• Adam Stubbings

5 Things We Learned: Charlton 1-3 Rovers

Doncaster Rovers have their first victory of the season, won in style at The Valley on Saturday. Rovers dispensed with opponents Charlton to get their 2020/21 campaign up and running and demonstrated plenty to get excited about in the process.

Here are five things we learned from the 3-1 win at Charlton.

1. Moore Vindicated by Lessons Learned

Darren Moore came in for some criticism for his team selection following the relatively lacklustre performance against Milton Keynes on the opening day, but defended his decision to throw new signings Rayhaan Tulloch and Tyreece John-Jules in at the deep end and committed to working in training throughout the following week to bring the entire squad along and learn from the things that went wrong in that game. Questions were asked again when Moore named the same line-up against Charlton, electing to leave Fejiri Okenabirhie and James Coppinger on the bench for a second straight week.

The performance and result against the Addicks fully vindicated the manager however, as John-Jules starred and the unheralded attacking line that still didn’t feature Copps or Fejiri took Charlton apart to win 3-1. Arsenal loanee John-Jules scored a brilliant solo goal and put in a real shift, pressing hard and high and causing numerous problems for the opposition defence, including forcing the error by Darren Pratley that led to Madger Gomes opening the scoring.

Gomes improved in his overall play too, working alongside captain Ben Whiteman and young Taylor Richards to ensure Rovers were not cut through as easily or as often as they were against Russell Martin’s MK outfit, whilst the defence stood up to extended pressure in the final period of the game after Conor Washington had pulled a goal back for Charlton. The players to a man clearly bought in to the ideas put across on the training ground in the week and looked all the more unified for an extra week together as well.

2. Element of Control Leads to Victory

The efforts of the midfield made a big difference, with Whiteman studious in midfield and able to put his stamp on proceedings much better than in the previous game. After getting to grips with the contest inside the opening 20 minutes, Rovers began to build attack after attack through the midfield, with Richards and Gomes combative and fluid in their play and Whiteman able to link play through the thirds as well as he is capable of, an asset that Rovers must do all they can to hold onto in this transfer window.

A willingness to get forward on the front foot led to the opening goal as Jason Lokilo - on as an early substitute for the injured Tulloch - made a key interception and the proactive movement of Whiteman and then Gomes led to the Spaniard scoring his third goal of the season to make it 1-0. This urgency and endeavour from the midfield trio was the crucial difference between a fortunate draw on the opening day and an emphatic victory here.

Charlton altered their set-up and went to a 3-5-2 shape that has been familiar for Lee Bowyer during his time in charge at The Valley, but Rovers were not swayed by this and doubled the lead soon after the restart thanks to Whiteman’s dangerous low cross from the right being turned in for an own goal by Charlie Barker. The captain capped a Man of the Match display by assisting John-Jules for his spectacular third goal, underlining the importance of the central unit to Darren Moore’s preferred style of play.

3. Injury Blow Softened by Depth

The early injury to Rayhaan Tulloch - likely a muscle injury in his leg - was a shame as the West Brom starlet had shown flashes of brilliance on his debut the week before, but his replacement Jason Lokilo was lively in the final third and clearly keen to impress, contributing to two of the goals and showing enough to merit a start against Bristol Rovers should Tulloch be unavailable. Reece James also went off with a leg injury later in the game after an impressive display, but was capably deputised by Cameron John as Rovers closed out the win.

This strength in depth is a breath of fresh air and means losing first team players to injury like this is less disruptive. Both Lokilo and John slotted in with no problem and would not look out of place if called to start next week, whilst the bench overall has a very strong feel to it at the moment with options across the side. The fact that Okenabirhie’s undoubted qualities were not missed against Charlton speaks to this and means players like him, Coppinger and Ed Williams can stay fresh for games down the road when the schedule is busier.

4. The Best Defensive Duo in League One?

Several players were in the conversation for Man of the Match on Saturday and both Tom Anderson and Joe Wright made strong claims. Having got into a comfortable 3-0 lead, Rovers had to weather the storm somewhat in the final 20 minutes after Charlton had clawed a goal back, with the defensive front meeting that challenge superbly to ensure the side saw the game out and earned three points. Anderson was his usual dominant self in the air, heading away everything and getting the better of Addicks striker Macauley Bonne on a number of occasions.

Wright meanwhile made a crucial interception to deny Washington at the near post and nicked the ball off the toe of Bonne when well placed to score, and earned League One Team of the Week honours as a result. This pairing have developed a fantastic understanding of each other’s game and their synergy catapulted Rovers to one of the best defensive records in the division last season. They have picked up where they left off and could make the case for being the most well-rounded central duo at this level, even if the spotlight doesn’t shine on either of them often.

5. Open Division Means Opportunity

Charlton are suffering from big problems off the field at the moment and have a small squad thanks to a soft transfer embargo, but they still boast several top class players for League One and in Lee Bowyer have a terrific manager with the know-how to win promotion to the Championship. Any side that can bring Jonny Williams off the bench contains plenty of quality, and Rovers faced down that quality on Saturday in a side containing talents like Williams, Bonne, Washington, Pratley and Alex Gilbey.

The reality is that League One is wide open this year with obvious deficiencies in all of the so-called “big clubs”. Fancied sides like Portsmouth and Oxford have made poor starts, Peterborough were minutes away from back-to-back defeats to start the season and Sunderland still haven’t added the sort of quality expected for a club with such vast resources. Darren Moore’s side showed plenty of quality, efficiency and steel on Saturday to mark themselves out as a threat and time will only help Doncaster Rovers to develop further into true contenders.