Winning in a different way is exactly what we've needed to see from Doncaster Rovers: Analysis of the win over Oxford United

It was not pretty but it was effective and it ensured Doncaster Rovers kicked off 2020 with an impressive victory.

Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 12:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 3:47 pm

Plenty of toil and a tremendous amount of battling spirit saw Rovers hold off the charge of an on-form Oxford United side to see out a very, very good win.

They may have been behind on the big statistical indicators of possession, shots and set pieces but Rovers did exactly what they needed to do to beat a side that came to the Keepmoat sitting in second place.

And doing exactly what they need to do is exactly what we need to see Rovers doing as they look to climb League One in the second half of the season.

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Tom Anderson's bloody nose typified Doncaster Rovers' win over Oxford United. Picture: Marie Caley

The decline in form during the second quarter of the campaign could be pinned on a failure to adapt sufficiently, a determination to stick to attacking principles and an apparent lack of ability to play in a different way.

But the two big, big wins of the intense festive period have shown that Rovers should not be written off on those three fronts so quickly.

Against Peterborough United on Boxing Day, they delivered a plan to the letter to shut down the division's most lethal attacking force and strike on the counter attack.

And on New Years Day against Oxford, they demonstrated the resolve and determination to spend long periods on the back foot but remain switched on throughout to deny the opposition many real clear cut opportunities.

It might not bring the same sort of unadulterated joy the performances of the early season did but it is incredibly pleasing to see these different sides to Rovers emerging.

The free-flowing, crisp attacking force that Rovers were in the early part of the season is unlikely to be seen much, if at all, over the next few months.

Opponents quickly got wise to it, knowing it was fatal to allow Rovers to play as they wanted.

That Rovers are now winning games in a different fashion shows the hard work of the last few months to get it right is starting to bear fruit.

Arguably the first side to truly wisen up to Rovers’ initial approach was Oxford, who comfortably saw them off at the Kassam in October.

They were the first team to press Rovers high up the pitch and disrupt their attempts to play out from the back. The flow to Bens Whiteman and Sheaf was stopped and the out-balls of the full backs were cut off.

On that day Rovers could not handle the close attention, struggled to get their own play going and were picked off.

As well as an impressive victory, the New Year’s Day renewal offered a good marker of the progression of Rovers since.

The close attention on the back four was still there.

While there were a few nervy moments, Rovers handled it much better and were much more willing to knock a 40 yard ball forward looking for Jon Taylor up the pitch.

If space was not to be available in their own territory, Rovers eventually discovered there was plenty in the middle of the park and they used it well.

It helped them ease the early pressure from Oxford, find their feet in the game and mount some sustained, patient possession of their own, which ultimately led to the winning goal.

Rovers had been camped in the Oxford half for a long period without truly threatening the box.

But a good pass and a stroke of fortune opened things up for Reece James to strike.

Ben Whiteman played a direct pass into Niall Ennis, who did not seem to know a lot about what happened next as he stuck out his leg, sending the ball out to James who lashed in low on the angle.

From there, barring some good threat on the counter - particularly through young substitute Max Watters - it was all about the defensive action and Rovers stood up superbly.

James was given a torrid time at the Kassam but was superb on this occasion, boosted by uncharacteristic but valiant cover from Kieran Sadlier ahead of him.

And the two centre halves were superb - the rocks they have become expected to be.

Tom Anderson marked confirmation of his new contract with a superb performance, and a bloody nose for his trouble.

The sight of him still stemming the bleeding half an hour after the final whistle was the perfect summation of the battling performance from he and his team mates that afternoon.

It remains to be seen how consistently Rovers can adapt to the approach of opposition teams.

And there remains questions over how they deal with close attention from rivals whose own attacking ambitions are minimal.

But this was a really positive start to the year and a real suggestion that Rovers are, indeed, on the right track.