Unfamiliar optimism gives way to all-too-familiar frustration as Doncaster Rovers let lead slip against Plymouth Argyle

It was notable because of the rarity of it.

Sunday, 30th January 2022, 10:52 am

Doncaster Rovers may have already let slip a lead in a game in which they should have been out of sight, but the impassioned roar to which they left the pitch at half time on Saturday was as loud as the Eco-Power Stadium has witnessed since before the pandemic.

Justified it was too after an enjoyable, aggressive, attack-minded performance that had seen them pose the greater threat against a Plymouth Argyle side that remain live players in the race for a top six finish.

Bringing home the revolution in the team that has developed on the road in recent weeks, Rovers garnered fresh optimism from supporters that have had every reason to be weary and downbeat over the last 12 months.

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Rovers celebrate Branden Horton's goal that put them ahead against Plymouth

‘We are staying up’ echoed around the ground in the aftermath of Branden Horton putting them ahead. For once, the chanting came without irony.

Hope was alive because Rovers did not look a side dead and buried in the battle against the drop. With spirit, hard running and tactical smarts, it was they who looked like they were pushing for promotion. And they played with a tremendous amount of freedom, appearing unburdened by their dire position in the table.

But this is Doncaster Rovers in 2022 - and the next bodyblow is never too far away.

Poor defending and goalkeeping cost them dearly, seeing what should have been a win slide away into a comfortable triumph for their visitors.

New signing Mipo Odubeko goes up for a header. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX

This was all the more frustrating given the manner of the defensive performance against MK Dons the week prior, when they barely switched off for 90-odd minutes.

From unfamiliar optimism to all-too-familiar frustration and resignation.

Rovers have an uncanny ability to shoot themselves in the foot by failing to continue to do the things which have brought them success.

In basic terms this was not tracking opposition players, not anticipating the direction of deliveries into the box and not being nearly commanding enough inside their own area.

Jordon Garrick scores Plymouth's third

But there was also the drifting away from an intensive press that Plymouth struggled to cope with in the early stages of the game. Defending from the front and preventing the opposition from finding their rhythm.

It was all too easy for former Rovers loanee Niall Ennis to get around the back and cut a pass inside for an unmarked Luke Jephcott to fire Plymouth level.

And the marking afforded to Joe Edwards was woeful as he met Macauley Gillesphey’s cross with a header that Louis Jones really should have kept out.

Jordon Garrick could hardly have asked for more space from which to power home Plymouth’s third and wrap up the win.

If Rovers needed a reminder of the importance of Gary McSheffrey’s hard work mantra, they certainly got it here.

There was also the reminder of another truth familiar to this side - chances must be taken.

What Rovers produced going forward was very good, apart from missing the final, all-important piece of the jigsaw.

Managers insist they really worry when their teams are not creating chances. While McSheffrey may not be worried, he will no doubt be frustrated at watching a plethora of really good opportunities wasted.

His work in altering Rovers’ attacking approach continues to look positive however, with increased directness bearing fruit.

On this occasion the most productive approach came with balls out of midfield into the right channel, where the ever-energetic Matt Smith was most often charging into space to take possession.

The Arsenal loanee probably should have scored early when being played clean through, but could not beat Plymouth keeper Mike Cooper, who produced a string of great saves on the day.

Argyle failed to heed the warning about Smith’s runs, and found themselves defending his advances down the right on several occasions in the first half.

The midfield cut multiple passes back across the box and it was debutant Mipo Odubeko most often on the end of them.

While he failed to cap his debut with the minimum of one goal his plethora of chances should have brought, it was nevertheless and impressive first outing for the on loan West Ham forward.

He took up dangerous positions in the box, he met crosses and passes and he always looked determined to get a shot away. Rovers have not had nearly enough of that in attack this season.

While many supporters would have hoped that a goalscorer would arrive this month with a proven recent pedigree in the EFL, what Rovers have landed is a confident, promising young forward with the drive to carry his impressive stats from age group football into senior level.

Other debutants were given less opportunity to shine, though Ben Jackson almost grabbed a brilliant goal that would have put the pressure on the visitors in the later stages.

Coming off the bench, the left back powered forward with pacy runs and lashed an effort from 20 yards that deflected wide off fellow substitute Kieran Agard.

Adam Clayton was given a late cameo in a bid to give Rovers grounding late on but there is certainly more to come from the veteran midfielder.

It was a defeat he could not alter, and one that left Rovers ten points from safety.

The size of the task on paper looks insurmountable. But if they are able to replicate the attacking elements of this performance on a regular basis, they will give themselves a chance of making the impossible possible.

Let us hope that optimism and hope did not peak midway through Saturday’s game.

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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.