuckmann.
Rovers should have equalised from a corner themselves when Williams somehow missed from a few yards out, and could have levelled in the last minute but for an excellent save from Leutwiler to keep out Cameron Stewart’s freekick.
But, worryingly, there was no spark whatsoever in that second half. Rovers’ season needs re-igniting, and fast.
Rovers: Stuckmann 5, Lund 6, Alcock 6, Butler 7, Taylor-Sinclair 5 (Evina 76), McCullough 7, Grant 6, Calder 7 (Stewart 85), Gooch 7, Mandeville 5 (Williams 61, 5), Tyson 5. Subs not used: Jones, MacKenzie, Keegan, Middleton.
Shrewsbury: Leutwiler 7, Grimmer 6, Whitbread 5 (Smith 27, 6), Knight-Percival 7, Brown 7, Ogogo 6, Black 7 (Wellens 75), Clark 6, Mangan 6, Vassell 6, Whalley 6. Subs not used: Halstead, Kaikai, Vernon, Akpa Akpro, Cole.
Referee: Philip Gibbs (West Midlands)