ANALYSIS: Doncaster Rovers shortcoming laid bare despite brilliant performance in defeat to Portsmouth

Absence makes the heart grow fonder - or at least makes you pine for what you no longer have.

Sunday, 6th October 2019, 6:34 pm
Kieran Sadlier in action against Portsmouth. Picture: Marie Caley

The return to the Keepmoat of John Marquis was always going to be a big talking point for Doncaster Rovers - particularly with so many questions still lingering over the moves to replace him and his goals.

It was a situation only emphasised when the line-up was announced for the clash with Portsmouth as Rovers lacked an out-and-out striker in their ranks.

And it was exacerbated by what followed over the next 94 minutes as dominant Rovers paid the price for a lack of killer touch in front of goal and were taught a lesson in ruthlessness by arguably the poorest opposition they have faced this term.

With Niall Ennis not passed fit and Kazaiah Sterling still to shake off the full effects of a dead leg, Moore was again forced to name Kieran Sadlier out of position as the lone striker.

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While plenty of the creativity was a joy to behold, the end product left plenty to be desired.

When it came to Marquis, there was little for Rovers supporters to be envious about.

Barring one early chance which he put straight at Seny Dieng, the striker was quiet, lacking any real service and struggling to craft anything himself.

Jeered harshly by Rovers fans quick to forget his 66 goal haul in three seasons, his afternoon got worse when he was hooked at half time with Kenny Jackett opting to switch to a three man front line without him.

The Portsmouth boss certainly needed to react having witnessed his side outplayed, over ran and pushed further and further back by rampant Rovers over the opening 45 minutes.

Jackett could be pleased with was a strong defensive showing but given his side's ambitions there will be plenty of concerns too despite the win.

There is nothing surprising now about Rovers providing tremendous entertainment and thrilling attacking play when on the ball.

But they reached new heights at times on Saturday with the slickness of possession play - moving the ball quickly, incisively and with tremendous confidence, driven by excellent movement and real understanding.

The tireless Alfie May rattled the bar with a superb strike from 20 yards on 11 minutes.

Rovers continued to push hard, getting plenty of men around the Portsmouth box but struggling for real presence and clear cut opportunities.

Their best came just after the half hour. James Coppinger delivered a superb ball which Sadlier met but sent the ball just wide using his thigh. A diving header may have been the better option.

While Rovers may not have been pining for Marquis given his contribution on the day, they could have been forgiven for feeling envy as he was replaced with Ellis Harrison, another top striker for the level.

Despite Portsmouth's switch to a fearsome front three of Harrison, Brett Pitman and Marcus Harness, Rovers remained the more dominant force.

Ben Whiteman drew a fine save from Craig MacGillivray early in the second half.

But the pressure amounted to little as Portsmouth took the lead on the hour.

Reece James misjudged the bounce of a clearance, allowing Ben Close to surge forward from half way and play Gareth Evans in with clear sight of goal to slam a shot past Dieng.

The Rovers keeper produced a brilliant save to keep out a Close effort moments later but the hosts were back as the aggressors.

Coppinger fired narrowly wide after skipping past several tackles before Whiteman cracked a shot off the crossbar.

Rovers finally got off the mark on 82 minutes. May smashed in a cross which MacGillivray parried, only as far as James who gained penance for his earlier error which drilling in a volley.

Rovers looked the most likely to win it with both Sadlier and Whiteman having chances.

But they were left to rue what they do not have as Harrison looped a header from James Bolton's cross from deep over Dieng to snatch a win the visitors hardly deserved.

Rovers are very, very close to being something special indeed. But it is hard not to feel they are lacking a significant piece of the puzzle.