THE proliferation of ‘Back to School’ posters at shopping outlets across the country is as sure a sign as any that September is upon us.
But while millions of children start their new school year this week, Doncaster Rovers can already reflect on learning several lessons at the beginning of term, with a promising early report blighted by an inability to pay attention at key intervals.
Must do better, as the phrase goes.
Rovers’ lack of defensive command plus profligate finishing were unwholesome traits that significantly contributed to their relegation spiral in the second half of 2015-16.
As was their galling propensity to concede late goals.
All those annoying deficiencies – which also came to the fore on an opening-day loss at Accrington – resurfaced again at Crewe on Saturday.
It had to be Crewe as well, just 126 days after Rovers were painfully relegated in the south Cheshire town in the Spring.
Memories of that desperate day applied salt into the wounds as Rovers mulled over another tough loss at Gresty Road, with the consolation that Tommy Rowe gained from finding the net in both losses being minimal.
Rowe, whose 82nd-minute penalty cancelled out Ryan Lowe’s early opener – only for home midfielder James Jones to have the final say with the winner three minutes from time – rued: “We definitely wanted to right that wrong from last year.
“No one had forgotten about it. We were not playing it up any more than usual and it was just another game to us. But deep down, we all knew what happened last season.
“The fans were devastated by the result, as we were. We are not gutted about not getting a result for them; we are gutted about not winning in general.”
Admitting that Rovers need to be far smarter in their game management, Rowe – who spurned a chance to put the visitors in front shortly before Crewe’s winner – added: “When we look at the team, we have experience in the spine. As a group, we need to look at it and think that taking a point at Crewe is not too bad in the end.
“To go home frustrated is not nice to take.
“We must learn how not to concede (late on) and must look deeply at it.”
Rovers headed into the game with their tails up and were chasing their fifth successive win in all competitions for the first time since December, 2006.
But the early portents did not look great, compounded by Lowe’s 14th-minute striker.
Chris Dagnall was afforded too much space down the right and his fine cross was headed home clinically by Lowe, who had almost opened the scoring early on.
Rovers’ reaction was commendable and they went agonisingly close to a leveller when Jon Guthrie’s sliced clearance from James Coppinger’s cross clipped the crossbar.
Soon after Rowe failed to convert when well placed following an inch-perfect low cross from debutant Frazer Richardson.
The chances started to stack up with John Marquis heading wide before racing clear and sending over a low cross that just failed to pick out Andy Williams, with Coppinger also close moments before the break.
The second half proved an open affair, perhaps too open from a managerial perspective and after some early home pressure, Rovers took on the baton in the final 20 minutes.
Jones fired over when well placed five minutes after the interval before his punt forward was latched onto by the tenacious Dagnall, whose shot was beaten away by Marko Marosi.
At the other end, Ben Garratt came to the hosts rescue on 63 minutes making a stunning save to claw away Matty Blair’s header, with the impression being that it may not be Rovers’ day.
Marosi then beat away Dagnall’s header before Rovers took charge, moving to a three-man defence after Riccardo Calder and Harry Middleton came on.
Crewe were lucky to escape after an almighty goalmouth scramble following Rowe’s shot before Rovers’ persistence paid off when Lee Probert pointed to the spot after spotting a tug by Harry Davis – warned earlier about his antics.
Despite Garrett guessing right, Rowe converted with precision.
It should have been the prelude for the visitors to see the game out and take a point to extend their unbeaten sequence.
But there was a late sting in the tail with Rovers again guilty of failing to cut out a cross at source.
A centre from the impressive Zoumana Bagayoko was nodded back into the danger area by Ollie Turton and the ball broke to Jones, whose shot on the turn beat Marosi.
It was a harsh lesson for Rovers as Crewe claimed their first home league win since beating them at the end of last season.
For away fans, despite being appreciative of Rovers’ efforts at the end – in contrast to the scenes of rebuke on April 30 – there was an unmistakable feeling that they will not wish to frequent the railway town again for a good while.