• Adam Stubbings

5 Things We Learned: Burton 1-3 Rovers

Doncaster Rovers have their first EFL win over Burton Albion, and it’s a result that underlines their growing stature in League One this season.

Goals from Fejiri Okenabirhie, Ben Whiteman and Taylor Richards sealed a 3-1 victory at Pirelli Stadium to move Darren Moore’s side up to 4th place and within touching distance of the divisional summit, and here are five things we learned from our fourth win in a row.

Fejiri Steps Up Big

Moore rotated his team to give Tyreece John-Jules a rest and put the onus on Fejiri Okenabirhie to step up and lead the line. He did so with emphasis, putting in an accomplished centre forward display that began with his 8th minute opening goal. Okenabirhie is at his best when poaching in the 18-yard box and he did well to get into the goalmouth and finish off Cameron John’s cross, and he also won the penalty that put Rovers back in front in first half stoppage time.

Using his physical presence well, Okenabirhie bustled into the box to meet Reece James’ ball before being wiped out by Michael Bostwick, allowing Ben Whiteman to put Rovers ahead again. He could have had a second goal of his own after the break too, gaining space to move into the penalty area before firing just over the crossbar. Overall, the striker kept his levels up throughout the 90 minutes and was an effective focal point for the team in relieving pressure, tracking back into his own half and linking up well with team mates.

This is the sort of display we need to see more often from Okenabirhie, as he showed the capabilities that Moore wants in his attacking players. If he can take that momentum forward over the coming weeks then he will surely add to his seven goals for the season and become a bigger part of Rovers’ recent success.

Atonement for Richards

Arguably the best element of this win was the manner in which Rovers saw out the game for three points, restricting Burton in central attacking areas and grabbing the goals when opportunity knocked. Taylor Richards was a key factor in this but let himself and the side down when he gave away a needless penalty shortly before half time. Sliding in from the side on Joe Powell, the Brighton loanee looked gutted to have made the error but came out for the second half ready to make amends, and he did so in some style.

Showing great heart to win the ball ahead of Stephen Quinn, Richards then strode over the halfway line and made tracks for the goal, foregoing the chance to slide Reece James into a shooting position and letting fly himself, curling a superb strike past Kieran O’Hara in the Burton goal. That finish showed off the raw talents of the youngster and really took the wind out of the Brewers’ sails, allowing Rovers to see the game out in comfortable fashion.

Richards also played the through ball from which Cam John set up Okenabirhie for the opener, proving again that he has the necessary quality in the final third to be an asset to this team.

Imperious Butler a Driving Force

It is surely no coincidence that this recent winning run coincided with Andy Butler’s return to the first team line-up. The club legend has been a calming influence in the defensive unit, using his considerable experience to pull those aside him up to a higher level. The way he helps Cameron John has allowed the makeshift left back to establish himself as a solid option in the position, whilst the absence of Joe Wright has not been as keenly felt as it may have done if Butler wasn’t able to deputise.

Burton were by no means the highest quality team we’ll play this season, and were largely uninspiring going forward, but they did have plenty of the ball and were successful at building down the Rovers’ right flank, only to find themselves thwarted in central areas thanks largely to Butler’s aerial presence and the collective discipline of the back four. This has become a feature of Rovers’ efforts of late and has been a driving factor in these four straight wins.

Rotation Benefits Rovers

Making changes to keep the team fresh is a necessity in 2020/21, particularly in the midst of such a busy December, but Darren Moore is finding a way to maximise his squad options. Rovers made four changes for the trip to Burton – one enforced by Josh Sims’ injury – and those who came in largely impressed. Okenabirhie and Richards made match-winning contributions up front, John was a sturdy presence in defence and Jon Taylor made a solid return from injury without being spectacular.

Taylor is a more direct runner than Sims but made sure to protect the ball well in his right-wing zone and crafted a number of decent half-chances for Rovers. He managed more than an hour as he continues to build match fitness after injury and offered more than Jason Lokilo managed off the bench. The ability to rest Tyreece John-Jules and James Coppinger with no ill effect on the side could be crucial for upcoming matches with Shrewsbury, Accrington and Fleetwood looming too.

Lumley Settling In

This was Joe Lumley’s eighth outing for Rovers and he is starting to show signs that he is acclimating to the team’s style of play. It is surely not a complete coincidence that the team has won six of those eight games, and aside from his error in the defeat at Hull he has been a capable addition, especially in the emergency circumstances by which he came in to the club. Burton did not test him too regularly but when they did, he was equal to the challenge, and his unsighted save from Niall Ennis’ volley in the first half was a real highlight of the match.

Darren Moore’s top priority in the January transfer window will be sorting the goalkeeper situation out for the rest of the season, and Lumley now looks the favourite to win the role. He is unwanted by parent club Queens Park Rangers – who now have former Rovers loanee Seny Dieng keeping goal – and out of contract in the summer, so a deal is surely there to be done. The longer Lumley looks as composed and solid as he did here, the better it figures for both him and the team.