Charlie Wyke exposes Doncaster Rovers’ cracks as Darren Moore is left to stop rot
For the media, sat high up on its back rows, the cavernous arena is one of the eeriest on the circuit in this forgettable behind-closed-doors era. Manager Darren Moore’s frustrated shouts echoed around as his team arrived with League One title aspirations and left chastened by a 4-1 defeat to a side still below them at the top end of the tight table.
“That was as disappointing as I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” admitted Moore. “I can’t think of any other moments (as bad) since we’ve been building.”
The former centre-back had just watched his side make Charlie Wyke look if not like Niall Quinn, then certainly the Wyke who once hungrily scored goals for Bradford City but had not been seen since until this season. In combination with Aiden McGeady, for whom even appearing in the Championship for Sheffield Wednesday was beneath his God-given talent if not the reality of its application, he headed all Sunderland’s goals.
Even nine years after last pulling his boots on for a professional match, Moore could probably have improved this team, so naturally did the defensive attributes they painfully lacked on a harsh winter’s afternoon come to him as they do to Tom Anderson, concussed at Fleetwood Town.
Since that bang to the head six days ago, Rovers have shipped seven goals in 166 minutes. Anderson will also sit out the midweek visit of Accrington Stanley.
“All four goals were headers in the middle of our box, an area where he would be doing his work,” acknowledged Moore.
“Aerially, he’s really solid but it’s his calmness and continuity. But he’s not in there and others have to step up. We still would have expected to deal with the goals so it’s a wake-up call.”
The first came from McGeady’s corner after seven minutes. Resistance was negligible, as when Wyke got above Cameron John to the winger’s cross five minutes later. For the third, he was so far behind the centre-backs you – and they – thought he must be offside but whilst they were trying to play him off, left-winger Reece James was not. Wyke cannot have scored an easier hat-trick.
When Rovers – strengthened by the half-time introduction of John Bostock – had the temerity to score, Taylor Richards’s shot bouncing off the base of the post and in off the back of goalkeeper Lee Burge, McGeady almost immediately put them in their place, marching down the other end and producing another cross with the inevitable consequence, as Wyke’s header flicked off John and into the net.
For the 19 minutes between Wyke’s second and third goals, Doncaster’s play between the penalty areas was actually quite good but when they did find the final pass – often from Richards – the shot was either scuffed or unable to fully extend Burge.
At 4-1, Doncaster won two penalties, and as Ellery Balcombe did at Lincoln City two weeks earlier, Burge saved both, from Jon Taylor and Jason Lokilo, who picked up the ball when fouled and marched over with a confidence not matched by his kick.
It is probably too simplistic to say if they had found the net, Rovers would only have lost 4-3. One imagines McGeady and Wyke would have reacted to those goals as they did to Doncaster’s first.
The odd blip apart – to be expected from such a youthful team – Moore’s team were so impressive in the first half of the season but whether it is coincidence or not, they have lost their way since Ben Whitehead left for Preston North End.
They papered over the cracks until the man who took the armband from the classy midfielder was missing too.
“The goal after seven minutes knocked the stuffing out of us and we never really reset ourselves and found that composure,” admitted Moore.
“We gave away the other two goals (in the first half) and I think that mentally rocked us.
“The second half was much better on the ball because that’s been missing in recent weeks. It was probably the best I’ve seen us use the ball and operate the spaces but on the flipside we conceded four goals.
“There was a resilience to us in recent weeks but we didn’t use the ball as well.
“We’ve got to find a balance.”
They have lost two matches on the trot for the first time since October, and must not wait for Anderson’s return to stop the rot.
The domino effect of Lincoln City’s game against Accrington going ahead at the second attempt at the weekend is Doncaster’s home game against Stanley being put back 24 hours to Wednesday, giving Moore an extra training session.
“Monday can’t come quickly enough,” he said repeatedly.
Sunderland: Burge; McLaughlin (Leadbitter 61), Wright, Sanderson, McFadzean; Scowen, Power, O’Nien (Diamond 76); Gooch (O’Brien 76), Wyke, McGeady (Jones 82). Unused substitutes: Matthews, Neil, Vokins.
Doncaster Rovers: Balcombe; Halliday, Wright, Butler, John (Sims 54); Smith, Gomes (Bostock 46); Taylor (Lokilo 72), Richards (Robertson 72), James; Bogle. Unused substitutes: Okenabirhie, Jones, Greaves.
Referee: N Hair (Cambridgeshire).