Patence required at Doncaster Rovers for Richie Wellens to close gap on rivals Rotherham United

Sometimes football laughs in the face of logic, especially in games between two teams living close together. Rotherham United versus Doncaster Rovers went exactly as it should have.

Michael Smith celebrates scoring Rotherham United's second goal againts Doncaster Rovers at the New York Stadium. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The Millers and their manager Paul Warne have been growing together for nearly five years. They play well-organised, physical, direct football, not always the prettiest, not quite good enough to crack the Championship, but effective at winning promotion from League One, as in their last three seasons there.

In Michael Smith they have a third-tier striker they can bank on.

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Doncaster are five winless matches into Richie Wellens’s managerial tenure. They had a pre-season disrupted by Covid and are struggling to afford the players they want, or move on those they do not. Injuries left them a front three of two full-backs and a midfielder playing as a false nine as they tried to protect Tiago Cukur’s injured calf.

TOUGH TIMES: Doncaster Rovers boss Richie Wellens, pictured on the touchline in the 2-0 defeat to Rotherham United at the New York Stadium Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“It challenges you as a manager to come up with ideas that normally you wouldn’t,” admitted Wellens. It is no wonder they are struggling to play the passing football he wants.

The result was a 2-0 win with Smith scoring both goals. It should have been more, but rather than reinvigorating a non-contest, Mickel Miller’s straight red card for jumping into Kyle Knoyle killed it, making one team not especially bothered about scoring, the other not capable. Rotherham left their guests to play for more than 40 minutes safe in the knowledge a team whose only goal this season came 46 minutes into it would not hurt them.

“They’ve shown where they’re are at and we’ve shown where we’re at,” said Wellens.

He needs lots of things: help in the last few days of the transfer market, better luck with injuries and illness but most of all time.

Kieran Sadlier. impressed for Rotherham United against former club Doncaster Rovers at the New York Stadium Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Rotherham have players learning too, but not 11 at once, and not learning professional football as well as Wellens’s style.

Ollie Rathbone is new, but surrounded by players who have been there, got the League One promotion winners’ T-shirt.

“I probably under-estimated the difference,” admits the Millers midfielder. “Because I’d been at Rochdale for so long if new lads came in they’d speak to me about how we played. The shoe’s on the other foot here. I think I’m getting the hang of it slowly.”

Made to wait 15 minutes by yet more New York Stadium turnstile problems, Rotherham quickly took hold of the game once it kicked off. Kieran Sadlier fed off the abuse from away fans angry at how he left them for the Millers and inside 10 minutes provided a cross Freddie Ladapo ought to have headed on target and a pass Rathbone forced a save from.

Kyle Knowle holds off Ben Wiles in Saturday's clash betwenn Rotherham United and Doncaster Rovers at the New York Stadium Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Doncaster could not get into dangerous positions, Matt Smith dropping off the front in search of the ball but only leaving a gaping hole midfielders dared not abandon their posts to run into.

Rotherham had a goal disallowed when Jamie Lindsay came from an offside position to head in a Sadlier cross but it was a matter of time, and soon Smith nodded a long ball down, linked well with Miller and calmly finished with the outside of his boot.

“On another day, we could have scored four,” claimed Warne, and it was hard to argue.

“At times we could have been better in the final third. I’m always looking for perfection.”

Smith’s beautiful half-volley changed the half-time team-talks as the managers put finishing touches to them in their heads. It was more than just the timing which annoyed Wellens.

“Game management,” he despaired. “The board has gone up with two minutes of injury time. Sadlier beats (Branden) Horton and gets a cross in the box.

“We cleared it, they put the ball out for a throw-in in the corner. Branden Horton’s 40 yards away and he runs for the ball. We get a goalkick, we spread and we chip it down the middle of the pitch to Richard Wood, who heads it down the middle of the pitch. Smith gets it and we’re 2-0 down.”

Left-back Horton was playing only his 16th senior match and Sadlier’s 126th was not making it easy. The 20-year-old made way to get Cukur on and allow Tommy Rowe to drop into his proper position as Rovers went 3-5-1-1.

Miller’s red card made it worse for Doncaster, making them show what they could do and exposing it as very little.

“The last 40 minutes we had all the time in the world on the ball,” moaned Wellens.

“We’re just not there yet in the final third.

“We had a break when Joe Mattock went down injured with 11 minutes to go and we said to them we’d told them to just cross the ball, even if it’s not a good position.”

Charlie Seaman, initially the emergency right winger but now wing-back, tried to do as he was told but three successive crosses summed up his and his team’s day – overhit, straight out from the byline and at the goalkeeper.

Referee Martin Coy added six minutes on but had he had any compassion, he would have taken 10 off.

“We can learn but I want to start winning games,” said Wellens.

“People will start saying, ‘They’re a really good team but you can run over them.’ We want to get to the stage where they say they’re a good football team that can hurt you.”

Rotherham are a good football team, better than early-season results suggest. But they did not get to be one in a matter of weeks. Doncaster will not either. There is defying logic and then there is writing fairytales.

Rotherham United: Johansson, Ihiekwe, Wood, Harding, Lindsay, Sadlier (Barlaser 72), Wiles, Rathbone (Edmonds-Green 90), Miller, Ladapo (Mattock 57), Smith. Unused substitutes: Tilt, Kayode, Odofin, Vickers.

Doncaster Rovers: Dahlberg, Knoyle, Ro-S Williams, John, Horton (Cukur 52), Bostock (Barlow 61), Close, Galbraith, Smith, Seaman, Rowe. Unused substitutes: Jones, Gardner, Greaves, Blythe, Ravenhill.

Referee: M Coy (County Durham).