MANAGER Grant McCann wanted Doncaster Rovers to be staring down from the top this morning.
Instead he sees his side looking up from sixth after two successive defeats.
These next 12 games can see teams near the top start to pull away from those below and we have got to make sure we are one of them and I have said to the group we will be – 100 per cent we will be.Doncaster Rovers’ boss Grant McCann
But after a home mauling by Fleetwood Town made more galling by defeats for the top two, Portsmouth and Peterborough, McCann says the next batch of a dozen games will be crucial.
Doncaster had been labelled something of a soft touch at times last season and that failing again surfaced against a combative Fleetwood side whose no-nonsense approach enabled them to take control and produce the better football.
True, player-of-the-month John Marquis should have had a first-half hat-trick and, true, Rovers handed Fleetwood all four goals, but Doncaster know now that they must continue to win individual battles to thrive as a team.
Ali Crawford was one of the few Rovers players to take positives.
The former Hamilton midfield player has not started since the first game of the season when he suffered medial knee ligament damage.
So he was eager to enter the fray even with Rovers hopelessly adrift at 4-0 within 49 minutes.
Crawford, 27, with over 200 appearances behind him in Scotland, said: “With Peterborough and Portsmouth losing that makes it even tougher to take because we could have closed the gap.
“It’s been a bad day at the office, but we dust ourselves down and go again at Rochdale with a good week’s training under our belt.
“The boys have been flying in September and, with having been coming back from injury, it’s been tough to get back in because they have done so well.”
Of his comeback he continued: “It is tough coming on like that, but I just need to try and do my best and create chances. Every time you come on you try to impress, especially coming back from injury. You just want to try and get back in the team and into the gaffer’s thoughts for next weekend.”
Manager McCann was not in the mood to let one bad result distract him.
“Yes, it is a bitter pill to swallow,” he said. “As a team we made four mistakes that cost us the game. I know it sounds really strange, but I thought we played well in the first half in terms of chances we created. It was a tale of both boxes and we got what we deserved. If you don’t take your chances and you defend like that you are going to get punished no matter who you are against.
“We are all human beings, we all make mistakes and here we made four and it cost us. It is frustrating. But in terms of our first mini-cycle of 12 games we have had a tremendous start.
“You have seen how tough this league is with (Saturday’s) results. If you want to step off it and take your finger off the pulse then you can get hurt.”
One thing he was puzzled by was the reaction of the crowd. “Even though we were 3-0 down I found it very strange to hear us getting booed off the pitch at half-time even though we were third in the league,” he added.
McCann, hoping for better news on captain Andy Butler, who had to depart after damaging his collar bone with Rovers having already used three substitutes, believes the business part of the season starts at Rochdale.
“We are into our next 12 games and this is when it matters. These next 12 games can see teams near the top start to pull away from those below and we have got to make sure we are one of them and I have said to the group we will be – 100 per cent we will be.”
On playing the same side who had lost 1-0 at Accrington Stanley, McCann said: “I was not tempted to make changes as those 11 had basically given us our 21 points. That is the reason why we have been in and around it, playing a settled team, a confident team. We will pick ourselves up and go again.”
Rovers picked themselves up after Sheffield United loanee striker Ched Evans scored his sixth goal in 10 games for Fleetwood from the penalty spot in the fourth minute after being brought down on the right side of the area by goalkeeper Marko Marosi.
Herbie Kane bent a free-kick narrowly over, Mallik Wilks had a fierce shot beaten away and both Marquis and Joe Wright headed good chances off target.
Marquis produced a weak chip at Doncaster-born goalkeeper Alex Cairns before Wright was overpowered by James Wallace, who headed home.
Ashley Eastham made Marquis pay for spooning over a stoppage-time chance when he headed in the third just before the break and Ashley Hunter raced on to make it 4-0 in the 49th minute after Wright attempted a fancy turn in possession and was robbed.
There was no way back for the hosts as Fleetwood recorded their first victory at the Keepmoat.
Doncaster Rovers: Marosi, Mason (Crawford 53), Wright, Butler, Andrew; Blair, Kane, Whiteman; Wilks (Beestin 73), Marquis, Coppinger (May 61). Unused substitutes: Lawlor, T Anderson, J Anderson, Amos.
Fleetwood Town: Cairns, Coyle, Eastham, Sheron, Husband (Holt 10); R Wallace, Taylor, J Wallace (Morgan 46), Hunter; Evans (Burns 71), Madden. Unused substitutes: Crellin, Dempsey, Biggins, Long.
Referee: J Busby (Oxfordshire).