Some things change but so, so many stay the same as Doncaster Rovers crumble in FA Cup defeat to Mansfield Town

The men in the dugout were different but the story was a very familiar one for Doncaster Rovers.

Sunday, 5th December 2021, 7:03 am
Branden Horton fires Rovers ahead in their clash with Mansfield Town. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX

And the manner in which they were swept aside by lower league opposition emphasised just how tough a task awaits whoever occupies the technical area next.

Gary McSheffrey offered change on his first outing as caretaker boss - a different system, fresh personnel, tweaked ideas.

But he could not alter the fact that Rovers are well off the pace right now, no matter who they line up against.

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Louis Jones produces an excellent save to prevent Mansfield from going further ahead. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

McSheffrey’s summation of the game afterwards and his reflections on where his temporary charges are at were as familiar as the pattern of the game he had just overseen.

So much of what McSheffrey said had been heard coming from the mouth of Richie Wellens over these first few months of the season, even if the choice of words and tone were different.

If evidence was needed that the problems being toiled through by Rovers do not end with the manager, this was it.

The major concern surrounding potentially pulling the trigger on Wellens in the last couple of months was about who would be able to replace him and make a substantial difference with the players available.

Tommy Rowe rifles in for Rovers

The decision to fire went well beyond that question but it raises considerable concerns over the outcome of the recruitment process on which Rovers have embarked.

Whoever arrives in the next couple of weeks will, barring a major turnaround in the near future, inherit a squad at its lowest ebb and in need of a tremendous amount of inspiration.

They were lacking any at all in another embarrassment of a second half performance which continued the recent trend of capitulations after the break.

It had been a fairly positive opening half, particularly when Branden Horton raced to meet Aidan Barlow’s cutback and slot into an open goal with just seven minutes on the clock.

The moment was a sweet one for Horton, who not only netted his first senior goal but got some much needed recompense for the torrid time he had suffered at left back in recent times.

The academy graduate was out of that role on this occasion, operating as wing back as McSheffrey opted for a 3-4-1-2 system.

It ensured Horton was not as exposed defensively as he has been as he received plenty of cover from Tommy Rowe, who lined up as left sided centre half.

With an injury to Ethan Galbraith, McSheffrey was forced into changes in midfield and went with what he knows - his former U23 charges Liam Ravenhill and Lirak Hasani - while Jordy Hiwula was pushed inside alongside Joe Dodoo.

It was not a transformative effect on Rovers but they did appear to have more bounce in their play and had found fresh confidence and drive.

They controlled possession well but did so with familiarity - in failing to make it count in the final third. So many times did attacks break down all too easily after promising play in midfield.

There was a light-weightedness to Rovers in attack and they struggled to link up effectively in areas high up the pitch. It prevented them from strengthening their grip on the game and left them vulnerable to a Mansfield about turn.

A reaction from the visitors was fully expected given the experience and wiliness of manager Nigel Clough. And Mansfield were a different proposition after the break.

They pushed up higher on Rovers, pressed with greater aggression and moved the ball with real purpose.

The introduction of former Rovers loanee Jordan Bowery onto the left flank at the break was crucial, giving the Stags power and drive, which they demonstrated with ruthlessness.

Rovers’ continued vulnerability from set pieces was exploited just three minutes into the second half when George Lapslie stooped to flick on a corner and William Forrester brushed aside Hasani to nod in at the back post.

It ignited the 3,200-strong Mansfield away support behind the goal, bringing them to life for the first time on a miserable afternoon.

They had been given encouragement and so had their team, who hardly looked back for the remainder of the game.

Within 12 minutes they were ahead. Bowery powered in off the left and drilled a shot which Louis Jones palmed away, only for Lapslie to charge in and finish well from a tight angle.

And Mansfield kept on pushing, with Rovers barely seeing the ball. Lapslie made it three after a superb first time finish with 20 minutes left to play.

It was the sort of goal that was perfect from a Mansfield angle but pathetic from Rovers. A one-touch move, it demonstrated precision but Rovers defended as effectively as training cones with the manner in which they were passed around.

So much of the second half resembled a training exercise as Rovers struggled to make any real imprint on the game, or halt the charge of the opposition.

McSheffrey selected his side from an exceptionally small pot and there appears to be little prospect of it growing substantially in the weeks leading up to January.

He got an element of fight and battle from his young side but they lacked the combativeness and street smarts to disrupt the opposition and were easily pushed aside.

Another very familiar feeling for all concerned with Rovers.

Rowe - an unrelenting driving force behind any small hope Rovers had of clawing their way back into the game - brought a late high point when he slammed in from 20 yards after a well-worked free kick routine.

But Rovers were well beaten and the narrow scoreline from Rowe’s goal could easily have been much wider.

The task of shaping them up for the increasingly difficult challenge ahead is a mammoth one.

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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.