Selection curveballs, patience, not missing a beat and unease at returning fans - Talking points from Doncaster Rovers' win at Northampton Town
The party-poopers-in-chief once again spoiled the celebrations for returning supporters as Doncaster Rovers beat ten man Northampton Town.
Here we take a look at some of the big talking points from the game.
Though Rovers were beginning to establish control within the game when it occurred, the most influential moment on proceedings was the sending off of Shaun McWilliams after 18 minutes.
McWilliams chased down a slack pass from Taylor Richards to Andy Butler and lunged in with a high leg.
It may not have been the most vicious of challenges, but making it in the fashion he did was always going to force the referee into a decision and Graham Salisbury showed little hesitation in making it.
Rovers were then in command, barring a period verging on self-destructive when they conceded a flurry of unnecessary free kicks against an opposition who are a big threat from set pieces.
The goal to give the visitors comfort finally came on 36 minutes. Joe Wright put in a block tackle deep in Northampton territory, sending the ball rolling through to Tyreece John-Jules who clipped a delightful effort over Steve Arnold with a touch of real quality.
Rovers continued to dominate the ball after the break, pushing Northampton deeper and deeper.
And they netted again when Reece James delivered a superb cross which Joe Wright turned home after Fraser Horsfall’s failed attempt to head it off target.
Northampton pushed for a way back into the game as the toil of a third game in six days looked to take its toll on Rovers, but the hosts struggled for clear opportunities.
And Rovers could have enjoyed even more comfort when Michael Harriman was somewhat harshly adjudged to have handled in keeping out a James Coppinger shot only for Ben Whiteman to see his spot kick saved.
Not for the first time this season, Darren Moore sprung a surprise with his selection.
Wright shunted to right back. Brad Halliday pushed ahead to the right wing. Butler handed his first league appearance.
It brought bafflement and consternation among a section of support on social media.
But the only surprise was that there was surprise at all.
Moore has done this before and he will do it again. Horses for courses he calls it.
Wright performed superbly at right back against physical and direct opposition against Lincoln. It made sense to go with it again against an even more physical and even more direct outfit.
Halliday spends so much of his time high up the pitch that starting there is no sweat. And he would offer greater coverage than others in the squad. It was not a gamble.
The only disappointment with the sending off was that we did not get the opportunity to see how the approach on the day would play out.
PATIENCE WITH PURPOSE
Even before the sending off, it was clear what Rovers’ gameplan was for tackling the close attention of the hosts.
It was something we have seen an increasing amount of in recent weeks - and arguably, it was delivered in the best manner for some time.
Dominate the ball, keep it deep and away from the opposition, drag them out of position and look to exploit the space.
It takes a tremendous amount of patience, composure and concentration to ensure it does not go to waste or end up nullifying Rovers themselves.
But it also needs a purpose and a decent tempo for it to work and make sure the opposition team are not comfortable.
In the main, this was how Rovers were executing the plan at Northampton. Prior to the sending off they were establishing decent spells of possession and working their way around the pressing game of the hosts.
Ben Whiteman and Reece James were subjected to man marking but worked intelligently to move out of it - Whiteman dropping deeper and James moving forward.
Moore’s game now is all about control.
Some will not appreciate the plethora of sideways and backwards passing that it brings but there is a purpose to it all.
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
Many managers would be reluctant to stick a 37-year-old who had played just one senior football match since March into their starting XI.
But there was absolutely nothing to fear for Moore as he handed Butler his first league appearance of the season.
His last appearance for Rovers 18 months ago saw him turn in a talismanic performance as Rovers went so close to reaching the play-off final.
Though a year and a half has passed since, Butler did not look like he had missed a beat.
Composed, commanding and strong, he also marshalled the back four superbly. He stepped in among an established back four and took control, which demonstrated the respect with which he is held.
The end of his contract is approaching. But with this performance, coupled with the manner in which he stepped in to lead the team in Moore’s absence, extending that deal seems like no brainer.
FANS BACK - NO PARTY
Rovers really know how to spoil the party for returning supporters.
They triumphed at the pilot event at Charlton Athletic with a dominant showing.
And here they slapped a chokehold on the game to run out comfortable winners with home fans back in at Sixfields.
It was incredibly positive to see people in stands again however, to hear those familiar noises as the game ebbs and flows well as experiencing a team urged on by their supporters.
And then there was the slight feel of discomfort at the close quarters nature of a large group of people, perhaps given the tight nature of Sixfields.
What was once normal does not feel normal any more after the last nine month.
It will take more getting used to than expected as more and more people return to matches in the coming weeks and months.
Despite the unease, it is undoubtedly good for the game.