Doncaster Rovers deliver the basics to show fight against on-form Wigan Athletic

Sometimes exactly what you are looking for turns up in the most unexpected of places.

Monday, 17th January 2022, 1:19 am
Kieran Agard made his debut against Wigan. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX
Kieran Agard made his debut against Wigan. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Games against sides around them in the table may have seen Doncaster Rovers draw blanks in the search for battle and bottle but they unearthed an abundance of both against one of League One’s most dominant outfits.

The ultimate outcome against Wigan Athletic may have been entirely predictable beforehand, given the formbook and league table, but what Leam Richardson’s side had to overcome to secure their 2-1 triumph could hardly have been forecast.

What Rovers had lacked in feeble defeats in must-win clashes with Morecambe and Fleetwood they had in spades in a battling performance where they could easily have taken something from a game they were fully expected to lose.

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Aidan Barlow is felled as he looks to charge into the box

They ran hard and long, were never overawed by a quality opposition and dared to take risks in their bid to get back on level terms.

Goals from Max Power and Will Keane came at killer moments early in both halves.

Yet while Wigan always looked dangerous on the attack, Rovers were on the front foot just as much as their ambitious visitors, even if they could not match their quality in the final third.

Gary McSheffrey demanded his players do the basics right and they delivered.

Whether that it is too little, too late will remain to be seen. This was after all a day on which they fell to ten points from safety as Fleetwood continued their resurgence by beating rampant Rotherham.

But they at least offered a suggestion they were up for the fight ahead - because there were serious questions to be asked on that topic.

The challenge facing McSheffrey and his players now is building upon the positives to ensure they deliver points as well as effort.

There was perhaps an indication of how Rovers can hope to hurt opposition teams as they head into an incredibly tough run against the division’s top sides.

McSheffrey admitted afterwards he was determined to avoid his side becoming bogged down in midfield.

And it saw Rovers go direct into Joe Dodoo, with other attacking players poised to feed off his scraps.

Such an approach lives and dies by the effort put in. Don’t run hard enough and there is no hope of picking up the second balls high up the pitch.

Thankfully, Rovers were up for the challenge, and so was Dodoo.

Much has been said about his effectiveness in attack this season but this was an occasion where the big striker certainly played his part, even if it did not necessarily lead to many chances for him personally.

He used his physicality well to truly compete for high balls, either winning them or preventing opposition defenders from making clean connections with headers. This has not been the case nearly enough this season.

It allowed others to race in and pick up the ball to keep Rovers on the front foot.

New signing Kieran Agard was pushed wide to capitalise, running from deep along with Tommy Rowe and Aidan Barlow.

It was a fairly quiet debut for Agard but he showed some smart touches and had a confidence on the ball that Rovers have lacked in attacking areas.

Though a direct approach never looks as structured as more steady build-up play, there was a clear pattern of what Rovers were trying to do.

Ethan Galbraith sat deep and sprayed balls forward, with Matt Smith given license to push higher and join the attacking effort.

On too many occasions the pair have ended up far too close to the defence as they drop deep trying to make things happen. With the clear intent on display here, there was little time wasted in possession.

It ensured the right tempo from the start. And even after they suffered the blow of conceding early, they maintained it, until late on when Wigan’s brands of game management saw them stifle the game. Who would have thought towels would have taken centre stage during a football match?

The game brought familiar vulnerabilities in defence for Rovers, particularly in full back areas but it was another afternoon where changes to the backline were enforced by injury.

Overall, and for the first time since before Christmas, there were real positives to take from a Rovers performance.

What they must do now is carry those improvements and tweaks forward if they are to have any hope of survival.

Valiance, doggedness and determination are the very basics of what Rovers need between now and the end of the season. It is now what should be expected of them.

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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.