Midweek Takeaway: Strikerless Doncaster Rovers toil at Crewe on a night where the fates were against them
Sometimes all the signs are there that it is not going to be your night.
Andy Butler must have had a few concerns that may well be the case as he boarded the team coach a few players light for the trip to Crewe Alexandra.
And without a recognised striker in their midst Doncaster Rovers toiled and ultimately slipped to a first defeat of Butler’s tenure as manager.
There was plenty of energy in their play but without the focal point the likes of the absent Omar Bogle and Fejiri Okenabirhie would have provided, there was a 95 minute struggle to make things stick in the final third.
Handed the responsibility to lead the line, Madger Gomes provided the legs but not the strength or nous the absentees typically deliver. There were too few runs in behind, or surges into space to drag defenders out of position and make space for others.
Understandably, the Spanish midfielder is not equipped for the responsibility. And as Butler looked around his squad for options to cover his injured strikers, he will have seen plenty more faces hardly suitable for the role.
Against a team as well-organised and high-energy as Crewe, it was always going to be a difficult obstacle to overcome. This too is an Alex side that have shown tremendous resolve on home soil, building a ten game unbeaten streak prior to Rovers’ arrival.
Butler’s side should take credit and some heart from the fact they were well in the game at half time, with little between the two teams.
Crewe had arguably looked the more threatening, without giving Louis Jones too much to worry about in the Rovers goal.
And Rovers could easily have been ahead but for the intervention of referee Ben Speedie after Crewe keeper Dave Richards fumbled the ball over the line from a Jason Lokilo corner. Replays suggested any obstruction to Richards came from his own men.
Further signs things were against Butler and co came early in the second half when the influential John Bostock sat on the floor to show the unwelcome sign he too had suffered an injury.
So when Mikael Mandron lashed in a shot from 15 yards after Joe Wright had conceded possession, it looked as though Rovers had a mountain to climb.
On the hour mark, Reece James was the next to depart, limping heavily after a strong clash as he prevented a breakaway. The left back had arguably been Rovers’ biggest threat prior to that.
Rovers plugged away but threat petered out without a central figure to target. Build-up play was largely good but a lack of a golden touch was coupled with an absence of presence, meaning the hosts gleefully soaked up the pressure.
The determination to find some magic led to a few occasions of overplaying things, particularly in their own half where possession was conceded cheaply too many times. Wright’s error for the decisive goal was such an example but it was far from the only one.
Such sloppiness is nothing to be too concerned about on the evidence of Butler’s two previous games in charge, where front-foot tempo was key.
But there was the reminder of the need for something - or someone - to build towards if it is all to work.