Saturday Night Takeaway: Doncaster Rovers lack spark in lifeless draw with Northampton Town
There were times on Saturday afternoon when Andy Butler could have been forgiven for wondering what he had let himself in for at Doncaster Rovers.
While his first week in the job was a runaway success, his second has been a much more sobering affair.
Butler watched Scott Robertson slowly leave the pitch less than half an hour into their clash with Northampton Town to join the growing list of injury victims that already contained the names of key men Omar Bogle, Josh Sims and John Bostock.
And then he saw his side toil in a flat performance that delivered a clean sheet, but nothing more to write home about.
Good fortune has hardly smiled upon Rovers over the past seven days - certainly on the injury front.
But the on-field issues Butler has encountered this week cannot solely be explained by absentees, however key, and the resulting disruption.
At Crewe in midweek there was validity to such reasoning. The lack of a recognised striker saw the focal point of the side lost and denied Rovers the presence in the final third they needed.
Fejiri Okenabirhie’s return against Northampton promised better but failed to deliver as the spark of creativity was absent throughout the side.
The high energy, aggressive attacking play that brought success against Portsmouth ten days prior was missing and it played entirely into the hands of the resolute and organised visitors.
Northampton invited Rovers to break them down from the start and were happy to wait for opportunities from set pieces and breakaways to strike themselves.
Rovers needed to move the ball quickly, to get players popping up in space for a pass along the ground and work their way through the physically-imposing Cobblers.
But it could be counted on one hand the times they produced such play to take them into the final third and get an opportunity on goal.
Bostock, and his excellent passing range and great vision, were a miss. Bogle and Sims’ attacking prowess were noticeably absent. And the fact James Coppinger and Taylor Richards were not in a position to start following recent exertions hardly aided Rovers’ cause.
But in times of need and struggle, others need to step up and produce the goods. Others that have been part of a successful collective this season and know what a Rovers side at its best is all about.
And there is where the frustration towards Saturday’s dour, lifeless performance truly emerges. Too many off days, too few talismen, such little spark.
Time is against Butler in his attempt to reignite his Rovers side, with a long trip to Oxford coming in midweek.
But the need to once again land on the formula which brought him success in his opening two matches as manager is approaching desperate levels if Rovers are to maintain their position of strength in the league table.
He will have been heartened however by the show of defensive resolve from his team.
A few weeks ago they appeared woefully flimsy when defending set pieces and crosses but they batted away everything with comfort due to excellent organisation and composure at the back.
The foundations were there on Saturday afternoon, but the absence of a creative architect held up the project.