Indefensible collapse at Morecambe demolishes any confidence of Doncaster Rovers' survival

As players trudged back away from goal after Morecambe had reduced the deficit to one, what was to follow already felt like a forgone conclusion for Doncaster Rovers.

Monday, 3rd January 2022, 12:45 pm

And, after such a gut-wrenching hammerblow of a defeat, it is very difficult not to look at the threat of relegation in the same terms.

At half time, following an electric opening period packed with attacking aggression and real intent that delivered a three goal lead, you were left wondering what an afternoon of such positives could mean for Rovers’ season.

At full time, following a hopeless capitulation to lose against a relegation rival with a second half performance devoid of positives, you were left wondering the same, albeit for entirely different reasons.

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It had all looked so positive when Joseph Olowu headed home to put Rovers 3-0 up at Morecambe. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Half a season of football is still to be played. There are four weeks left in a transfer window that has the slightest of potential to be transformative.

But the issues that are plaguing Rovers are so deeply embedded, it is difficult to have any confidence at this stage that they will not be playing League Two football next season.

Making matters worse was the fact they were so very good in the opening half hour of the game, only to be truly awful in the second half. 3-0 up to 4-3 down.

Certain things did not go their way, with the loss before the hour mark of three men who had been key to the positive start to the game.

Toumani Diagouraga smashes home the winner for Morecambe as Rovers capitulate from 3-0 up to lose 4-3. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

But losing from such a position is indefensible.

They had opened up a commanding lead against a side that had looked devoid of confidence as Rovers smashed in three goals in 22 minutes. When Aidan Barlow trudged off with fatigue on the hour, they still had a two goal advantage - sitting atop a mountain in a position of power with something to defend.

In reality they were sitting on a mound of sand with a big wave heading their way that they were simply not equipped to withstand.

And it brought back the familiar questions about character, stomach and backbone as they crumbled so easily.

Dejected Rovers trudge away after throwing away their lead at Morecambe. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Gary McSheffrey’s biggest task is not getting Rovers right tactically. It is the mentality side of things that will determine how successful he can be over the next four months.

Doom-laden it may be to suggest, but having yet again witnessed a lack of fight from certain individuals in the team at a time when they needed it the most, McSheffrey may be fighting a losing battle on that front.

It would have been difficult to comprehend what would follow during what was perhaps the best opening to a game Rovers had produced all season.

They were straight on the front foot, in the opposition’s faces, getting the ball forward early and quickly and piling on the pressure.

Dan Gardner - on only his second league start in three months - was instrumental, operating in the number ten role, and he appeared to single-handedly set the tone for his side’s attacking drive.

Barlow had the bit between his teeth on his recall while Omar Bogle - rewarded for his impactful second half cameo against Sunderland with his first league start of the season - constantly gave the shellshocked Morecambe defence something to think about.

Having been firmly on the fringes, in the treatment room or shunned for most of the season, it was somewhat surprising to see the trio being so pivotal for Rovers.

And the fact Rovers fell apart after all three were forced off should be a source of embarrassment for those upon whom so much more faith has been placed this season.

Prior to all that it had felt as though Rovers had made a fresh start in the first game both of the year and McSheffrey’s permanent tenure as boss.

They were vibrant, positive, aggressive and, above all else, fun to watch.

Barlow had two decent chances prior to opening the scoring on seven minutes when he hooked into the roof of the net after a Branden Horton corner had sparked an all mighty scramble in the six yard box.

Morecambe began to have more of a say in attacking terms but Rovers remained the more threatening and doubled their advantage on 26 minutes when Gardner brought down Horton’s chip and drilled through home keeper Kyle Letheren.

Three minutes later they were in dreamland when Joseph Olowu turned in from close range after a well-worked short corner routine.

But the dream began to die afterwards, with Bogle limping off on 34 minutes to be replaced by Joe Dodoo. Almost instantly, the pattern of the game changed.

When talking about the failings of attacking players, so much focus has been on their lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.

On this occasion, it was the absence of contribution to the overall defensive effort from the likes of Dodoo, Tiago Cukur and Jordy Hiwula.

Rovers were desperate for the ball to stick in advanced areas, simply to ease the pressure that only grew as the second half wore on.

But headers were won time after time by opposition players, who were rarely disrupted by close attention from the Rovers forwards. They could not hold the ball up and bring others into play.

Only twice in the second half did Rovers cross halfway with anything meaningful. On both they probably should have scored. On both a woeful lack of sound thinking saw the great chances go begging.

Another goal would have killed the tremendous momentum Morecambe had by that point after Cole Stockton had netted twice to reduce the deficit to one with 15 minutes to play.

The body language of Rovers said, despite still leading, that there was little hope of them winning the game.

And so it proved when Jonathan Obika equalised on 83 minutes and Toumani Diagouraga smashed in a stunning effort to give Morecambe the lead with five minutes to go.

Rovers were done and dusted long before that point.

And you wonder to what extent they are done in the relegation fight too.

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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.