Doncaster Rovers desperately lacking belief as they fail to show enough in League One relegation scrap

It was not that Doncaster Rovers did not try hard enough, it was just that they are not good enough.

Gillingham are not great, which is why they are down with Rovers in the League One relegation zone. But they scored a goal from a long throw-in inside a minute and despite offering very little for the next 89 (plus stoppages), that was sufficient in a game that was as depressing as it was forgettable for the Doncaster supporters who booed their players off at full-time.

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Having been battered 4-0 at fellow strugglers Cheltenham Town, this was Doncaster's big second chance, an opportunity to bounce back and move ahead of Neil Harris's team. They were incapable of taking it.

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BRIGHT SPARK: Josh Martin provided an attacking spark when Doncaster Rovers could find himBRIGHT SPARK: Josh Martin provided an attacking spark when Doncaster Rovers could find him
BRIGHT SPARK: Josh Martin provided an attacking spark when Doncaster Rovers could find him

With Gillingham so desperately unambitious, Doncaster saw plenty of the ball and lots of it in their final third but the lack of conviction in their play was painful to watch.

If only they had three or four Tommy Rowes, they might have been all right but as committed as the vice-captain is, there is a limit to what even he can do with so little on-field support.

With the exception of Rowe, substitute Matt Smith and Josh Martin, the rest played more in hope than expectation.

Martin could actually have claimed a point, his curling 87th-minute shot forcing a good save which Pontus Dahlberg on his return nearly pushed into his net via a bounce off David Tutonda.

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But a draw at home to opposition this poor would have been disappointing in itself. A 1-0 defeat was dispiriting in the extreme.

Still, the fans in an understanbly restless crowd must have feared the worst when they saw their side conceded after three quarters of a minute.

After a minute's applause for Ukraine, then Gillingham taking the knee, then two aborted kick-offs as players encroached, Rovers had not switched on when a long throw was hurled in from the left and the defenders allowed it to bounce before Charlie Kelman headed in.

When a long ball was allowed to bounce in the third minute, only for the offside flag to come to the rescue, you feared the worse. At times like this, Doncaster are the usually crumbliest, flakiest team in League One.

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They struggled badly against physical opponents in the first half, none more so than Ben Jackson, up against his namesake Ryan. The left wing-back was substituted in the 27th minute, things were so bad.

It would be nice to praise Gary McSheffrey's for having the humility and bravery to take decisive action after a poor initial team selection, but the manager claimed afterwards an injury not immediately obvious from afar had focred his hand. Smith stood out simply by going looking for the ball and trying to make good use of it, the only pity was that bringing him on in central midfield meant Rowe had to be pushed out to left wing-back.

With Tom Anderson injured, Adam Clayton suspended and anyway yet to make his make since joining in January, Rowe's leadership is so crucial to this team but he cannot do it all on his own.

When Rowe saw his team struggling to contain the giant Vadine Oliver, Rowe took it upon himself to sit in front of the centre-forward. When he went in at wing-back, he still came across into the back three to demand the ball and push Joe Olowu out to overlap down his side of the field. The move came to nothing but the intent shown by him and Smith was refreshing when it should have been a given in such a big game at home to opponents Doncaster could leapfrog by beating them.

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Oliver headed against a defender, then had another saved from a long throw. Jackson, who was delivering them, shot at Jonathan Mitchell when Doncaster again lost the ball weakly in midfield. Olly Lee shot wide.

It was a relief for the hosts when Ryan became the second Jackson substituted before half-time.

Martin, playing in the hole of a 3-4-1-2 had a shot blocked and another over shortly before half-time and a Smith effort was wild but the front two of Joe Dodoo and Mipo Odubeko could have been forgiven for wondering what the ball looked like. Just getting it to Martin in positions where he could do damage was difficult enough in the first 45 minutes.

The second half was summed up in the 52nd minute when Ethan Galbraith picked Charlie Seaman out, only for him to hit a very weak shot at Dahlberg. The Northern Irishman cut across a shot and put it wide.

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Before that, a Kyle Knoyle shot clipped Tutonda's heels and Rowe headed over from the deep corner. He has had a shot from a tight angle and another just wide.

Martin had cut inside on the hour only to shoot at the goalkeeper and although his later effort was better, it was still not enough.

That was Rovers all over: Not enough.

Doncaster Rovers: Mitchell; Knoyle, Williams, Olowu; Seaman (Barlow 76), Rowe, Galbraith, Jackson (Smith 27); Martin; Odubeko, Dodoo (Hiwula 76).

Unused substitutes: Jones, Bostock, Gardner, Agard.

Gillingham: Dahlberg; Tucker, Ehmer, Masterson; Jackson (Tutonda 41), O'Keefe, Lee, McKenzie; Thompson; Kelman (Chambers 74), Oliver.

Unused substitutes: Dickson-Peters, Reeves, Chapman, Lintott, Maghoma.

Referee: A Backhouse (Carlisle).

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