Close attention, playing out, new boy, endeavour - A look at some of the main talking points from Doncaster Rovers' draw with Sunderland

Fejiri Okenabirhie grabbed a last gasp equaliser to earn Doncaster Rovers a point against Sunderland.

Sunday, 22nd November 2020, 12:00 pm

Here, we look at some of the main talking points from the game.


How different could the game have been had Sunderland rightly been awarded a penalty when Joe Wright bundled over Lynden Gooch with the score at 0-0?

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Fejiri Okenabirhie grabs an added time equaliser for Rovers against Sunderland. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX

Probably not that much in truth.

Instead it was the timing of Grant Leadbitter’s stunning 25 yard strike, two minutes from the break that altered things.

The intensity of Sunderland’s press, which had caused Rovers so many problems, waned after the break and invited the hosts into the game, making it a more open affair.

But all along the visitors displayed a lack of a clinical edge in the final third. It never seemed as they would run away with it on scoreline terms.

Grant Leadbitter's shot rockets into the top corner. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

So the fragility of a one goal lead was exposed when Okenabirhie equalised with a desperate couple of flicks of legs, deep into added time after brilliant work from Brad Halliday.

Undeserved? Perhaps. Delightful? Certainly.


It is an issue that has dogged Rovers for the past year - how to handle opposition teams that seek to nullify them.

Matt Smith comes under pressure from Sunderland's Grant Leadbitter. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX

This was the first time an opposition team of such standard and ambition have shown as much intent to do just that.

Sunderland pushed incredibly high up the pitch to deny Rovers space.

They put pressure on the centre halves to deny them space to receive the ball out from the back. They cut off the route out to the full backs, who are such a potent weapon for Rovers when given freedom to push forward.

It meant balls forward were more desperate than decisive in a first half spent firmly on the back foot.

Ben Whiteman keeps a close eye on Sunderland's Charlie Wyke. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX

And that resulted in more pressure from Sunderland - the only saving grace being the visitors’ own struggles to break down Rovers.

Had the visitors shown more slick attacking play, the game would likely have been over long before the break.

Handling the close attention of the opposition is something that could make or break Rovers’ season. If they can do it successfully, it will bring about the consistency they need for the success they crave.

So far they have yet to find the solution or show the smarts to overcome it. It must be the top priority.


Ben Whiteman is accustomed to opposition teams seeking to nullify him.

As his ability to dominate matches has grown, so has the close attention afforded to him.

The Rovers skipper has adapted however, dropping exceptionally deep to create the space for a pass before moving forward himself.

But he has never quite been shown the levels of attention he received in this game, particularly in the manner he was.

It became clear very early that Sunderland’s powerful striker Charlie Wyke had been handed a brief to follow Whiteman around the pitch.

Wyke’s presence prevented Whiteman from receiving the ball out from the back, cut him off as an option throughout the first half and into the second.

Here was one of the division’s most dangerous strikers, as part of one of the top sides, asked to focus much of his attention on shutting out an opposition player.

It was a bold move by Sunderland boss Phil Parkinson. And it was effective.

It also demonstrated the respect with which Whiteman is held, as well as Rovers as an attacking force.

It is an approach that will not go unnoticed by opposition teams, so is therefore a challenge Darren Moore, his staff and Whiteman must find a solution to before it becomes an issue.


It proved to be an impressive introduction for new goalkeeper Joe Lumley, the emergency loan signing from Queens Park Rangers.

His performance was particularly pleasing given the lack of time he had in training with his new team mates.

Extremely vocal, he has quickly developed a relationship with the two centre backs.

He was commanding in the air, even when given very close attention from set pieces and, while he was not overtly challenged, he handled his saves with comfort and confidence.

Lumley looks set to stick around for the remainder of 2020, barring any hitches that would disrupt a week-to-week agreement.

And on first viewing, there are positive signs it could prove a decent arrangement for Rovers.


There is a remarkable spirit about this Rovers side, and it was that which helped them earn a point from nothing in this game.

They could so easily have folded, or given up the fight because for so long it felt like a fruitless task.

Even though they enjoyed better after the break, it was hard to feel confident that they would find the equaliser they needed. Clear cut chances did not come with the regularity required to generate such faith.

Yet, they kept pushing on, giving Sunderland something to think about and chasing the leveller.


Moore made no bones about it when questioned after the game - Rovers will not be abandoning their drive to play out from the back at any point.

It was an approach that put them under a lot of pressure, particularly in the first half when Sunderland’s desire to press was at its peak.

It would have been so easy to have mixed up the play and had Lumley go long with a few kicks - primarily to catch out the opposition.

And at times it seemed like the sensible option.

But Moore does not agree with that sentiment.

He does not feel Rovers have the players in advanced areas to target with long kicks and insists there should be no abandoning of playing their way out.

With Sunderland’s towering three man defence, there can be some sympathy with his point of view.


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. Nancy Fielder, editor.