Analysis: Three and easy for Rovers as they power into 2018 - Doncaster 2 Rochdale 0
In-form Doncaster Rovers have every reason to go into 2018 full of hope and optimism.
They confidently dispatched Rochdale, courtesy of first half goals from Ben Whiteman and Alfie May, to successfully record three straight league wins and move up to the dizzy heights of 10th in League One.
It is a far cry from just a week ago when Doncaster travelled to Bristol Rovers perched precariously above the drop zone.
But a so far perfect Christmas period is testament to the professionalism, and also potential, within the Doncaster ranks.
Darren Ferguson’s men will face much sterner tests over the coming weeks than they have in their last two outings at the Keepmoat Stadium - starting with a trip to Peterborough United on New Year’s Day.
But the clearly rising levels of confidence suggest that Ferguson’s young team are maturing and more than finding their feet in this division.
They again played with excellent intensity and no shortage of skill, while goalkeeper Ian Lawlor made several important saves to keep a third straight clean sheet.
Jordan Houghton replaced Rodney Kongolo in the only change from the team that waltzed past Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day - and this game was not dissimilar.
Unsurprisingly Rovers began the game with a spring in their step and it took them just four minutes to assume control on the scoresheet.
John Marquis, who epitomized the home side’s effective early high press, initially did well to keep the ball in play on the right. From there Tommy Rowe carried it along the edge of the box where it sat up nicely for Whiteman to slam home a superb left foot effort - just the sort of strike that has become the 21-year-old midfielder’s trademark.
Rovers immediately sensed blood. They pinned Dale back and went close to extending their advantage.
James Coppinger had a shot saved by Josh Lillis, Andy Butler hooked an effort just over and Mathieu Baudry saw a header cleared off the line.
Having been distinctly second best, the visitors could have levelled midway through the first period when Matt Done got in down the left and was denied by the legs of Lawlor.
They then should have equalised moments later when Andrew Cannon spurned a gilt-edged chance from close range from Ian Henderson’s inch perfect cross.
Rovers made the strugglers pay with their next attack. Jordan Houghton found space in midfield, laid the ball into May, whose shot on the turn went in off the post with the aid of a slight deflection.
Keith Hill responded by bringing on experienced forward Calvin Andrew for holding midfielder Keith Keane with 31 minutes played.
But it was Rovers who went closest to extending their lead before the break when Coppinger played in Marquis but he could not keep his shot down.
Perhaps unsure whether to push on or protect what they had, Rovers allowed Rochdale to start the second half in positive fashion.
Lawlor had to make a good save low down to keep out a long range effort from Henderson, before Joseph Bunney got in behind but prodded wide.
The visitors threw men forward in an attempt to get back in the game but there was no way past the excellent Lawlor, who saved again from Oliver Rathbone.
Rovers’ season was at something of a crossroads a week ago. They now appear to be very much on the right path.