Doncaster Rovers 1 AFC Wimbledon 2: Not so much undercooked as not having been in the oven

The final scoreline read 2-1 but the most telling tally of the day was 10-1.

By Liam Hoden
Saturday, 7th August 2021, 8:35 pm

Ten debutants for Doncaster Rovers. Just the one for AFC Wimbledon.

One side looked organised, aware and single-minded. The other was disjointed, incoherent and off-colour.

It does not particularly need pointing out which was which.

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Richie Wellens gives out instructions during the defeat to AFC Wimbledon. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

So it proved to be an opening day of frustration and disappointment for Rovers - and one we probably should have seen coming.

Preparations for the new campaign have hardly been ideal. Losing players to self-isolation and injury robbed Richie Wellens of vital days on the training ground where plans would have been brought to fruition.

Through no fault of his own, Rovers entered the campaign not so much undercooked as barely having being in the oven at all.

There were plenty of times when it was brutally apparent that the XI had never played together, such was the absence of fluidity.

There will be plenty of discussion of recruitment, of Rovers needing more depth and certainly requiring greater firepower.

A patched-up front line will back-up those grumbles - though the absence of three key players due to injury suggests bad luck is as much a cause as poor planning.

But even in areas where Rovers are better stocked, there was an absence of the coherency a Wellens side thrives on.

The back four, under pressure from a Wimbledon side packed with energy and encouragement, looked nervy at times and made poor decisions.

The quality on the ball that Matt Smith and Ben Close are expected to bring to proceedings barely got going as the side as a whole struggled for control of the game throughout.

Wellens had intended to watch plenty of the game from the gantry, communicating down to his assistant Noel Hunt in the technical area.

The Rovers boss lasted five minutes before he was pitchside himself, unable to hide the frustration he was feeling. He would be up and down the steps like a yo-yo throughout.

There was little to give Wellens encouragement that he could have an extended stay at the back of the stands. Barring a few scattered surges forward, there was little in the way of attacking threat throughout from Rovers.

Second best for much of the first half, they made it through without conceding largely thanks to an excellent save from new keeper Pontus Dahlberg, to deny Ayoub Assal.

And it looked as though fortunes were turning when Charlie Seaman hooked in after good hold-up work from Tiago Cukur, marking his long-awaited debut with a goal mere seconds after the break.

It did not last. Wimbledon were quickly back on the front foot and level within 11 minutes.

Assal was sprung clear after a tangle on the edge of the box and he slotted beyond Dahlberg.

And it was the visitors who remained the most threatening.

By 74 minutes, they were in front. Luke McCormick - their sole debutant - curled in a low free kick after Smith handled on the very edge of the box.

Rovers wilted as the time ticked by, rendering the likelihood of an equaliser almost non-existent.

Better is definitely needed and now it falls to Wellens and Hunt to bring about coherence within the hustle and bustle of the season.

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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.