WARNING: Beware of imitations.
The X-Factor may have arrived early at Doncaster when former Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson locked horns with his old club and one of his former players in Grant McCann.
But in the event, this was no box-office occasion to rival the start of the new series of ITV’s Saturday evening talent show.
Yet while it may not have made for compulsive viewing, there were elements of fascination in a finely-poised, if hardly thrill-a-minute, occasion, certainly for football’s tactical aficionados.
Still resident in the Peterborough area, Ferguson clearly keeps tabs on developments at his former employers, whom he led to three promotions and a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success during two separate spells in charge.
He tapped into that knowledge to match up with his old club in the formation stakes by fielding a three-man defence. From a technical perspective, it worked well with Posh’s much-vaunted attack being largely stymied.
After firing four goals apiece in handsome wins at Northampton and Bristol Rovers, the early divisional leaders were largely kept in check by Rovers’ on-message rearguard, in which Joe Wright continues to flourish.
Six-goal striker Jack Marriott was marshalled well, while Marcus Maddison, a player whom Ferguson signed in 2014, was also given limited room for manoeuvre as Rovers saturated the midfield to try and negate his impact.
Aside from a couple of high-class first-half moments from Maddison, that particular exercise also served its purpose, from a home perspective.
But further forward, the pass-marks were not as obvious. Rovers showed willing, but lacked composure, wit and belief at times.
You expect injuries; it is just how you come back from it and ride those challenges that counts.Doncaster Rovers’ Jordan Houghton
Just as Wright shined, so Posh centre-back and captain Jack Baldwin, aside from one early faux pas, also exuded authority.
That was showcased in making a couple of fine second-half interventions to deny Alfie May and substitute Andy Williams to help ensure that the game ended level. The fair and right outcome.
As Ferguson opined, there were positives, with the second ‘debut’ of Jordan Houghton being one prominent entry on his list.
But neither was he shying away from that fact that Rovers’ haul of three points from three home games this term is ordinary in anyone’s language, with a cutting edge needing to be rediscovered following a third successive league draw at the Keepmoat.
A pacy option in the shape of summer arrival Alex Kiwomya would certainly have been handy but with the forward still on the crocked list, Ferguson must strive to find other in-house answers for the time being.
The sight of Houghton slotting effortlessly back into the holding role when he came on at least provided some reassurance in the midfield department.
The Chelsea loanee took another significant stride in his comeback from a serious knee injury with his first competitive appearance since February 18. He looked like he had never been away, in truth.
Handling adversity as a young player is not always straight forward, but, thankfully for Rovers’ sake, Houghton seems as clearly well-rounded and mature off the pitch as he is composed on it.
He said: “You expect injuries; it is just how you come back from it and ride those challenges that counts.
“Football is a challenging game on the pitch, but I think the major key in a successful career is your mentality and how you override weaknesses. I have done some work with a psychologist and that has stood me in a good mind-frame and, hopefully, I can build on my fitness and be back to my levels of last season.”
On his first-team return, he added: “Obviously, I would have loved to start. But I think I have come back earlier than expected and the physio kind of said to the manager to keep the reins on me a little bit.
“So I think it was the best thing for the manager to bring me off the bench to start with and then I can work my way back into full fitness and into the side.
“It was a proper footballing game (on Saturday). But, as the manager said in the dressing room, we have got to have a little bit more belief in ourselves. Had we had a little bit more confidence in our own ability then I think we would have got the win.”
Seeking a fifth successive league win at the start of the season for the first time in their history, Posh had the better of the first period, with Maddison’s sublime curler coming back off the crossbar before a goalbound low shot was deflected just wide.
A fierce strike from Gwion Edwards also stung the palms of Ian Lawlor, with Rovers’ best chance seeing John Marquis spurn it.
It was that sort of day for Marquis, with strike partner May being denied by one smart near-post block in the first half by Posh goalkeeper Jonathan Bond.
The second half saw Rovers display tempo, but struggle to conjure opportunities.
There are things to work on, but it was not the worst point against the division’s early pacesetters, either.