Exeter City 1 Doncaster Rovers 3: Oh Mande! Impact sub Liam gets Rovers out of jail
When it comes to taking your chance, Liam Mandeville may have just set the standard.
It may have taken a degree of verbal cajoling from Darren Ferguson but the young forward finally grasped his opportunity with a game-changing performance at Exeter.
Mandeville initially struggled to fit into Andy Williams’ boots after the striker was ruled out with a long term injury.
But after showing promising signs of coping with the pressure during last weekend’s FA Cup clash with Oldham Athletic, the 19-year-old put all the pieces of his undoubted quality together for the first time to carry Rovers to a remarkable turnaround.
After a lacklustre first half at St James’ Park, Rovers fell behind six minutes into the second period.
With the low afternoon sun in his eyes, Marko Marosi misjudged the flight of a long ball and rushed out of his goal before hauling down David Wheeler as he shaped to shoot. Reuben Reid stepped up and smashed home the resultant penalty.
Ferguson reshuffled the side, switching to a back three but Rovers still struggled for a real attacking presence.
That was until Mandeville’s introduction with 21 minutes to go as he injected much-needed energy into their play.
And within three minutes, he made a major impact, rising superbly to loop a header from James Coppinger’s fine cross over James Hamon and in off the bar.
The two sides went back and forth from there on, but Mandeville’s presence gave Rovers an added edge.
Racing forward out wide, Mandeville cut back a low pass which John Marquis darted onto and powered home first time from the edge of the box to give them a 77th minute lead.
And after surviving a rally from Exeter, Mandeville and Marquis combined again to seal the win in the last minute. Mandeville surged forward in a direct run before squaring to the unmarked Marquis who slotted home confidently.
GETTING OUT OF JAIL
Ferguson made it clear that he felt Mandeville was the reason for the win and it is hard to disagree with the Rovers boss.
Rovers were undoubtedly poor with the ball from the start of their clash with a side yet to win on their own turf this term.
Possession play was disappointing throughout. Long balls were far too often played up towards Marquis, who was effectively acting as a lone striker. It denied Rovers the opportunity to play their usual possession game and saw them unable to control the game in the middle of the park.
After a series of disappointing recent performances, Saturday was a worrying turn for the worse and ensured the questions Rovers need to answer only grew in number.
Mandeville’s intervention meant the concerns were masked as Rovers earned the win.
But they must take it as a missed bullet and react sufficiently before Hartlepool come to town next week.
MAROSI ATONES FOR ERROR
Rovers’ goalkeeping department has not been the most convincing so far this season but Marko Marosi has been a pretty reliable presence between the sticks.
So a collective groan was almost audible around St James’ Park when he inexplicably raced out of his goal and clattered into Wheeler with a reckless challenge just inside the area.
He could perhaps use the setting sun as an excuse but a loss of composure is probably the greater reason.
The power Reid put into his penalty rendered it unstoppable, even though Marosi went the right way.
But he also went the right way in atoning for the calamitous conceding of the penalty with a commanding performance over the remainder of the half.
Marosi was strong to keep out a similarly powerful strike from Reid from close range and also palmed away a tricky bobbling effort from Ollie Watkins to keep Rovers ahead after Marquis had edged them in front.
He provided much need assurance in the later stages – and for the coming weeks.
Not too long ago Rovers only seemed to be growing in confidence, reflected in controlled performances that marked them out as a level above the majority of their League Two rivals.
Over the last three or four weeks, that status has disappeared along with their ability to lock a stranglehold on games by dominating the ball.
Defensive instability has been well documented but there is a chicken and egg question as to how it relates to the lack of composure on the ball higher up the pitch.
Joe Wright, who looked solid through the first couple of months of the season, now seems shaky while Mathieu Baudry hardly looks the composed defender expected, both on and off the ball, particularly following his introduction in place of the injured Andy Butler at the break.
But the blame for the presence of nerves should not fall squarely on the shoulders of the defence.
Jordan Houghton was not his usual commanding presence in midfield, where Exeter had the edge as the Chelsea loanee and his team mates struggled to get hold of the ball.
The surprising lack of midfield control is quickly becoming the main issue for Rovers as it puts pressure on the defence and leads to a lack of service for the forwards.
Lacking a foundation in the middle of the park tends to draw both Tommy Rowe and Coppinger deeper in search of the ball, leaving Marquis isolated.