Doncaster Rovers 0 Middlesbroough 2: Calder brigh spark for Rovers
Reading anything into pre-season games can often be a futile exercise.
This time last year, after Doncaster Rovers soundly got the better of Sunderland, everyone thought they had it sussed.
Rovers were heading for the League One play-offs, minimum. And Sunderland? Well they were absolute certainties to slip through the Premier League trapdoor.
Those forecasts could not have been more hopelessly inaccurate .
So whatever the outcome of Darren Ferguson’s first pre-season in charge of Rovers, no one should even attempt to either champion or castigate them at least until a ball is kicked in anger in League Two.
That said, after the disastrous turn of events at Doncaster following the turn of the year, there is an onus on Ferguson and his team - and it is now most definitely his team - to hit the ground running before they travel to Accrington Stanley on August 6.
However, on Saturday they failed to provide much back-up for the wave of fresh optimism that has engulfed the club on the back of their busy summer of transfer activity.
Even taking into account the calibre of the opposition, although Middlesbrough themselves barely got out of second gear all afternoon, Rovers will be disappointed at how they failed to carry their inventive and dynamic attacking play at Rossington Main last week into the first part of their north-east double bill.
They struggled to make any impact in the final third whatsoever, at least until the introduction of Riccardo Calder at half time.
And, although Boro’s class on the ball allowed them to control possession for long periods, Rovers’ offensive failings were less to do with the quality of the opposition - who at times looked a little jittery at the back - and more to do with their own lack of conviction.
That changed in the second half thanks to Calder, who put his hand up in a big way by being direct, running at defenders and generally not being afraid to try things.
The on-loan Aston Villa midfielder was the stand-out man in red and white by far - and George Friend will vouch for that after one slick turn left the former Rovers man for dead.
Of the other new signings on display, goalkeeper Ross Etheridge lived up to his reputation of being neat and tidy with the ball at his feet, and produced two smart saves to deny Stewart Downing and David Nugent.
Striker John Marquis was very busy but dropped too deep in an attempt to see more of the ball, Matty Blair looked slightly more comfortable when he switched to right wing back, while left back Tyler Garratt struggled to get forward and rather stood off Downing in the build-up to Boro’s first goal.
Rovers were poor with the ball, knitting together very little in the final third, but they could be satisfied on the whole with their work without the ball.
They switched almost seamlessly mid-game from a 4-4-2 diamond to 3-5-2, the two formations that Ferguson appears to have favoured, and rarely let the Premier League side get in behind them. They also defended quite well as a team and kept a decent shape.
In that respect, and in terms of getting more minutes in the fitness bank, it proved to be a worthwhile exercise.
But Rovers won’t face any team this season who can keep the ball like Boro, so reading too much into what turned out to be a drab, one-paced warm-up match is almost entirely pointless.
As it were it took just 13 minutes for the visitors to make their early dominance count when they rather sauntered through the midfield and fed Downing, who cut inside from the right and fired home via the aid of a deflection off Andy Butler.
Teenage striker Joe Pugh almost levelled just before the break but failed to get enough of a connection onto Blair’s excellent floated cross.
Calder injected some life into Rovers, who enjoyed their best spell immediately after the re-start, but it was Boro who always looked the more likelier to add to their tally.Marko Marosi produced a superb save to keep out one Alex Pattison effort but he could not prevent the youngster doubling Boro’s lead in the closing stages with a powerful shot.
Rovers: Etheridge 6 (Marosi 46, 6); Lund 6 (Fielding 68), Alcock 6, Butler 6, Garratt 5 (Evina 46, 6); Middleton 6, Coppinger 5 (Longbottom 46, 5), Blair 6 (McCormick 68), Rowe 6 (Calder 46, 7); Pugh 5 (Mandeville 46, 5), Marquis 5 (Williams 46, 5).
Boro first half: Mejias 7, Nsue 7, Morris 6, Gibson 7, McGinley 6, Clayton 7, Forshaw 7, Carayol 6, Downing 7, De Pena 6, Nugent 6.
Boro second half: Dimi 6, Halliday 6, Friend 6, De Sart 6, Pattison 7, Baptiste 6, De Roon 6, Jackson 6, Reach 7, Fischer 6, Rhodes 6.
Referee: Darren England