Mind matters as Doncaster Rovers fail in fightback against Wycombe Wanderers

The biggest concern of the afternoon was not the defensive frailty at two key moments.

Sunday, 17th October 2021, 2:00 pm

Nor was it even the lack of a killer touch inside the opposition box as Doncaster Rovers failed to make decent attacking play count.

Instead, and certainly looking to the long term, it was the mood around the Keepmoat in a second half which made the status quo of the scoreline against Wycombe Wanderers an inevitability.

The visitors had done the damage in the first half and were more than comfortable to sit back and soak up pressure. They even withdrew their lone striker.

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Tommy Rowe challenges Wycombe's David Wheeler in the air. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

While Rovers dominated the ball and moved it well in the build-up to the final third, they lacked the spark of energy and determination to find their way through.

It would be somewhat harsh to say there was a defeatist attitude. But there was enough slumping of shoulders and dropping of heads to suggest the players increasingly knew they were hardly onto a winner.

It transferred to the stands too. A crowd that was incredibly encouraging just a fortnight ago could muster mere murmurs due to a lack of inspiration from the events on the pitch.

Having taken significant strides in their game management in the impressive win over MK Dons, this felt like another backward step for Rovers, albeit in different circumstances.

Jon Taylor's return to action was a positive of the day. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Falling behind to Wycombe is a nightmare proposition, given their ability to strangle a game by fair means or foul. They will see out plenty more wins in such fashion this season, and against teams with much loftier aspirations than those of Rovers at present.

A side at the bottom of the league losing to one who found themselves top at various stages on Saturday is not a reason to press the panic button.

But the rather meek manner in which Rovers succumbed to defeat in the second half can only raise concerns.

It is all too apparent that Richie Wellens’ side are lacking a talismanic figure to drag them by the scruff of the neck through the tough times. Someone who will not allow shoulders to drop as well as ensuring focus remains throughout.

Adebayo Akinfenwa heads in Wycombe's second. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

There is experience and leaders within the group but not the chest-thumping sort that do not wait for others to look to them.

Wellens himself knows it and is determined to fill that gaping hole in January. But there are 14 matches between now and the opening of the transfer window and Rovers simply cannot afford any more feebleness in matches.

Particularly over the next few weeks, with their next six matches coming against sides sitting no higher than 14th in League One - five of them currently occupying the six places directly above Rovers.

Wellens’ side cannot be legitimately dismissed as no-hopers. There remains positive signs of progress in areas of their game to suggest they are capable of getting themselves out of their current predicament.

Joe Dodoo looks to get a shot away against Wycombe. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

But they need a backbone if they are to stand up to tough times on the pitch.

And they must stop shooting themselves in the foot, as they did inside the opening 17 minutes of this game.

It does not take expert analysis to uncover Wycombe’s biggest threats, particularly when the name Adebayo Akinfenwa is on the team sheet.

The Chairboys may have transformed since their last visit to the Keepmoat just prior to lockdown through investment and a sojourn in the Championship, but they remain very much Gareth Ainsworth’s physical, battling and direct Wycombe who are terrifying from set pieces.

So to see Anthony Stewart get the better of Kyle Knoyle at the back post and head in from a corner after two minutes was thoroughly frustrating.

And Wellens - sitting in the gantry as he served the first of a two match ban - must have been tearing his hair out when Ro-Shaun Williams foolishly looked to wrestle with Akinfenwa to meet a cross into the box which the powerhouse nodded beyond Pontus Dahlberg.

It meant that a bright start for Rovers in performance terms was rendered null and void and gave them a mountain to climb despite being the better footballing unit through the first half.

Those aforementioned positive signs came with this.

There was a welcomed vibrancy to the build-up play, with a fluid front four interchanging positions to receive passes from the technically gifted midfield two.

Tiago Cukur pulled away from the middle to latch onto possession in space and create chances while Jordy Hiwula carried the ball and put the opposition on the back foot really well.

It was inside the box where the problems came. On so many occasions did a player in red and white latch onto a pass or low cross but hesitate in getting their shot away.

Wellens afterwards put it down to a desire to score the perfect goal, picking the right spot rather than simply taking the opportunity to shoot.

It suggested a lack of confidence in front of goal among the front men, as natural attacking instincts gave way to over-thinking and ensured a sixth game from 11 in the league where Rovers have failed to score.

The supply was there to enough of an extent to give Rovers a foothold back into the game. The final application was absent, with Joe Dodoo, Cukur and Rodrigo Vilca all guilty of hesitancy.

It is another issue for Rovers to solve as they head into a crucial run of fixtures - but yet another that is more than in the mind than it is in ability.

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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.