Match Analysis: Port Vale 3 Doncaster Rovers 0 - A rare road trip blip for Paul Dickov’s men

Doncaster's players look dejected after conceding a third goal
Doncaster's players look dejected after conceding a third goal

All good things come to an end.

An unbeaten away run stretching all the way back to October was consigned to history on Saturday evening when Rovers slunk away from the Potteries after a 3-0 defeat.

The last loss before that on the road in League One was a defeat by the same scoreline at Fleetwood.

The numbers on the scoreboard were not the only think the two games shared from a Rovers perspective. As they were at Highbury in October, Rovers were poor, sloppy and lacklustre at Vale Park.

It was a disappointing way for the brilliant away form to be blotted and both a result and performance that could not have been predicted following Rovers’ blistering recent run.

There was none of the ruthlessness that helped deliver ten goals from the previous three matches. Ruthlessness gave way to toothlessness as Rovers lacked tools to break down a tough as teak Port Vale door.

And the defensive solidity on which the improvement of recent months has been built was largely absent. All three goals - from Mark Marshall, Frederic Veseli and Byron Moore - came via errors from a Rovers perspective.

There was no coincidence that Rovers looked at their most defensively frail for some time with Paul Keegan out of the side.

The midfielder was ruled out with a thigh injury and his absence was keenly felt.

Keegan brings composure, both in defence and attack. Without him, Rovers looked nervy without the ball and rushed with it.

Highlighting Keegan’s absence is not a slight on replacement Abdul Razak, who made his full Rovers debut.

But it became increasingly apparent that it was not the ideal day for the Ivory Coast midfielder to be given his first 90 minutes in Rovers colours.

A player with lightning quick feet and a brain to match was always likely to struggle on the horrendous Vale Park pitch.

The playing surface was heavy before being peppered by a hail storm prior to kick off and further downpours throughout the game hardly helped.

The ball struggled to roll more than a few yards which saw Rovers’ usual zippy passing play neutered.

Not that the conditions can be blamed for Rovers’ defeat.

The truth was that Port Vale adapted much the better. There was nothing flashy about the Valiants’ performance that brought their comfortable win. Rather, they were clever with the conditions, keeping things simple with the ball and denying Rovers space in the final third.

Rovers took much too long to adapt to the conditions, and even when they did, a familiar problem arose that proved their undoing earlier in the season.

As they struggled to break Port Vale down, they began to overcomplicate things, consistently playing one pass too many when a run or a shot would have been the wiser option.

One such passage of play resulted in Vale taking the lead after just six minutes.

Reece Wabara overlapped Kyle Bennett in plenty of space on the right but the winger opted to play a low pass inside which was intercepted, sparking a rapid Vale break.

Marshall took full advantage of Wabara being well out of position to burst into the space, where he was spotted by Tom Pope who lofted the ball behind Jamie McCombe allowing Vale’s pacy wide man to nip and touch the ball under the on-rushing Bywater.

Rovers began to edge themselves into the game but they struggled to read the pitch. Both Bennett and Nathan Tyson took too heavy a touch as they darted into good positions inside the box.

The warning signs continued to come from Vale with Bywater forced into a fine save to keep out Marshall’s dangerous cross-cum-shot.

Rovers showed incredible patience with the ball as they began to find their feet in the game after the half hour mark.

There was no rush to loft the ball into the box as they played short pass after short pass around the Vale box, waiting for an opportunity and not showing much panic.

But, as proved the case for much of the afternoon, when they did look for the final ball, it was wasted.

Given their strong period of possession, it would have been pretty galling for Rovers to concede the second in the manner in which they did, seven minutes from the break.

Veseli found space almost 40 yards from goal and opted to shoot, sending a low strike skidding off the surface and under Stephen Bywater, who really ought to have done better with his attempted save.

Curtis Main was thrown on for Harry Forrester at half time as Paul Dickov switched to 4-4-2 in a bid to get back into the game.

Both Theo Robinson and Uche Ikpeazu were also introduced as Rovers piled on the pressure. While the trio added energy in the final third, all failed to truly test Chris Neal in the Vale goal.

Rovers had plenty of possession after the break but could not break down Vale who were happy to sit on their comfortable two goal cushion.

Both sides were denied decisions that would have aided their cause.

Tyson was felled with what appeared to be a stray elbow as he looked to charge on goal but it went unnoticed by the officials.

And Tyson was involved again when Razak showed a superb piece of skill to turn his man and drill a low cross. Tyson fell in a tussle with Ryan Inniss but referee Keith Stroud allowed play to continue, which resulted in a bout of pushing involving half a dozen players.

At the other end, Bywater was very lucky as he appeared to claim the ball just outside the box but escaped any punishment after a long staredown with the assistant.

It became increasingly apparent that it was not going to be Rovers’ day as they continued to find the door in their face.

And Vale’s final goal brought an apt end to the afternoon with three minutes remaining.

It was all too easy for Moore, who was allowed to skip past Wabara and slam the ball in from a ridiculously tight angle with Bywater caught out again.

It would be incredibly easy to fall into doom and gloom following Saturday’s performance.

While there were plenty of things to be concerned about and several issues to be addressed, Rovers deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to responding to them.

That this was just the second defeat in 12 matches suggests they will bounce back quickly.

League One leaders Bristol City await on Tuesday night. Will it be the start of a great new chapter?

Port Vale: Neal 6, Veseli 7, Inniss 7, Robertson 7, Dickinson 6, Moore 6, Brown 7, O’Connor 8, Marshall 8 (Birchall 85 5), Williamson 6 (Dodds 72 6), Pope 7.

Subs not used: Johnson, Yates, McGivern, O’Sullivan, Lines.

Rovers: Bywater 5, Wabara 5, Butler 6, McCombe 5, Stevens 6, Razak 6 (Ikpeazu 64 6), Bennett 6, Wellens 6, Furman 6, Forrester 5 (Main 46 6), Tyson 6.

Subs not used: Marosi, McCullough, Evina, Whitehouse, Robinson.

Att: 5,713

Referee: Keith Stroud (Dorset)

Such were the difficulty of the conditions at Vale Park that Paul Dickov showed sympathy with Stroud, despite a big penalty shout and an off-the-ball incident going against his side.


Frederic Veseli’s goal, and Port Vale’s second, was a hammerblow for Rovers. Just when it seemed as though they had finally settled into the game and begun to manage the conditions, Veseli fired in from close to 40 yards out, helped by a mistake from Stephen Bywater. Rovers’ challenge suffered a major dent and gave Vale something substantial to sit on.


Claims of heroism from the Rovers camp would have fallen on deaf ears after the poor showing at Vale Park. What the performance did do however was add to the hero status of Paul Keegan, whose absence was keenly felt on Saturday. Without him Rovers looked shaky in defence and lacking in attacking composure. Here is hoping for a return against Bristol City.


Keeping things in perspective is important, despite a bitterly disappointing performance against a side which Rovers at their best would have swept aside. This was only the second league defeat in 12 matches and the damage is brought saw Rovers drop merely to seventh in the table. There will always be bad days at the office. How they perform on the next working day is where the real story will come.



“We contributed to our own downfall, especially in the first half.

“We had a lot of possession and played some decent stuff in difficult conditions but we lacked the cutting edge that we’ve had in the last few weeks.

“But it’s important we keep an even keel on things whether we win or lose. We win together, we lose together and the best thing about today is we’re still in a decent position in the league.”


“We got three goals and another clean sheet so I’m delighted.

“I thought from the goalkeeper throught the team they were magnificent.

“They put in a proper performance and put their bodies on the line when they had to.”