Finding sympathy for Doncaster Rovers is increasingly hard to do after meek Burton Albion defeat

The big quandary surrounding Doncaster Rovers involves weighing up what they have got and what they do with it.

Sunday, 28th November 2021, 8:43 am
Joe Dodoo fails to get to the ball ahead of Burton keeper Ben Garratt. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

What should be expected of this Rovers side as they stand right now?

Does the fact what is a small, inexperienced squad at its full capacity being decimated by injuries to key figures continue to hold enough weight as a reason for their on-going struggles?

Is it harsh to expect more from a beaten and battered group? To demand they grow quickly and find what it takes to wrestle themselves out of an increasingly doomladen position?

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Ben Close made his return to the side at Burton after a month out - but was forced off with a knee injury

Assessing Rovers - and the suitability of their manager for the role - is an on-going balancing act.

And after another thoroughly disappointing and frustrating defeat, finding sympathy at their plight is growing all the more difficult.

The cold, hard fact is that at Burton Albion, after a finely poised first half, they offered absolutely nothing as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat that could have easily been much heavier.

There will be controversy about the manner of Burton’s second goal but ultimately, had it not stood, it would have been unlikely that much would have changed.

Tommy Rowe rises to head the ball. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

This game highlighted yet again Rovers inability to impose their will on a game that is not going in their favour.

Burton took control from the start of the second half and Rovers were frankly clueless as to how to take it for themselves.

And as they crawl on their hands and knees towards January, that was gravely worrying.

Conditions were far from great. A biting, strong wind swept downfield along a soft and bobbly pitch that had been cut up in the bid for the game to go ahead following overnight snow.

But Burton played the environment much, much better while Rovers never really got to grips with it on an afternoon where, yet again, they showed barely any threat.

The group was again hit hard by injuries and suspension. Joseph Olowu’s ban pushed Tommy Rowe into centre half, robbing Rovers of his attacking qualities elsewhere on the pitch.

John Bostock’s long term injury took out another experienced player. Jon Taylor missed out entirely as Rovers were instructed to manage his workload as he endeavours to get up to full speed.

There was a welcome return for Ben Close but he was forced off at the break with a knee injury - all the more worrying given his month long absence was due to a hamstring problem.

And Jordy Hiwula was back in the side, but was a shadow of the aggressive, front foot winger he was prior to his foot injury and clearly far from 100 per cent.

The biggest impact was on the composition of the bench - which seems to be younger with each passing game.

Against an at-their-worst solid League One outfit in Burton, it was likely to be a difficult afternoon - but that is hardly anything new for this Rovers side.

There is a right to expect more of the group of available bodies because they have shown themselves to be capable on plenty of occasions.

A week earlier against Lincoln they showed themselves capable of fighting, scrapping and pushing their way to a useful draw.

Against Bolton four days prior, they showed their ability to quickly break forward with quality and incisiveness to threaten away from home over what was a highly promising opening half hour.

At a bitterly cold Pirelli Stadium they showed not nearly enough of either.

They slumped to a defeat that, for the first time in a while, saw them fall further away from the safety mark and pile even more pressure on getting things right in what is already the most important January window for the club in recent memory.

With things as they stand, January must be a transformative period for the club because otherwise they will be consigned to an unthinkable stint in League Two.

And that is a tremendous amount of pressure to put on a month that is notoriously difficult for productive business.

The position in which they arrive at the opening of the window has always been important.

But, when forecasting that right now, it hardly appears that they will have given themselves a decent launchpad from which to ignite a strong survival push.

The first half was a nothing affair - a drab contest shorn of quality and decimated by the horrendous conditions.

Burton had the edge as they fed their dynamic and aggressive three man front line with smart balls into the channels but you could not say that Rovers were under the cosh.

The makeshift back line of Rowe and Tom Anderson dealt superbly with the threat of the opposition and their individual battles with highly rated Sheffield United loanee Daniel Jebbison were enthralling.

Burton pushed. Rovers stood up to it and the returning Pontus Dahlberg denied Ryan Leak with an excellent reflex save in the closest the hosts came to breaking the deadlock.

Rovers looked to release their front men with balls into the channels but never mastered the weighting of the pass with their wind behind them - nor did they manage it after the break when the ball held up in the wind.

Barring a couple of moments when Joe Dodoo got free and probably should have done better on both, Rovers’ threat across the game was minimal - reflected by the fact they failed to hit the target at all.

So when they fell behind ten minutes into the second half when Tom O’Connor’s free kick bounced straight through, it already looked a long way back.

Jebbison flicked in on 75 minutes for a goal initially ruled out for offside but overturned by referee Peter Wright due to a questionable technicality.

As previously stated, the game remaining at 1-0 would have done little for Rovers’ cause as they found themselves firmly on the back foot with Jonny Smith alone unfortunate to emerge without a hat trick, nevermind empty handed.

Burton could have filled their boots - another opposition outfit to pick up a confidence-

boosting comfortable triumph when Rovers came to town.

For Rovers, it was a further blow to confidence - and not just for those on the pitch.

Holding faith in their ability to fight out of their predicament is getting harder to do.

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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.