A small milestone but a significant one as Doncaster Rovers make their point against Portsmouth

It might only be a point but it is a start.

Sunday, 22nd August 2021, 2:52 pm

Particularly when it comes off the back of the best all-round performance of the season to date, one where progression continued in certain areas and accelerated in others.

The search for a goal and consistent threat may continue for Doncaster Rovers but they are certainly getting closer.

Against Portsmouth they threatened like they have not done before. They also showed the levels of control in the middle of the park that they previously have.

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Pontus Dahlberg saves Shaun Williams' penalty against Portsmouth. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

The evolution of this Rovers side may not have progressed as quickly as some would have preferred but it cannot be doubted that they are indeed progressing.

And signs continue to point to Richie Wellens being onto something special with what he is putting together at the Keepmoat.

ONE POINT BUT ONE BIG ONE

It was clear the Rovers boss was pained to confess that he was delighted with Saturday’s result. It is fair to say that he will not be declaring his joy at many more draws in the future.

Branden Horton watches his volley bounce over the bar against Portsmouth. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

But picking up the first point of the campaign at the fourth attempt was a significant milestone for this iteration of Rovers - and Wellens knew it.

There may have been positives in previous performances but there was nothing tangible from those to back up assertions that Rovers have been heading in the right direction.

On this occasion they ended the 100 per cent winning record of the division’s early pacesetters and arguably looked the more likely to win the game, despite the heroics of a certain big Swedish goalkeeper.

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Ben Close was excellent against his former club Portsmouth. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Pontus Dahlberg may take all the plaudits for his penalty save and two other excellent reaction stops, but Rovers were not only indebted to their goalkeeper for the fact they emerged with that significant point.

The defence held firm, despite seeing skipper Tom Anderson limp off just 12 minutes in, with Cameron John again showing his value to the club as he moved inside from left back and showed he has not missed a step in his preferred position.

MIDFIELD MAGIC

It was the midfield that had Rovers fans purring afterwards - and rightly so.

John Bostock showed his phenomenal range of passing, particularly when dropping a little deeper in order to ensure Rovers got on the front foot. He looked after the ball when it was required but there was always a determination to push up the pitch when the opportunity arose.

Ethan Galbraith continued to bely his inexperience at senior level with a superb performance. He too showed his quality in the pass but his busyness out of possession helped unsettle Pompey while he also added driving runs forward to back up Wellens’ Paul Scholes comparisons.

And Ben Close, again operating further forward than he might typically prefer, was the bundle of energy and calm he has been during his excellent start to life at his new club.

Against his old employers he showed no inclination towards the oft-seen over-eagerness to impress that has befell so many of his peers over the years.

It was a major positive that the midfield continued to grow as attention was focused on getting other areas of the side right.

FORWARD PROGRESSION

The biggest area of concern has understandably been in the final third - and it continues to be.

But Rovers looked much more of a threat, and it did not take anything drastic from Wellens to help his side provide it.

He was determined not to switch to a 3-5-2 despite the positives it brought in the second half at Accrington four days earlier.

It does not ally with his principles and when it comes to his way of playing, Wellens is a principled man.

Instead he pushed Tommy Rowe higher up the pitch, pitching in John and then Branden Horton at left back.

Rowe’s dynamism was very impressive and played a major role in Rovers being much more creative. The same too can be said of Charlie Seaman on the opposite side who showed little effect of his ten days of isolation with powerful runs down the right.

Tiago Cukur was far less isolated than he has been in other contests, able to feed short passes to team mates and pull away from defenders to make a nuisance of himself.

There is plenty more work to be done but even without reinforcements or returnees, the progress was plentiful.

STORY OF THE GAME

It had been a rocky start to the game for Rovers. Portsmouth started quickly and with a high tempo that Rovers struggled to match in the early stages.

But once they settled down and got a hold on the ball, they were the ones in control.

They looked to have taken the lead on 19 minutes. Cukur held the ball up and laid off to Close, who cut a pass back from the byline to Rowe who finished at the second attempt.

The assistant flagged, apparently for a push from Rowe on Clark Robertson but replays suggest a wrongfooting was the reason for the towering defender’s tumble.

Rovers enjoyed the better of play until the break, with the second half proving a more even affair.

It had threatened to break down into a niggly afternoon as referee Carl Boyeson struggled to maintain order - and often caused the chaos himself.

Two excellent saves in four minutes from Dahlberg kept the score level. First he got down superbly to push a Michael Jacobs shot wide and then somehow kept out a header from ex-Rover John Marquis from point blank range.

Seaman almost caught out Gavin Bazunu was a rasping drive which the Pompey keeper fumbled, but he recovered to claim at the second attempt.

Portsmouth looked to have been gifted the advantage 13 minutes from time when Ro-Shaun Williams clumsily bundled over Gassan Ahadme in the box.

But Shaun Williams’ penalty was saved and held by Dahlberg - taking him to four penalty stops for the season including the Carabao Cup shootout.

Rovers almost snatched it when Horton volleyed into the ground, sending the ball looping over Bazunu and almost dropping under the bar.

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.