Doncaster Rovers' welcome demonstration of resolve shows they shouldn't be written off just yet

It was a quiet personal gesture but it said plenty.

Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 10:16 am
Updated Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 10:36 am
Tiago Cukur slots home the winning goal. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX LTD

Jordy Hiwula had just carried the ball out wide and won a corner, seeking to pass as much time as possible as Doncaster Rovers held onto their lead against MK Dons.

As the ball flew out of play, Rovers assistant boss Noel Hunt, standing on the edge of the technical area, almost dropped to his knees as he gave a huge double fist pump.

Hunt’s action spoke of many things - delight and relief foremost.

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Rovers were on their way to a much needed victory, earned with a demonstration of discipline and real character.

At the end of a frustrating week that saw a win snatched away from them followed by a horrible humbling, it was exactly the sort of display required to show this group have got the stomach to take them through the tough times.

The complete capitulation at Ipswich Town understandably raised considerable doubts over Rovers’ mettle.

But here, against one of the division’s most impressive outfits, Rovers had that mettle tested once again and passed with flying colours to earn a vital victory.

It might not yet be exactly the way boss Richie Wellens wants to win football matches but high octane attacking football needs to wait as Rovers seek to steady themselves and move away from their difficult start to the season.

Wellens and plenty of others too need to see Rovers sticking to a plan under altering pressures and gritting their teeth through tough times in matches.

This 2-1 triumph was not entirely a backs-to-the-wall effort.

Rovers could easily have blasted the visitors out of sight in an excellent opening 20 minutes when they twice hit the woodwork through Ben Close and Rodrigo Vilca, either side of Tommy Rowe’s opening goal on six minutes.

It was a welcome reminder of what a Wellens side is capable of when it hits its stride as they penned MK Dons deep into their own half for the first quarter of the match.

A 4-2-3-1 system gave Ben Close license to push high up the pitch and pop up in spaces in a high energy performance that firmly put his own personal struggles at Ipswich to bed.

There was a real vibrancy to Rovers in this period, with players interchanging positions to give real threat.

It was inevitable that a well-drilled MK Dons side that had lost just once previously in the league would have their say on proceedings - particularly after Peter Kioso hooked in acrobatically to equalise on 24 minutes with Rovers struggling to deal with a set piece.

The visitors arguably had the better of the remainder of the half and certainly did for the opening 20 minutes of the second, with Pontus Dahlberg pulling off a string of good saves to keep the scores level.

Particularly as time wore on, anyone of a Rovers concern could have been forgiven for thinking there was an inevitability they would fall behind. Past evidence this season would back up such a doom-laded suggestion.

But concentration and discipline levels were excellent to help them remain organised and prevent MK Dons from taking a stranglehold, of which they are fully capable.

The performance levels were reflected by the reaction from the stands at the Keepmoat. There was no panic, very little groaning and no sign of the ironic chanting that has been present at recent matches.

And the roar was incredible when Tiago Cukur made sure Jordy Hiwula’s flick past the Milton Keynes keeper would cross the line.

The whole team ran to celebrate with the Watford loanee, who has endured some tough times of his own so far this season.

And the scenes were replicated and more at the final whistle.

There was an element of good fortune in seeing out the win, particularly when the referee awarded a free kick when Mo Eisa appeared to have already crossed into the box as he was fouled by Ro-Shaun Williams. The fact Rovers have been totally devoid of any luck since the summer means there will be few losing any sleep over that.

It would be foolish to automatically label this win a turning point. There remains a serious question over Rovers’ ability to manage games away from home.

But after a week to forget, they demonstrated exactly what they needed to in order to suggest them being written off is more than a little premature.

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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.