What we learned about Doncaster Rovers this week

Andy Boyle tussles with Portsmouth's Oliver Hawkins on his debut for Rovers
Andy Boyle tussles with Portsmouth's Oliver Hawkins on his debut for Rovers

We have seen debuts, returns and another draw for Rovers this week.

But what did it all tell us?

Here we take a look at everything including the clash with Portsmouth and see what we can take from it.

SET PIECE FRAILTY NEEDS TO END – NOW

Since New Year’s Day Rovers have been punished for their weaknesses in defending set pieces – something which did not exist beforehand.

It is certainly safe to say this is a major reason why they have failed to win in 2018 so far.

On Saturday, both goals conceded came from set piece situations with Rovers failing to cut out balls or stick close to their men.

On each occasion it comes down to individual mistakes, meaning there is only so much work that can be done on the training ground to rectify it.

A collective effort needs to be put in to prevent it from significantly damaging Rovers’ season.

Opposition teams will have clocked onto it now so Rovers must make sure they are too. Extra concentration is required to ensure this unwanted trend is left behind.

A BACK THREE MAY BE THE WAY TO GO

It certainly could be the way forward while Rovers await the return of Andy Butler, Mathieu Baudry and Joe Wright.

Andy Boyle and Tom Anderson made their debuts at Portsmouth, thrown into the deep end out of necessity.

And the new boys coped well in open play, helping to ensure Portsmouth struggled to threaten Ian Lawlor despite enjoying the greater pressure during the game.

Both men can take some share of the responsibility for Portsmouth’s goals, with both letting the eventual scorers get goal side, but all in all, they made promising introductions.

Luke McCullough was introduced in the second half, forming a back three with Anderson and Boyle and it looked a promising set up.

The Northern Ireland international brought the ball out from the back superbly on several occasions, carrying it deep into Portsmouth territory and crafting opportunities.

This could add a fresh dimension to Rovers’ play while allowing Boyle and Anderson to concentrating on the defensive work.

A TASTE OF WHAT’S TO COME?

To say Alex Kiwomya’s first taste of action with Rovers was long-awaited is something of an understatement.

And in his 30 minute debut he gave a hint of what he can bring to the side.

His pace literally frightened the Portsmouth back line, whether he was running with the ball or simply charging something down.

Pompey’s defenders suddenly became jittery and it helped Rovers re-establish a foothold in the game.

That raw pace and unpredictability can be a real asset for Rovers, whether used off the bench or from the start.

Add to Kiwomya’s introduction a first appearance of the season for the composed McCullough and there was optimism to take away from Fratton Park.

THERE’S LIFE IN THE OLD DOG YET

How many times have we said that about James Coppinger over the last few years?

For the early part of Saturday’s trip to Portsmouth, the 37-year-old was simply sensational.

Portsmouth could not deal with him as he consistently found space between the lines which allowed him to get shots away and craft chances for others.

He did superbly for his own goal and was denied a stunning assist by the offside flag when he clipped a ball over the top which was headed in by John Marquis.

He may not have hit the heights of the last couple of years so far this season but Coppinger – who is set to make his 500th league appearance for the club on Saturday – showed that he is more than capable of being a game changing player for Rovers.

BUT IT MAY BE A CASE OF USING IT SPARINGLY

Darren Ferguson’s comments after the weekend’s game on how he uses Coppinger were quite telling.

He suggested if Rovers are going to be on the back foot, there is little point in playing Coppinger.

Clearly the manager is carefully considering how he uses the veteran with playing him every week no longer an option.

As said previously, Coppinger still has plenty to offer Rovers so choosing just when they can get the best out of him seems wise indeed.