Shortcomings exposed again as Doncaster Rovers are shut down by Sunderland: Match analysis

One swallow does not a summer make. One excellent performance does not a corner turn.

Sunday, 29th December 2019, 8:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 11:58 am
Jon Taylor looks for a way through against Sunderland. Picture: Marie Caley

The positivity and optimism which followed in the wake of the the brilliance of Boxing Day at Peterborough United was quickly washed away just three days later.

Losing to Sunderland, despite their recent turmoil and trouble, is not something alone to be unduly concerned about. A cursory glance at the team sheet prior to kick-off showed the depth of quality possessed by the Black Cats, even if results have not reflected that for Phil Parkinson’s side.

But it was another performance from Rovers that fell short of the mark and ultimately saw them punished for that.

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Niall Ennis cuts a frustrated figure against Sunderland. Picture: Marie Caley

Sunderland set a high tempo from the very start that Rovers simply could not match. And the visitors got much the better of the physical duel as well.

The biggest overriding concern surrounding Rovers is that they are yet to fully convince that they have the answer when an opposition shows them close attention in possession.

When afforded the opportunity, with time and space, to play their brand of of football they are very difficult to contain. When denied that they struggle to impose their will on a match.

Sunderland pressed hard and high with real aggression from the first whistle and Rovers were not only stifled, they looked rattled.

James Coppinger brings the ball down under pressure. Picture: Marie Caley

Passes were misplaced and rushed. Attempts to ease pressure with longer forward balls were so often cut out with Rovers unable to match their visitors in the physical stakes. Unfortunately, this is a pattern that has been seen on far too many occasions during the recent struggles for victories.

The big difference on this occasion was that Sunderland possessed the quality to not only halt Rovers, but to punish them and take control as well.

Sunderland were better organised and, at times, it seemed as though they had extra players on the pitch, such were the options available to them when they looked to push forward.

The Black Cats could easily - and probably should – have been further ahead by the time Rovers found their equaliser with a welcome piece of ruthlessness in front of goal.

Former Rovers loanee Lynden Gooch gave Sunderland the lead just six minutes in, capitalised on a lack of concentration to take the ball into space from a quickly-take free kick and curl a wonderful finish into the corner from 20 yards.

Charlie Wyke and Chris Maguire in particular went close to adding to the score as Sunderland continued to have the better of the play.

But Rovers struck against the run of play five minutes from the break with comfortably their best attack of the afternoon. James Coppinger sent Kieran Sadlier clear down the left and the forward delivered a delicious low ball into the box which the on-rushing Jon Taylor powered home at the back post.

The question was how an under-fire Sunderland side would react to the set back. But they responded superbly to continue on with what had worked so well for them.

And they went back in front just after the hour, with Gooch barging through down the left and into the box where Maguire charged onto a loose ball and lashed home.

Sunderland eased their efforts as the game wore on, happy to sit back and soak up pressure with Rovers struggling for real inspiration.

At Peterborough, Rovers were set up to prevent Posh playing and launch dangerously on the counter attack. They dealt with an attack-minded opposition superbly with a stunning defensive performance and backed it up with composure and incisiveness on the ball to secure a deserved victory.

Rovers were well drilled in a specific game plan for a specific opposition. They carried out that plan to the letter and reaped the rewards with a result and performance that demonstrated what they are capable of.

On this occasion they lacked what they needed to deal with Sunderland and overcome the issues the game presented to them, demonstrating the shortcomings still within a developing side.