'When the going gets tough some players are not good enough' - Analysis of generous Doncaster Rovers' defeat at AFC Wimbledon
Christmas may be more than a week away but Doncaster Rovers are in a giving mood already.
It is perhaps the only explanation that justifies the manner in which they gave away what looked set to be a comfortable victory at AFC Wimbledon.
After offering up a pre-Christmas treat with a superb first half performance packed with nostalgia for days past, they gift-wrapped the three points for their hosts in baffling, frustrating fashion that delivered an unwelcome reminder of the ghosts of the present.
Father-Christmas-in-chief was Donervon Daniels - a man who has given away far too much in recent weeks.
His reckless, foolish challenge in the box on Marcus Forss handed Wimbledon a way into the game they had hardly deserved after spending nine tenths of the opening 45 minutes firmly on the back foot.
Daniels has conceded three penalties in his last four outings, leaving Rovers counting a costly period at the bank of points.
All three were arguably preventable, all certainly reckless and his personal record on that front should definitely bring into question the status as a regular starter he is afforded.
And after that penalty nightmare, Rovers conceded again from nothing.
Caught too high up the pitch from their own corner, they were broke on by Wimbledon with Forss brushing past a flat-footed and exposed Brad Halliday to play in a rampaging Callum Reilly, who had no problem charging from the edge of his box while Rovers were much too slow to do the same.
And from there, the game was gone. As was the chance to step into Christmas with a much-needed win that would have delivered an equally required boost of confidence.
Ramping up the frustration levels was the fact they had those things within their grasp before it all went wrong after half time.
The first half was exactly what everyone has been hoping to see for some time – a performance harking back to those of early in the season when Rovers were brimming with attacking confidence and energy.
From the first whistle, they moved the ball quickly with short, sharp passing, aided by intelligent and considered off-the-ball runs that took plenty of players high up the pitch and created real threat.
It was made count with a goal on 12 minutes when Reece James curled a peach of a corner under the crossbar where Kwame Thomas nodded over the line in a can’t-miss moment.
As they continued with the same high intensity, attacking approach – barring a short spell midway through the half – Rovers looked fully capable of winning comfortably and should have done so with the chances created. Ben Sheaf missed a glorious opportunity after a superb passing move.
And Rovers would count the cost.
Though they started the second period well enough, as soon as Forss cracked in the penalty to equalise, it was as though a good deal of the wind was sucked out of Rovers.
They looked lethargic, slow and rapidly running out of ideas as Wimbledon instead found a level of confidence their own efforts on the afternoon had not justified.
When the going gets tough, right now the right Rovers response is lacking and some players in particular are simply not good enough.
It was fatal when Reilly finished off the rapid counterattack to put Wimbledon ahead, giving the hosts the license to pack plenty of men behind the ball and create a blue wall Rovers could not get around.
There were chances for the leveller – Jon Taylor in particular will still be wondering how he put wide a chance when running to meet a low centre from the impressive James.
But the approach that had worked so well for Rovers in the first half would no longer work, with the players themselves failing to reproduce the required tempo.
Instead, hopeful balls were lofted into the box where Wimbledon’s grateful defence were all-too comfortable in their efforts to clear out against an opposition lacking the physicality to challenge them.
And so came a result that raised even more questions in a period when far too few have been answered. A period in which Rovers have won one in nine in all competitions.
With one final week to put the work in on the training ground ahead of a run of four matches in 12 days, Rovers must shake off the generosity and discover the ruthlessness they desperately need to make their wishes come true.
Hopefully this giving mood is not for life, nor Christmas either.