Where Doncaster Rovers would be in League One if it wasn’t for set piece frailty – Grant McCann reveals all

Grant McCann
Grant McCann

Doncaster Rovers would be five points clear at the top of League One if it were not for the vulnerability from set pieces they have shown this season.

The staggering fact that Rovers have dropped 17 points due to goals conceded from dead balls this season was revealed by boss Grant McCann, the man tasked with finding a solution to the issue which is hampering his side’s promotion push.

For a while, it appeared as though the problem had been solved. A switch to a mixture of zonal and man marking in November gave obvious increased solidity and sparked a run of six games in which only one goal was conceded.

But consecutive games have seen set piece defending cost Rovers points once again. Two goals from flicked on corners saw them only manage a point against Burton Albion at the weekend.

The return to prominence of the issue sparked goalkeeping coach Paul Gerrard – who takes the lead on set piece defending – to replay the two Burton goals immediately after the game and highlighting where the players had gone wrong, something he repeated on Monday morning.

And McCann insists there will be no punches pulled with his squad when it comes to rectifying the issue.

“If I’m going to be honest, it’s 17 points that set plays have cost us this season," McCann told the Free Press.

“We’d be on 62 points and five points clear at the top of the league.

“Those are the fine margins.

“That was harsh for the boys to see but the fine details of man marking – not letting people go when we should be man marking – and zonal - the zones doing their jobs.

“We have only conceded from one direct corner which was the one at Preston.

“All the rest have been second phase with the three blockers letting their men get a run on them and not being aggressive enough.”

McCann is seeking to spark a change in mental approach from his players when defending in such scenarios.

And he says an acceptance of the importance of staying switched on is the first step.

“We need to change our mentality,” he said.

“I said to the boys that I was a midfield player and when it came to corners sometimes I had a thought in my head of ‘please don’t come near me.’

“But when you think about it, it does. Nine times out of ten it will come to your man.

“If it does and you’re not ready for it then you’re losing that battle.

“We’re going to try changing their mindset – changing the mindset of the midfielders, Mallik Wilks, players like that. The blockers, James Coppinger who goes short.

“Don’t be clearing your box until the ball is cleared. Don't think I’ll go and break.

“It's hard because I’m such a positive person and positive manager and I want them to break quickly as they can but we have to defend when we’re defending set plays.

“The ones that we always put in there – Blair, Marquis, Anderson, Andrew, Butler - they’ve been outstanding. It’s the ones in front that we need to make sure are blocking runs, staying with their men, making sure balls don’t drop to their man and we’ll see less goals from set pieces.

“Being honest it’s not corners, it’s wide free kicks.”

McCann says that Rovers remain in a strong position despite costly errors suggests they are on the right track but just need to make sure the vulnerability is eradicated once and for all.

“That stat tells me that we’re doing something wrong but we’re also doing things right,” he said.

“Our general play is very good, our attacking is good, our defending in general play is good.

“​​​​​​​I can’t remember the last time ​​​​​​​someone cut us open and scored a very good goal against us – maybe Fleetwood’s first with an excellent ball and tremendous header from Paddy Madden.

“Even with that, we could have defended better at the back post.

“All the goals I can remember against us have been second phase set pieces.

“Defending we’re good, attacking we’re good. We just need to change our mindset from set pieces.”​​​​​​​