Entirely wrong statement made as sorry Doncaster Rovers slump out of Papa John’s Trophy

This was more than just a Papa John’s Trophy game for Doncaster Rovers.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:15 am
Richie Wellens

This was a big opportunity to offer some reassurance they are on the right track with the right group of players and the right staff, to not only continue in the competition but also successfully fight for survival in the league.

And after another frustrating, disappointing and frankly concerning night of football, questions will rightly be asked about the suitability for the task ahead of almost all involved.

Rovers exited the competition with a whimper against the only side sitting lower than them in League One at the moment, having had the better of the first half only to fail to replicate their efforts after the break.

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It took a wonderful strike to break the deadlock for Crewe Alexandra but this was another occasion where the opposition team did not need to produce anything more than the routine in order to see off Rovers.

Richie Wellens’ side were decent pushing forward in the first half but there was the familiar story of attacking play breaking down in the final third due to a lack of quality in delivery or execution of the shot.

After the break, the energy they showed in the opening 45 minutes was absent, leading to a comfortable defeat on a sorry night.

It was not a capitulation but arguably worse. They simply rolled over and accepted their fate far too easily.

Questions over professionalism and desire from assistant manager Noel Hunt were hardly harsh given what had taken place during the second half.

Much has been said about those players absent through injury, and the contribution they could make to the team.

But this was another example where those present and available did not step up to the plate and deliver performances that Rovers need to drag their way out of danger in League One.

And, at a time where he certainly needs to build credit in the bank with employers and supporters alike, it was hardly the confidence boosting showing that Wellens needed to see delivered.

Wellens has received a bad hand with the misfortune of injuries this season. However it is his duty to play the cards he has been dealt and make the best of it.

This was far from the best of it.

And it was a result and, arguably more importantly, a performance that piled further pressure on Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Mansfield Town - and only increased the scrutiny of the main man in the dugout.

While not essential for any January transfer business, a potentially lucrative place in the third round of the FA Cup would certainly help the manager’s cause, to be seen to be bringing in money - particularly from an eminently winnable game.

But for Rovers to progress on Saturday, they will need to be much, much better than they were on Wednesday at Gresty Road when they meet a Mansfield side building momentum and backed by a vocal support of more than three and a half thousand supporters.

If Rovers show anything like the feebleness, lack of character and fight they demonstrated in the second half, they will be easy prey for their neighbours down the A60.

This was a game that brought significantly less pressure than those recently in the league - a chance to play with freedom and show what they are capable of in what was always likely to be an open affair.

So it proved in the early stages, until Rovers took increasing control.

They were combative in the middle of the park, pinching possession away regularly, moving the ball quickly and with purpose. They moved the ball well into wide areas and found gaps in between the lines of Crewe.

But the positivity faded when moving into the final third as promising positions evaporated with mislaid passes, poor decision making and even worse attempts in front of goal.

Barely any pressure was put on Crewe keeper Will Jaaskelainen, who enjoyed a very comfortable evening.

Alex themselves were a danger at times, particularly on Rovers’ left flank where Branden Horton was given a torrid time by Callum Ainley who beat him time and again.

But it took a goal of spectacular quality to break the deadlock when the lively Ben Knight picked up the ball and curled a powerful effort into the top corner from 30 yards, leaving Louis Jones with no chance of reaching the ball.

Rovers had offered enough in the first half to suggest they were capable of fighting to get back on level terms and giving themselves a platform to progress.

But they simply did not show up after the break - barring the efforts of substitutes Tommy Rowe, Lirak Hasani and Tavonga Kuleya, who all attempted fruitlessly to ignite their side.

The lack of zippiness and spring in steps played straight into the hands of Crewe, who not only controlled possession with comfort, but threatened on multiple occasions to extend their advantage.

Rovers’ efforts were summed up perfectly when Rowe put an ideal ball across the box but Jordy Hiwula failed to show the sort of effort needed to get on the end of it.

Hiwula was not the only one whose endeavour was not where it needed to be. A lack of conviction in runs into the box or space in the final third meant any decent build-up play was wasted.

Then came the familiar sight of the opposition scoring from a set piece when Oli Finney rose with ease to send a header across goal and into the far corner, ending the game with 18 minutes left to play.

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.