Doncaster Rovers' most pressing issue is brutally laid bare by dominant Ipswich Town

It was a case of a rock and a hard place for Gary McSheffrey.

Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 11:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 11:28 am
Ollie Younger sinks to his knees following Rovers' defeat to Ipswich Town. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX
Ollie Younger sinks to his knees following Rovers' defeat to Ipswich Town. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Keep faith with a winning team, a group of players that had turned in a quite stunning performance to pick up a brilliant and important victory.

Or make changes in order to rest up tired legs, those not yet up to speed with the demands of a Saturday-Tuesday run or still in the recovery phase from injuries.

Without picking up points against Ipswich Town on the back of the famous win at Sunderland, McSheffrey would have been criticised either way.

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And after being thoroughly outplayed by a side that have developed into one of the division’s most impressive outfits, the biggest issue facing the Rovers boss at the moment has been brutally exposed.

McSheffrey must quickly find a way to ensure his players are capable of producing equal effort and work rate in consecutive matches. A way for them to carry the sort of tireless performance against Sunderland into another game four days later that demanded the same again.

Without that magic formula, Rovers will continue to fail to build on positive results next time out and their chances of survival will only diminish.

They concluded Tuesday night the same distance from safety with which they started the day. But with games ticking by, rather than a positive, it felt like a missed opportunity, even against an opposition the standard of Ipswich.

And that standard is very good. Kieran McKenna has quickly moulded his squad into arguably the division’s best possession-based outfit who, if they are not promoted this season, will almost certainly be the favourites to reach the Championship in the next campaign.

That being said, Rovers were hardly at their best in attempting to counteract what the visitors produced.

Ipswich moved the ball swiftly and with purpose, showing excellent movement all over the pitch to leave Rovers chasing shadows.

It would have been a taxing evening regardless of previous exertions but Rovers were clearly feeling the effects of their weekend efforts.

Where it was felt the most was in attacking areas. Improved performances recently have so much been down to the pressing and harrying carried out by the collection of forwards on the pitch, which in turn allows for runners from midfield.

Rovers’ entire front four on the night looked leggy and were simple prey for the visitors, whose passing play ensured they were never really in the game.

Ipswich’s 1-0 triumph looked a narrow one in scoreline terms, but it failed to tell the story of a thoroughly dominant performance.

Arguably the prime reason why McKenna’s side did not stretch their advantage further was some pretty good defending from Rovers.

Once the ball went into the box, they got in headers and blocks to ensure, while there was potential for a bombardment of Jonathan Mitchell’s goal, it did not particularly materalise.

There were occasions when they should have scored, with towering forward Macauley Bonne particularly guilty of missing headers from good positions. But Rovers cut out clear cut opportunities, even if they could not come close to stemming the flows of attacks.

It was particularly frustrating then when Rovers conceded so cheaply before the break.

No one tracked the lively Conor Chaplin as he ghosted in to send a header on goal from point blank range. Mitchell got a hand to it but could not push the ball away from danger, with Tyreeq Bakinson darting in to slot home.

Had Rovers managed to reach the break with the scores level, it would have been intriguing to see just how the remainder of the game played out.

Hampering their attempts to fight their way back in was being forced to substitute two players at the break. Tommy Rowe had struggled all evening with his ankle and did well to last until half time while Ro-Shaun Williams looked to be feeling the effects of being thrown straight in at the deep end on his return from injury.

Rovers did improve in the second half, saw a lot more of the ball and slowed the relentlessness of Ipswich’s possession play.

But with tired legs in attack, the threat was exceptionally minimal, with Ipswich keeper Christian Walton enjoying the most laid back of evenings.

Having used up two substitutions at half time, there was little McSheffrey could do to inject some life into his forward line.

He confessed afterwards he did not want to disrupt the good work Rovers were doing off the ball to restrict Ipswich, but perhaps this was an occasion when going for broke a little more may have produced what was needed.

Aidan Barlow was not sent on until the final ten minutes and it was not until Mitchell was sent up for a corner in the final seconds of the game did it feel as though Rovers were desperately looking for the equaliser.

McSheffrey is in a bind, and there will be no one more frustrated than he about the restrictions which the health of his squad are placing on his attempts to claw Rovers out of danger.

But the situation in which he finds himself is the situation in which he finds himself and some inspiration will be needed to ensure Rovers can string together the results they need.

They have already reached a stage where winning every other game may not be enough to secure survival so an inability to follow up victories is another flaw that will prove fatal.

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