A brick wall, debutants and dealing with THAT absence: Talking points from Doncaster Rovers’ brilliant win over Blackburn Rovers
Given the trying circumstances in the build-up, Doncaster Rovers’ triumph over Championship side Blackburn Rovers was a remarkable achievement.
With less than three days of training after ten days of quarantining and five positive Covid-19 tests, there were understandable fears that it would not be possible for Rovers to show the best of themselves against higher league opposition.
But with a performance packed with excellent organisation and resolve, they shut out their hosts at Ewood Park and only needed Taylor Richards’ fine solo effort to book their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup for only the second time in 11 years.
Here we look at some of the major talking points from the marvellous triumph.
NO WHITEMAN PART ONE
A Doncaster Rovers side without Ben Whiteman present has been a rare occurrence over the last three seasons.
And his absence on this occasion - coupled with that of Matt Smith - forced the sort of reshuffle that is fast becoming a trademark of Darren Moore.
Stepping into Whiteman’s shoes and out of his natural position was Brad Halliday, who is beginning to catch up with Reece James in the versatility stakes.
The two natural full backs operated as holding midfielders and did so with real assurance.
Both rushed and harried, used the ball well and, Halliday in particular, pushed forward on the occasions when Rovers were able.
Joe Wright stepped in at right back and was excellent as he dealt with the physically imposing Ben Brereton for much of the afternoon.
Add in Fejiri Okenabirhie’s time on the wing, and the stints of both Elliot Simoes and Danny Amos out of their natural roles and the versatility factor was on full show again - with great results.
THE BRICK WALL
This victory was built on a tremendous defensive effort that managed to shut out the top scoring side in the Championship.
Clean sheets have been hard to come by for Rovers this season, largely due to momentary lapses in concentration which have been punished.
But concentration was supreme throughout this game to ensure that while Blackburn dominated large periods in possession, they struggled to convert it into real opportunities in front of goal.
Tom Anderson was his typically dominant self to rebuff the hosts, both in the air and on the ground. He produced a brilliant block from Adam Armstrong.
Andy Butler showed a calm assurance, particularly in mopping up and playing passes out from the back.
And full backs Wright and Cameron John dealt well with the threats from the wide areas.
Helping the cause was a brilliant amount of cover work from those operating higher up the pitch, with Okenabirhie in particular dropping deep to join the defensive effort.
While Blackburn had bursts of real threat, there was a real lack of nervousness about Rovers’ ability to hold onto their lead.
NO WHITEMAN PART TWO
With so much of Rovers’ play going through their captain, it was always going to be intriguing to see how they fared without him and who, if anyone, would step up.
On this occasion Taylor Richards became the focal point, operating much higher up the pitch than Whiteman tends to.
He continually found space and linked up superbly with Tyreece John-Jules to produce Rovers’ most threatening spells.
As Richards himself admitted after the game, he was lacking sharpness at times and that was reflected with sloppy passing, often due to being over ambitious and not demonstrating enough caution when Rovers were in need of sustained possession during a first half spent on the back foot.
Blackburn afforded the Brighton loanee plenty of space, particularly as he carried the ball from half way and lashed in a shot, via some poor handling from Blackburn keeper Aynsley Pears, for the only goal of the game.
He is a different sort of player to Whiteman but demonstrated he could be talismanic for the side.
Moore handed immediate debuts to the week’s new signings Ellery Balcombe and Elliot Simoes.
Balcombe did not have a great deal to do for much of the game and looked assured in his performance between the sticks.
And he produced one of the game’s real highlights when truly tested - batting away a shot from Harvey Elliott from outside the box before recovering quickly to keep out Bradley Dack’s follow-up from close range.
Balcombe showed ambition with his passing out from the back which will make him well suited to featuring in a Moore side, but a few too many of his clearances were closed down.
There looks to be more to come from Simoes who did not get on the ball as much as he would have liked in wide areas.
He showed an excellent close control and ability to work his way out of tight spaces but had few opportunities to convert it into real threat.
NO WHITEMAN PART THREE
As good as the performance and result was, it was always likely that the absence of the captain would overshadow things somewhat.
There was concern over how they would fare without Whiteman, even before considering the long term impact of his potential departure.
The first part of that was answered with a good deal of confidence.
It would be wrong to suggest they did not miss Whiteman however. They lacked the control of midfield which the 24-year-old so consistently delivers, as well as his ability to bring everyone else into the game.
Thinking of the long term is something which seems increasingly likely will be on the agenda for Darren Moore and company in the near future.
It is a hard thing to fathom for a player so influential but if he is to leave this month, addressing it quickly and decisively is essential if Rovers are to maintain the standards they have set so far this term.