Doncaster Rovers: Better but no where near previous standards - Analysis of draw with MK Dons

From it being crystal clear what they are all about, Doncaster Rovers are in danger of becoming a real contradiction.

Sunday, 8th December 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Sunday, 8th December 2019, 8:27 pm
James Coppinger turns past former Rovers loanee Jordan Houghton. Picture: Marie Caley

A side that prided themselves on slick, swift, breathless attacking football has become far too ponderous and more than a little sloppy in their play.

The draw with MK Dons capped a difficult week for the club which saw them exit two cup competitions in four days with increasingly poor performances that could hardy have been telegraphed.

The reaction that failed to materialise against Leicester City U21 to a baffling extent would surely come against a struggling MK Dons side. Wouldn’t it?

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Ben Sheaf holds off former Rovers loanee Jordan Houghton. Picture: Marie Caley

To an extent it did. Rovers were certainly improved on their two previous performances but it would have needed too much from them for that to be the case.

In relative terms over the space of seven days they were at their best. Over the space of four months, relatively, they were absolutely nowhere near the standards they previously set.

The potential to touch those standards was there, thanks to a good start to the game where some elements of the best of Rovers were present.

There was a good tempo to attacking with short, sharp passing taking them deep into MK Dons territory and producing some very good play around the box.

Rakish Bingham battles for the ball against MK Dons. Picture: Marie Caley

Bodies got forward in good number, with full backs in support and the two sitting midfielders pushing high up the pitch to get involved.

Chances were created, MK Dons were troubled and it looked set to be a much more positive afternoon for Rovers.

But it would not last. And Rovers had a lot to do with that themselves.

Whenever Rovers were required to play out of their own half, their composure evaporated and they played their way into trouble.

The same players that were having such a positive effect in opposition territory suddenly lost that incisiveness in passing.

Possession was conceded cheaply, bringing MK Dons forward and also allowing the opposition the opportunity to take command of the ball.

This was a clash between two sides determined to play football – though MK Dons were understandably more reserved in their overall attacking intent.

Having toiled against sides whose primary objective was to shut them down, it was bitterly disappointing that Rovers could not capitalise on an opposition giving them space in which to play.

MK Dons took command in the middle of the park and held a tight grip for a good hour of the contest.

Rovers could no wrestle that back, which proved another considerable disappointment.

Their task got more difficult on 52 minutes when Alex Gilbey curled a wonderful effort home from 20 yards – something he had hinted at in the first half when drawing a wonderful save from Seny Dieng.

MK Dons were then afforded the opportunity to get plenty of men behind the ball when Rovers were in possession.

But Rovers did take a chance to get back into the game. In fortuitous circumstances the ball ricocheted in off Cameron John after Reece James’ dangerous corner was cleared off the line.

Darren Moore put some of the sloppy play down to fatigue after an incredibly busy, energy-sapping week for his side.

There can be some sympathy for that view – particularly given the thin nature of the Rovers squad currently.

But, tired or not, they are capable of so much better and possess the ability within to manage possession in a manner that would conserve energy.

Ultimately, Rovers must quickly rediscover what they are all about or risk the season petering out before it has truly begun.