Quality gives way to chaos but a win was all that mattered for Doncaster Rovers against Cheltenham Town

The roar at half time was one of glory and pride. The roar at full time was one of relief as much as joy.

Sunday, 24th October 2021, 12:14 pm
Rovers celebrate after Rodrigo Vilca's goal puts them 3-0 up against Cheltenham. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Ah, Doncaster Rovers - they can never allow you to be entirely comfortable, can they?

Just when it seems they are on their way to a comfortable and well-deserved triumph, they throw in 20-odd minutes of sheer madness to almost shoot themselves in the foot.

The 3-2 win over Cheltenham Town started out like a gentle outing on a boating lake and then found itself careering down a white water rapids run.

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Joe Dodoo celebrates putting Rovers ahead. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

Ultimately, all that matters is that Rovers won for the third time this season and, in doing so, climbed off the foot of League One for the first time since the end of August.

Victories are the be all, end all for Richie Wellens’ side right now as they seek to build any sort of momentum and finally get their season out of the docks.

And for the first 60 minutes of this one they were very good and fully deserving of a comfortable 3-0 lead.

Not to dwell on a negative, but the manner in which they came close to not even taking a point on Saturday afternoon demonstrated they are still a long way from being comfortable in managing the changing tide of football matches.

Again, they lacked the commanding figure in midfield who simply demands composure from those around him.

However, there were plenty of positives to provide heart that they can get on the right track and stay on it.

The defeat at Gillingham was a suckerpunch as they were punished for failing to make their good first half performance count. But once again this group demonstrated their remarkable ability to brush off previous disappointments.

Barring a shaky opening few minutes when they could have fallen behind, Rovers started confidently and firmly on the front foot against Cheltenham.

Even losing Tommy Rowe - pushed into midfield from left back - after just eight minutes did not knock them off their stride.

They moved the ball quickly and with assurance, travelling up the pitch and camping in the Cheltenham half for much of the opening 20 minutes.

The breakthrough came in much more direct fashion on 23 minutes.

A stunning long ball by Ethan Galbraith from inside his own half was brought down superbly by Joe Dodoo who lashed home on the angle to put Rovers ahead.

It was the most eye-catching moment of a stunning performance from Galbraith, who operated out of right back in a fine piece of tactical tinkering by the manager.

Without an out-and-out right back following the suspension of Kyle Knoyle and injury to Charlie Seaman, Wellens needed to adapt and threw in the Manchester United loanee.

But this was not simply playing a player out of position and hoping for the best. Instead, Galbraith was given license to play to his own strengths and afforded a freedom to roam, which he certainly did.

Aiding his cause was the discipline of his fellow defenders. With Rowe pushed up field during his time on the pitch, Joseph Olowu was selected at left back, enabling Rovers to adopt a back three when in possession.

Cheltenham struggled to track Galbraith throughout, ensuring Rovers regularly had a free man in space when building attacks.

With the opening goal came a noticeable surge of confidence from Rovers and they quickly had more chances to extend their advantage with a Ben Close effort forcing an awkward save from Cheltenham keeper Scott Flinders.

This period of play was an insight into what even the smallest of cushions can do for the confidence of the side as they played with a freedom and willingness to take chances on.

They perhaps grew a little too confident as the game opened up a little too much in the later stages of the first half.

But when Tom Anderson powered in a superb header from a corner in stoppage time, it strengthened their grip once more.

There was none of the meekness in the early stages of the second half that saw them allow the Gillingham game to slip away.

Instead, Rovers remained firmly on the front foot and looked to be cruising when Rodrigo Vilca latched onto a pass from Ben Close, cut inside and fired into the far corner.

As the old adage goes though, it ain’t over til it’s over.

Cheltenham boss Michael Duff went for broke and had his team operating in a 4-2-4 formation as he sought a way back in.

The Robins looked to have been gifted that when a poor corner routine from Rovers sparked a breakaway, from which ex-Keepmoat favourite Alfie May sent the ball onto the hand of Galbraith to win a penalty.

In a remarkable moment, Pontus Dahlberg showed tremendous nerve to not move as Liam Sercombe took his spot kick, sticking out an arm to block it while May struck the post with his follow-up.

May - welcomed back to the Keepmoat with great affection - was the driving force behind what would follow in the later stages with his pace and direct running causing all sorts of problems.

Rovers caused plenty of their own, making silly decisions in possession that saw it quickly handed back to an opposition growing in confidence rather than being kept and neutralised.

That was particularly so after May turned in from close range and swiftly suggested his goal may not merely be a consolation.

Rovers were ragged and Cheltenham encouraged.

When another former Rovers striker Andy Williams strolled in to head home a second for the Robins in the first of seven minutes of added time, anyone predicting doom could have been forgiven.

Williams executing an overhead kick from 12 yards was the nerviest moment but the ball dropped wide and Rovers hung on.

The win was all that mattered but this Rovers side still has plenty to improve upon.

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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.