Coventry analysis: ‘Doncaster Rovers can’t keep climbing mountains if they want to scale League One’

Joe Wright was on target in Rovers' defeat at Coventry.
Joe Wright was on target in Rovers' defeat at Coventry.

If it hadn’t done already, the penny has now almost certainly dropped. 

Doncaster Rovers simply cannot afford to keep playing catch-up if their goal is to finish in the top six.

Nor can they expect to keep on scoring two or three every week to win or even draw.

At in-form Coventry City they again had to do both and came up short. Only just short, but fine margins are currently going against Grant McCann’s side and not for them.

Rovers were left kicking themselves for a sluggish first half display which saw them fall behind to goals from Jordy Hiwula and Luke Thomas.

It was very different after the interval. Doncaster dominated the ball, Joe Wright halved the deficit and stand-in captain John Marquis saw an effort cleared off the line deep into stoppage time. 

But the damage had been done. Rovers can’t keep climbing mountains if they want to scale League One.

They have now gone behind in five of the last six league games and have ended up taking just four points from the last possible 18. In three of those games they have been at least 2-0 down at half time.

Contrast that with the games in which Rovers have scored first. They have broke the deadlock on seven occasions and gone on to win six of them, drawing one.

McCann had again highlighted the importance of the first goal when he spoke to the media ahead of the trip to the Ricoh Arena, which made his side’s below par first performance even harder to fathom.

SLOW OUT OF THE BLOCKS

There was very little between the teams before Rovers failed to properly clear Michael Doyle’s freekick and Hiwula volleyed in midway through the first half.

But the visitors seemed to lack their usual energy and their forays forward broke down too easily in the final third.

Tom Anderson should have probably kept his header down from James Coppinger’s corner moments before Hiwula struck. Fine margins again.

There were also warning signs from set pieces at the other end before the opening goal. Yet again they are proving to be something of an Achilles heel.

The absence of Andy Butler certainly did not help in that regard. And the further disruption to the team caused by Niall Mason’s suspension may have been one of the underlying reasons behind the flat first half display. Maybe that Sunderland game took something out of the legs of a few of them too?

Whatever it was, Rovers were not quite themselves and in-form Coventry were able to take full advantage without playing particularly brilliantly.

Luke Thomas was not closed down effectively smashed home the second just the before the break. It proved to be the decisive moment.

PLAN B

Despite the recent dip in results, performances have remained positive.

And McCann could cling to his team’s second half display in defeat here.

He tweaked the 4-3-3 to a midfield diamond, his side stuck to their task, dominated possession and got themselves back in the game courtesy of Wright’s smart close range finish.

But Coventry’s two-goal advantage allowed them to defend deep and that made it difficult for Rovers to get in behind them.

They again found it tough to carve out clear chances from open play – the best one falling one to Marquis right at the death only for him to be denied by a goalline clearance by Junior Brown.

Paul Taylor, who replaced a subdued Mallik Wilks, came off the bench and further enhanced his claims for a start. But this time there was to be no late leveller like his last gasp strike against Gillingham.  

PATCHY RESULTS

When you examine Rovers’ results this season there is a clear pattern.

They started the season like a train, winning three on the bounce. And then came a sequence of six games without a win.

That was followed by four straight wins. But the last six league games have now only produced one victory.

Momentum appears to be a big thing with this team, and they need to find it again. That won’t be easy with trips to Charlton Athletic and Barnsley on the horizon.

The pattern may also be a consequence of McCann’s high intensity approach.  

When you’re winning games, no one feels tired. You’re riding on the crest of a wave. You hunt in packs.

But when you’re not winning things can become more of a slog, physically and mentally. Not everything works in unison.