Doncaster Rovers' impressive progress is being stunted by lack of attacking threat: Comment on 2-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday
For the vast majority of the opening 70 minutes at Hillsborough, Doncaster Rovers had plenty of reason for optimism.
But with one swing of Barry Bannan’s boot, the big issues facing Richie Wellens and co came right to the fore.
The strides taken by Rovers in the space of the week were immense, to the extent that they bossed so much of the first half against one of the division’s most talented outfits.
But they failed to take advantage, showing a lack of genuine penalty box threat from start to finish and exposing just how short of viable attacking options they currently are.
When Bannan’s superb 25 yard strike flew into the top corner after 72 minutes, Rovers were pretty much beaten. Certainly when Dennis Adeniran doubled the advantage three minutes later.
It was more than a little harsh that Rovers emerged from this South Yorkshire derby with a 2-0 defeat - a scoreline hardly representative of the 96 minutes of football that delivered it.
But right now they resemble a top of the range cruise ship attempting to leave port with the anchor still dropped.
The impressive midfield is hitting its stride, the centre half pairing is gelling well and the full backs are flying. But Rovers are being held back by the attack.
It is not pointing the finger of blame at the players to which attacking responsibility fell from the start at Hillsborough.
Tiago Cukur and Aidan Barlow were taking part in their second league outings at senior level while left sided forward is hardly Dan Gardner’s optimal position.
Arguably what would be the first choice attacking line is out injured and several weeks away.
The experience and goalscoring chops of Fejiri Okenabirhie is missed but more so is the pace and directness that Jon Taylor and Jordy Hiwula would bring.
Everything in the build-up on Saturday was very good. The control shown in the middle of the park after the opening 15 minutes was excellent and some of the balls into wide areas were superb.
It forced former Rovers boss Darren Moore into a tactical switch at the break, but one that merely evened the game out rather than seeing Wednesday take control.
It was not until Bannan struck that the balance in the game truly shifted, coming at a time when Rovers’ threadbare squad was running out of steam and with little of note to come off the bench to change things.
Rovers deserved to come away with something, even if it was just a consolation strike, but Omar Bogle struck the post with a late penalty that may well have asked questions of the Owls.
The real fear should be over how long the positive progress can continue while Rovers are not winning football matches.
Wellens himself has pointed to the need to pick up results to build confidence and back up the validity of the plans he is instilling in his players.
Rovers can take plenty of pride and bags of confidence from their trip to Hillsborough because of the chalk and cheese nature of the performance when compared to that against AFC Wimbledon just seven days earlier.
But ultimately the result was still this same and as time wears on, results are the be all, end all of the game.
Rovers know all too well from very recent past how difficult it is to shake off a winning habit and how much failing to win matches begins to weigh down on those involved.
So Wellens’ pleas for the ability to add to his attacking ranks is not a typical manager always wanting more. It is a manager who knows the progress in his building project is being carried out on unstable foundations that threaten to bring the whole thing crashing down.
Plenty of reasons for optimism and plenty for worry.