Palpitations induced as McCann era begins with dramatic triumph: Southend United 2 Doncaster Rovers 3
'We're going to give some of our fans a heart attack this year.'
If the opening day of the season is anything to go by, Grant McCann is not wrong.
Rovers opened the campaign, and the McCann era, with a quite breathless and dramatic victory at Southend United.
It was a triumph few would dare to have predicted at half time after witnessing the hosts dominate proceedings at Roots Hall.
But for a brilliant performance from Marko Marosi, Southend would have been out of sight and really ought to have been.
An unimaginably ruthless and clinical turn after the break saw McCann’s side seemingly put the game to bed with 20 minutes to go thanks to goals from John Marquis, Tommy Rowe and debutant Mallik Wilks.
The dramatics were not done however and Southend reduced the deficit to one before a nervy and lengthy period of injury time saw Rovers hold on.
McCann had promised excitement on his arrival and he had also guaranteed goals after some scepticism in pre-season.
On his first outing as Rovers boss, we know we can take him at his word.
CONCERN AT THE START
Despite a quite glorious win to start the campaign, it was difficult to not walk away from Roots Hall with a few nagging concerns.
Rovers were simply not at the races in the first half – and worryingly so.
Southend forced them back into their own half and simply refused to allow them to come out.
The full backs, whom McCann’s system relies upon for added attacking threat and width, could not get up the pitch which proved incredibly restrictive for the whole side.
A front line of Marquis, Wilks and James Coppinger was stuck on half way with Southend’s solid back four able to move high up the pitch.
With pressure high and the likes of Michael Kightly finding space to cause problems, composure evaded Rovers.
Clearances were panicky and rushed which only brought Southend straight back at them.
The real concern was Rovers’ apparent inability to alter the pattern of the game, or even ease the pressure upon themselves for a sustained period.
Marosi was selected as the last line of defence over Ian Lawlor and it proved an inspired decision.
He denied Kightly, Ben Coker and Simon Cox with a string of superb saves to give Rovers some hope heading into the break.
AN INSPIRED TURNAROUND
For all the concerning factors in the first period, Rovers deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what they did in the second half.
Using the opportunity the break afforded, they pushed hard from the start to prevent Southend from settling into the same pattern.
And six minutes in they punished the hosts by taking the lead.
Marquis latched onto a superb lofted ball from Rowe, cut back onto his right foot and curled into the far corner.
Roots Hall was stunned. And rightly so.
And the hosts were even more dumbfounded seven minutes later – along with a few others.
Wilks made up for an ineffective first half with a quite brilliant goal, receiving the ball with his back to goal, flicking it up, turning and drilling into the bottom corner.
By 70 minutes, the game looked to be well and truly over.
Rowe worked a short corner routine with Ali Crawford, cut inside and struck a tame right footed effort that bamboozled a crowded box and trickled into the bottom corner.
The palpitation-inducing moments were still to come.
Tom Hopper added a small element of doubt when he bundled over the line after a goalmouth scramble.
But the worry certainly set in when former Rovers striker Theo Robinson lashed in from close range with four minutes to go.
Drinks breaks, injuries, goals and substitutions were totalled up to eight minutes of added time.
Southend had a lifeline and pushed hard to take it.
But Rovers held on, showing yet more resolve to get McCann off to a brilliant start – even if a few supporters will have needed check-ups on the way home.