Match analysis: Doncaster Rovers' quality tells in the end against spirited Crewe
To a man, Doncaster Rovers' quality at this level is really starting to tell.
It did so again on Saturday against a Crewe team whose spirited performance belied their struggling status.
Despite an awkward spell just before half time - after James Jones cancelled out Conor Grant’s opener - there was almost an inevitability that top of the table Rovers would go on to record their tenth win out of 12.
They duly did courtesy of second half goals from leading scorer John Marquis and midfield maestro Tommy Rowe.
To a man, everyone played their part.
Goalkeeper Ian Lawlor introduced himself to the Keepmoat Stadium faithful with three sensational first half saves. On first impressions he looks like a very impressive operator.
Full backs Matty Blair and Niall Mason continued to offer energy and width. Craig Alcock came on and really looked the part.
The centre back partnership between Andy Butler, the aggressor, and Mathieu Baudry, the cool head, continues to flourish.
And just in front of them Jordan Houghton just keeps things ticking over - a player destined for bigger things.
It’s a midfield quartet that would not look out of place in a higher division - and one that bossed the majority of this game.
A cultured Grant is getting better with each passing game, Rowe’s guile and technique stands out like a sore thumb in League Two, and what more can you say about James Coppinger? He was at his elegant best yet again on Saturday, finding space, making things happen.
If that wasn’t enough, Rovers can also surely lay claim to the best strike duo in the fourth tier.
Marquis’s goal took his tally to 15 for the season but his all-round ability and endeavour are just as valuable as his goals.
And while Andy Williams’ luck in front of goal might have been out against the Railwaymen, his intelligent movement and closing down was almost relentless.
Everyone knows their job, everyone is at full tilt.
The cream always rises to the top, they say. Now for Rovers the challenge is to stay there.
This group of players realise they are playing at a level beneath them - but there is not a hint of cockiness about the way they are going about their business.
What there was against Crewe was a very tangible air of authority, a total belief in what they were doing and in each other - a feeling that if they stuck to their guns there would only be one winner in the end.
And so it turned out.
These guys are all good players but they also united by their determination to get out of this league at the first attempt.
Business-like and professional against plucky Crewe, their quality told in the end.
STORY OF THE MATCH
But for a rocky spell just before half time, Rovers controlled the majority of this game and fully merited the three points.
They settled nicely and took the lead on 23 minutes when Rowe and Grant exchanged passes and the latter lashed home a clinical right-foot shot from the edge of the box.
Rovers appeared to be comfortable but a Crewe equaliser, one that came out of the blue, briefly changed the complexion of the game.
Lawlor did brilliantly to parry Charlie Dagnall’s close range shot but Jones was on hand to fire home the rebound - and from that point Rovers were slightly rattled.
The hosts were bailed out by Lawlor who denied Jordan Bowery one-on-one and then showed fine reflexes to tip over Jones’ powerful effort.
Rovers began the second period with intent, and it seemed like only a matter of time before their extra quality on the ball would tell.
They probed away but it was a set piece that proved to be Crewe’s undoing as Grant’s delicious free-kick from the right was glanced home by an unmarked Marquis.
The visitors, now defending deeper and attempting to play on the counter, came close to a second equaliser when they broke quickly and Bowery fired just wide.
But the game was over as a contest when Rovers scored a third midway through the second half. The luckless Williams saw his header cannon down onto the goalline off the crossbar before Rowe forced the ball home.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Darren Ferguson: “It was a good performance and the second half was very good. There was good quality in the goals - against a good team who’ve got players better than where they should be.
“The quality of the passing and the movement was very good. I’m delighted, it’s a really good result for us.
“The last 15 minutes of the first half we lost our discipline a little bit and became a bit ragged. I don’t want a game like that where we attack and they attack, we need to be compact all over the pitch.
“We just seemed a bit anxious to get that second goal and I told them just to keep doing what we’re doing. Just make sure we don’t get done on the counter attack.
“Second half we were very good and we managed the game very well. On another day we have three penalty kicks and it should’ve been more than three really. But it was still really pleasing.
“It’s hard work to keep going and going and going but we’ve got another 19 games to go and we need to keep doing it.”
Crewe manager David Artell: “We were the better team in the second part of that first half and we could have gone in 3-1 up,” he said.
“But it is the same story, the same story as last week.
“The two goals in the second half were absolutely criminal. We have got to be better there. What happens in both boxes is crucial.
“At the end of the day we’ve either got to improve or it’s going to be a long, long season.
“That second half makes it look like this game was one way traffic. These are top of the league and you’ve got to embrace defending against a team like that.
“You can’t capitulate at the first sign of pressure.”