Match Analysis: Mansfield Town 1 Doncaster Rovers 1 - Frustrating end to the year for Rovers
Who would have thought Rovers would end 2016 with a real feeling of frustration?
Well, plenty actually if they had been polled midway through the year.
But the seemingly unstoppable progress since August had Rovers heading into the New Year resembling a promotion juggernaut.
One game could not, would not, should not run a juggernaut off the road.
But the pang of frustration is difficult to shake after the manner of the 1-1 draw at Mansfield Town.
It took a Liam Mandeville penalty 13 minutes from time to effectively get Rovers out of jail.
Though they had improved in the second half, particularly after Matt Green gave Mansfield the lead on the hour mark, they were hardly heading towards grabbing an equaliser in a convincing manner.
But then Matty Blair was cropped by Mansfield keeper Scott Shearer and a penalty was awarded which Mandeville confidently dispatched to move onto ten goals for the season.
For the first hour of the game Rovers were poor and were outworked by a limited opposition they ought to have swept aside.
There comes the real frustration. Had they been anywhere near their best they would have carved open the opposition and won comfortably.
But when Green – who was lucky to escape any punishment at all after apparently headbutting Andy Butler – got the decisive touch to put Mansfield ahead after Mal Benning shot through a crowded box, it was nothing more than the hosts deserved and Rovers were left to play catch-up.
They had failed to control the game and ensure it followed the pattern they wished to knit. Ultimately, a point was the most they deserved to see in the New Year with.
Chances were few and far between, and that was the case for both sides.
Rovers failed to muster an actual effort until the 32nd minute. Mandeville’s penalty in the 77th was their first effort on goal.
It was far from pretty and unfortunately, in the attacking sense, it was not that effective either.
Defensively however, Rovers were excellent. Andy Butler and Mathieu Baudry are forging an excellent partnership that can deal with all manner of attacking threats.
Positives from the game were hardly plentiful but the defensive duo delivered.
GIVE WITH ONE BUT TAKE WITH THE OTHER
The developing physicality and battling ability of this Rovers side has come in tandem with a dip in the quality of possession play and attacking fluency.
Link or coincidence? It remains to be seen.
But what was certain was the Rovers were the poorest in possession they have been since the horrendous first hour of the trip to Exeter.
Passing was sloppy and regularly cut out by an energetic and enthusiastic Mansfield outfit.
But most surprising was the lack of tempo in their play. Possession was all too ponderous until it was time to play catch up after the Stags took the lead. It played straight into the hands of the up-and-at-them hosts.
It was disappointing given the clear opportunity that was presented.
This game was far more open than the Boxing Day clash with Notts County, a side who tried to nullify Rovers with intense pressing.
Mansfield were keen to go for the win as well and space was plentiful at Field Mill.
Give Rovers space and they typically strike with real ruthlessness. It just was not there on New Year’s Eve and it made for frustrating viewing.
NOW TOO PREDICTABLE?
For the second straight game an inferior opposition has sought to shackle Rovers by matching them up on formation terms.
Mansfield followed Notts County’s lead by opting to mirror the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. And it worked.
So Darren Ferguson was forced into a system change early in the second half. And again, it worked, with Rovers so much more threatening after the switch to three at the back.
So the question is, have Rovers become too predictable?
There can be no denying that the diamond has served Rovers very well this season.
But opposition teams have clearly taken notice and are finding increasingly effective ways of restricting Rovers.
Changing a winning formula is difficult.
But it may well be worth throwing a few selection and system curveballs in the weeks to come to prevent any predictability.
HERE’S TO 2017
The year not have ended in the best possible fashion but it cannot be argued that Rovers head into 2017 in excellent shape.
A healthy seven point cushion within the automatic promotion places, two points off top spot, unbeaten at home so far, sitting bang on the two-points-per-game standard.
And we also have half a season’s worth of evidence that Rovers are simply better than the majority of the other sides within League Two.
They may not be top, but they are very well placed.
There is a lot of work to be done to finish the job but all the signs point to it being a job well done in the end.
Let us just hope there are few frustrating afternoons along the way.