Doncaster Rovers: The unyielding collective fighting spirit driving Moore's men

Anyone can say they never know when they are beaten. Proving it is what matters.

Sunday, 8th September 2019, 2:22 pm
Updated Sunday, 8th September 2019, 10:38 pm
Jon Taylor up against his former club. Picture: Marie Caley

And, so far this season, Doncaster Rovers have delivered emphatic proof that they have a collective fighting spirit that simply will not die.

They have conceded first in all bar one of their five league matches so far this season. That would be a major concern but for the fact they remain unbeaten and have won their last three in League One.

The first half hour of their clash with bitter rivals Rotherham United on Saturday suggested that falling behind would have been fatal for either side – particularly Rovers.

Reece James and battles with Rotherham's Carlton Morris. Picture: Marie Caley

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Neither side offered the other space to breathe or craft. A pattern quickly emerged of hard pressing, closing down, foul and repeat to make for a frustrating slog of a contest.

The Millers were supremely organised and incredibly street smart to ensure Rovers barely had a look in the final third after a bright opening five minutes.

So when impressive debutant Jake Hastie curled a free kick into the box and Michael Ihiekwe ran across Ian Lawlor to unsight him, allowing the ball to bounce into the back of the net, it appeared that Rovers would have a mountain to climb.

That was even more true as the Millers remained buoyed for the rest of the first half then looked much more composed after the break, happy to soak up Doncaster pressure and launch on the counter.

Niall Ennis made a major impact for Rovers in the second half against Rotherham United. Picture: Marie Caley

But as substitute Niall Ennis grew into the game after replacing the injured Kazaiah Sterling at the break, Rovers began to look much the stronger outfit. Kieran Sadlier’s introduction off the bench also made a considerable difference to their efforts.

These were two players who had dropped out of the side and could easily have felt aggrieved after doing little wrong in recent matches. But that collective spirit extends beyond battling back from behind.

Both Sadlier and Ennis boosted Rovers as they demonstrated the same attacking drive they have done in starts.

Rovers also maintained a great degree of determination and belief in what they were doing. Though Rotherham shut them down over the first ten minutes of the second half they continued to push in the same manner, with unwavering faith in the approach.

From the hour mark, Rovers were fully in the ascendancy and the Millers simply never found a response. The way in which the visitors folded will be of grave concern to Paul Warne and his staff.

Ennis powered to the byline and flashed a ball across goal which found James Coppinger, who produced arguably his scruffiest finish since that infamous day at Brentford to send the ball beyond Rotherham’s stand-in keeper Lewis Price.

It seemed as though it would be down to Price if Rovers failed to go on and win the game. He produced brilliant stops from Ben Sheaf, Jon Taylor and Ennis to keep them out.

But Rovers kept pushing, far from content at having fought their way back level against a side they would expect to be competing against for a top six place.

They don’t know when they’re beaten. But they also show no desire to settle.

For some, there may have been the desire for payback against Rotherham after the late, late, late hurt of a couple of years ago. But with so few members of that side remaining, that factor was certainly not strong enough to be powering them on.

There was a ruthlessness and relentlessness about their play, coupled with the impressive passing football that has steadily improved throughout the campaign.

And they were eventually rewarded when Ennis was tugged back by Ihiekwe and referee Martin Coy pointed straight to the spot.

Ben Whiteman was the calmest man in South Yorkshire as he slammed his penalty into the bottom corner with Price diving the wrong way.

A deserved triumph after a brilliant last hour where quality on the pitch and, more importantly, a superb spirit were both rewarded.

Darren Moore may still be looking to fine tune the former but the latter is certainly taken care of.

And he must take some credit for that. As he has pieced the Rovers squad back together, he was added the right sort of characters to ensure unity and collective drive.

The young loanees are full of enthusiasm, delighted to be in town and determined to shine in their chance of the spotlight. Picking up players with those qualities does not happen by accident.

Rovers do not know when they are beaten. The more they do it, the more they prove that to be the case.