Doncaster Rovers take the positives but danger signs loom

Assessing Doncaster Rovers’ 2-0 home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers is not straightforward.

Doncaster's Tommy Rowe challenges Wanderers' David Wheeler for the ball. Pictures: Howard Roe/AHPIX LTD

What can be said for certain is that there is absolutely no shame in being turned over by a Chairboys side who, even at this early stage of the campaign, look a very good bet to return to the Championship at the first attempt.

As Richie Wellens stated post-match, “any club that finishes above Wycombe will probably get promoted” – and there are times when managers simply have to concede that their team were beaten by opponents who performed better on the day.

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Neither Saturday’s result nor Rovers’ overall display was disastrous but, that said, there seemed an element of ‘clutching at straws’ about the Doncaster chief’s post-match comments as he reflected on an eighth loss in 11 League One outings.

Doncaster's Joe Dodoo has a shot at goal. Picture Howard Roe/AHPIX LTD

“The start was a really, really bad start, but if you’d have told me that my keeper wouldn’t have a save to make after that... even their penalty-box entries, they hardly had any,” said Wellens, who watched on from the stands as he served the first of two-match touchline ban.

“Their keeper has probably pulled off the best save of the game. We’ve hit the bar. If we take our chances and move the ball a little bit quicker around the edge of the box in the first half then it’s a different game.

“We’ve actually progressed in terms of, we’re 2-0 down against a team that in all likelihood have massive potential to get promoted, but at no stage of the game did I ever think that they were gonna get a third, it was only gonna be us that got back in the game.

“It was a good response, it’s not a great result, but we take the positives in that we’ve gone 2-0 down really early before the game has even started, but our response was really good.

Doncaster's Tiago Cukur can't connect on to the corner. Picture Howard Roe/AHPIX LTD

“I think, going forward, that will stand us in good stead.”

There was nothing factually inaccurate about anything that Wellens said. Rovers did twice come close to scoring before half-time when Jordy Hiwula struck the crossbar and Tiago Cukur drew an excellent finger-tip stop out of a stretching David Stockdale.

Had either of those efforts found the back of the net, then the second period surely would have unfolded in rather different fashion.

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the field, Wycombe did not manage to seriously extend Pontus Dahlberg after headers from Anthony Stewart and Adebayo Akinfenwa had them two goals to the good by the 17th minute.

Doncaster's Jordy Hiwula puts the ball across the box. Picture Howard Roe/AHPIX LTD

The point, however, is that they simply did not need to.

“The game kind of petered out because they’re quite experienced at what they do,” Wellens added.

“The last 20 minutes, even though we had a lot of possession, they are used to going away to Championship grounds, bigger teams and defending their box. I have to take my hat off to them.”

This is the point. Two goals ahead by half-time and clearly confident of being able to defend that position, Gareth Ainsworth’s men dropped off, let Rovers have the ball for extended periods and challenged their hosts to break them down.

In truth, Doncaster never came close to opening up the visitors, and a 20-yard strike by substitute Ethan Galbraith which Stockdale pushed away was literally all they could muster.

While there were a number of promising bits of attacking play and some decent openings engineered before half-time, they arrived while Wycombe were looking to inflict additional damage and still happy to commit numbers forward.

After the Chairboys effectively shut up shop, put the ball firmly in Rovers’ court and opted to rely on their defensive resolve and game-management skills, it quickly became apparent that the home side did not possess the tools required to alter the destiny of the contest.

That is, perhaps, the most worrying aspect of the afternoon from a Doncaster point of view. While, as previously stated, Wycombe are clearly one of the best teams in the division and no push-overs, Rovers’ inability to threaten any kind of a fightback does not augur well. They are, after all, rooted to the foot of the table and, even after just 11 matches, already desperate for points.

Even a victory on Saturday would have seen the South Yorkshire outfit remain trapped in the drop zone, something that is unlikely to change soon if they continue to respond with such passive acceptance when visitors to the Keepmoat Stadium get their noses in front and then throw down the gauntlet.

The one positive to arise from Saturday’s loss was the return of influential winger Jon Taylor – as a 68th-minute substitute – following seven months out with an ankle problem.

“In an ideal world, we probably wouldn’t have put him on, but I just thought that with 20-25 minutes to go, the supporters seeing him come back might give them lift, give everyone else a lift,” said Wellens.

“He’ll only get stronger. His game is about energy and speed and when your game is about that you need match practice.”

Doncaster Rovers: Dahlberg; Knoyle, Williams, Anderson, Rowe; Close, Bostock Smith 63); Dodoo (Taylor 68), Vilca (Galbraith 57), Hiwula; Cukur. Unused substitutes: Jones, Olowu, Barlow, Horton.

Wycombe Wanderers: Stockdale; Stewart, Tafazolli, Jacobson; McCarthy, Scowen, Thompson (Gape 83), Obita; McCleary, Akinfenwa (Wheeler 62), Hanlon (Horgan 77). Unused substitutes: Przybek, Grimmer, Kaikai, Mehmeti.

Referee: C Hicks (Surrey).