Doncaster Rovers just can't handle Rotherham United in devastating defeat

Joe Dodoo is beaten to a headerJoe Dodoo is beaten to a header
Joe Dodoo is beaten to a header
The one small mercy is that Doncaster Rovers do not have to play Rotherham United again this season.

Three games. Thirteen goals conceded, none scored. And barely a glove laid on the Millers across 270-odd minutes of football.

And, arguably, the latest meeting between the two sides was the worst of the lot from a Rovers perspective.

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Toothless but valiant in the reverse fixture and understandably having minds elsewhere in the Papa John’s Trophy clash, on this occasion they were simply woeful and devoid of any notion of how to stop the rampant League One leaders.

Tommy Rowe fends off the challengeTommy Rowe fends off the challenge
Tommy Rowe fends off the challenge

It was the most clear example of top versus bottom that you could ever see. And there were times when the uninformed could be forgiven for assuming they were from entirely different divisions.

Rotherham were more than worthy of their 5-0 triumph and could easily have had more, such was the ease with which they carved through Rovers, who now sit 11 points from safety in League One.

It would be easy to dismiss Rovers’ performance as being about a lack of fight or backbone. We have seen evidence on several occasions this season that they are capable of throwing in such a showing.

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But it would be too simplistic to do so. And probably more than a little unfair.

Rovers just could not handle Rotherham - a side so wonderfully well organised on and off the ball who have a bare-toothed relentlessness about their attacking play.

Other sides this season have eased off when in a position of command against Rovers but the Millers never had any intention to do so, especially after Chiedozie Ogbene curled in a beauty of a third goal with 18 minutes to go.

Gary McSheffrey admitted afterwards that he got his approach to the game all wrong. And he was right to do so.

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He was drawn into a trap of believing Rovers could shut down Rotherham by matching them up, so switched to a back three - which is understood to be his long term preference for Rovers regardless.

Personnel changes came too, with Louis Jones dropped in favour of Jonathan Mitchell in goal while Ethan Galbraith and Josh Martin made way for Charlie Seaman and new arrival Adam Clayton.

It did not work from the first whistle and Rovers were quickly counting the cost when Mickel Miller’s corner flew straight in over the head of Mitchell with just seven minutes gone.

They played throughout with fear, panic and hesitancy which Rotherham brutally exploited.

Rovers, in fact, looked beaten within seconds of the start.

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They could not deal with the intense press of the Rotherham forwards, or track the runners from midfield. And there was a tremendous fear of the pace of Ogbene, with every tweak in approach for how to handle him consistently failing.

Rovers were played around with ease for the second goal. Dan Barlaser pounced on Branden Horton’s heavy touch and fed Ogbene who cut back for Ben Wiles to finish.

The major disappointment was seeing a side that showed such strong resolve against MK Dons be scythed open so easily.

As good as Ogbene’s goal was, the entire defence was dragged around to the ball as Rotherham worked it out to the Republic of Ireland international.

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The fourth goal was harsh, with Barlaser smashing home a penalty after Joseph Olowu was wrongly adjudged to have tripped Joshua Kayode.

And Jamie Lindsay rounded off the scoring after latching onto a poor punch from Mitchell and lashing a shot through his legs at the near post.

Disappointing too from Rovers was the lack of attacking threat as several weeks of improvement on that front suddenly evaporated.

Under pressure so much, Rovers resorted to pumping long balls forward without anything like the intelligence and purpose they have recently shown.

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The Rotherham defence lapped it up with aplomb and quickly put their side back on the front foot.

Clayton looked massively off the pace on his first start for Rovers and struggled to make an impression in the middle of the park.

The best impact from a new face came in the second half introduction of Reo Griffiths, who drew the biggest cheer of the night from the Rovers faithful when he clattered into a Rotherham defender in his determination to win the ball.

There had been nothing like it before in the game from a Rovers perspective on an exceptionally meek night.

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A bigger issue than the defeat itself was the impact it has on the wider picture.

Just a few days on from being loudly cheered and applauded off at half time against Plymouth, Rovers found themselves being booed by their supporters, who were rightly angry at what they had witnessed.

The belief fostered on a run of improved performances in the second half of January was swept away devastatingly quickly.

While the confidence of the squad is more important than that of the faithful followers, supporter reaction is generally indicative of where a side is at.

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Right now, with the margin to safety only widening, Rovers simply cannot afford a downturn in performances as they chase vital points.

But to prove that Rotherham was a blip during a better period, they have to pick themselves up incredibly quickly.

There is a queue of promotion chasing clubs waiting to twist the knife in the coming weeks, and there is no time for the licking of wounds.

But at least they do not have to play Rotherham again.


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.

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