Indefensible performance devoid of fight as Doncaster Rovers suffer another damaging defeat to Fleetwood Town

There was a point against Fleetwood Town where Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg unnecessarily allowed the ball to roll out for a goal kick.

Sunday, 9th January 2022, 12:06 am
Updated Sunday, 9th January 2022, 10:33 am
Ellis Harrison slots in to put Fleetwood ahead. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX
Ellis Harrison slots in to put Fleetwood ahead. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

He then strolled to the advertising hoardings, collected the ball and proceeded to walk to the opposite side of his six yard box before setting himself to take the kick itself.

The whole passage used up 30 seconds of a vital, high stakes clash between two relegation rivals.

The score was 0-0 in the first half of a game that both sides will have identified as a must-win. For Rovers, sitting bottom of the table and looking to claw back some of the margin to their opponents, there was little doubt that anything other than victory would not be good enough.

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Matt Smith gets away from Fleetwood's Cian Hayes

But here was a goalkeeper taking an age over a goal kick, failing to quickly get his side on the front foot in the chase of a vital victory.

This is not to ladle criticism at Dahlberg’s feet. He was one of very few to come through the game largely unscathed on what could very well prove to be a farewell appearance for Rovers.

But his actions perfectly encapsulated everything that was wrong with the team’s performance on the afternoon.

No urgency, no desire, no tenacity. Entirely passive, lifeless and feeble as they ambled along to another damaging defeat that looked a foregone conclusion from very early in the game.

Charlie Seaman tussles with Fleetwood's Paddy Lane

The biggest roar of the day from a Rovers perspective came in the second half. Substitute Joe Dodoo went to ground and took ball and man with one sweep, bringing cheers and applause from stands that had been understandably hushed for much of the game.

It was the sort of fight and commitment the supporters were so desperate to see but had been starved of throughout the 70 or so previous minutes they had endured.

For a team bottom of the division and staring down relegation to League Two, the lack of battle was simply indefensible.

Gary McSheffrey was confident he had named a team good enough to win and give him breathing space in the quest to bring players into the club.

Instead the team only made the plea even more desperate for new additions to arrive urgently.

This Rovers squad needs a tremendous injection of something new, and something without the millstone of struggle and strife hanging around its neck.

The last one and a half matches suggests without it, their League One status will die a very slow and painful death over the second half of the season.

If they could not muster the backbone to defend a 3-0 lead against one relegation rival or take the initiative a week later against another, how are they going to fare over the incredibly tough run that now comes against the division’s leading teams?

Opposition sides doing early research ahead of meeting Rovers will have licked their lips at the prospect of facing an outfit that rolled over so easily and offered nothing in return of remote concern.

Their threat in the first half amounted to a decent cross from Kyle Knoyle and then, in stoppage time, a tame header from Omar Bogle that went well wide.

Yet again, movement in opposition territory was woeful, giving the deeper lying midfielders and centre halves little to work with when they had the ball at their feet.

Players were moving into advanced areas but showed little desire to dart into the spaces to make themselves options for a pass.

It was all so easy for Fleetwood to defend that the visitors always looked in a position of real command, despite the scoreline never widening.

Everything was painfully slow and ponderous, involving far too many touches and turns - the complete antithesis of the excellent, relentless play in the start at Morecambe that had them 3-0 up.

Fleetwood, despite sitting only slightly ahead of Rovers in the table, had more of everything throughout.

They had a spell of dangerous pressure midway through the first half but Dahlberg stood up to it well and produced some decent stops.

They were quick to move the ball and spring players forward, which Rovers could not match.

There were more than a few envious glances cast their way as Ellis Harrison was handed an immediate start. His transfer from Portsmouth was announced two hours before kick-off with Fleetwood acting quickly and decisively to land a sound League One operator having lost loanees this week.

At one stage he dropped deep, under pressure from a Rovers tracker, took the ball under control and smartly moved it on, keeping Fleetwood on the front foot.

Rovers lacked such basic quality in this game and, in truth, have been without it in attack for so much of the season.

How they could do with someone of Harrison’s ilk to ignite their attacking play.

And it was even more of a sore point when he popped up in the right place to put Fleetwood ahead from close range early in the second half.

Rowe almost levelled immediately with a flicked header from a Branden Horton corner which dropped just wide of the far post.

While attacking threat increased in the second half, it was not by a great deal and there was a general lack of inspiration throughout the team as Fleetwood coasted to victory.

Substitute Charlie Seaman - about whom there could be no accusations of a lack of spirit - brought the ball under control and lashed a shot from ten yards in stoppage time which Alex Cairns in the Fleetwood goal batted away.

Had it found the net, it would have been incredibly unjust.

The task for the man in charge has so long been to get Rovers firing in front of goal.

But McSheffrey’s most pressing task now needs to be bringing back the bottle and the battle in his players.

Otherwise, they may as well raise the white flag now.

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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.