5 Things We Learned: Doncaster 4-1 Bristol Rovers
Saturday was another banner day for Darren Moore and his young Doncaster Rovers team, as Bristol Rovers felt the full force of creativity and ruthlessness running throughout the boys in red. Indeed, the Gas must be sick of the sight of their fellow Rovers after an eleventh defeat in twelve meetings this side of the new Millennium.
In truth it could’ve been an even bigger rout than 4-1, and in games like this, Rovers make it easy to write about their efforts, so here are five things we learned from our first home victory of the season.
1. Taylor Menaces Bristol Backline
Although as many as seven or eight players could lay a claim on the Man of the Match award, it was winger Jon Taylor who got the nod from us after arguably his best performance in a Rovers shirt to date. The winger was a constant thorn in the side of Bristol Rovers’ defence, displaying tonnes of industry and end product in contributing to all four of the team’s goals.
His commitment and running have never been in question during the year-plus he’s spent at the club, but Taylor’s end product has been inconsistent as admitted by the man himself in his post-match interview on Saturday. The Liverpool-born wide player stated that his tally of 6 goals last season “could have been 12 or 15” and he isn’t wrong, but he is off the mark for 2020/21 and was as clinical as ever in his attacking play throughout, whilst his set piece delivery was vital as well.
Taylor was the man who sent in the indirect free kicks that led to both of Rovers’ first half goals, finished in the second phase by Joe Wright and Madger Gomes after Taylor’s ball in had found the head of Tom Anderson at the back post in a pair of well-executed routines. The tricky winger found a route to goal in the more traditional manner after the break, first cutting inside to lay on Taylor Richards for the third goal then stealing a march on his marker to break free and tap in Tyreece John-Jules’ centre at the back post for a deserved goal of his own.
Individual performances such as these are rare but if this early form is a sign of things to come, Jon Taylor may be able to step up and become a true team leader this season for Darren Moore and that can only be good news.
2. Loan Stars Lead the Way
Darren Moore has quickly reshaped his team in the wake of losing a number of key players from last season, and loan signings Taylor Richards and Tyreece John-Jules are right at the heart of that. Moore is tasked with finding a way forward in midfield without relying on the retiring James Coppinger and in Brighton loanee Richards he may have found the answer already, with the 19-year-old proving a talented all-rounder in what is essentially Coppinger’s #10 role.
Richards netted his first goal for the club against Bristol Rovers, taking Jon Taylor’s pass central on the edge of the area and manoeuvring through a clutch of bodies with textbook quick footwork before stroking a deft right-footed shot into the corner past goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola for Rovers’ third of the game. Richards’ work with the ball at his feet is a joy to behold and has proven very effective in each of the first three games this season so far.
John-Jules meanwhile contributed significantly again as the sole striker, keeping Fejiri Okenabirhie out of the starting line-up once more and rewarding the manager’s faith with a bright display, topped off by his superb assist for Taylor to finish the side’s fourth and final goal. The Arsenal loanee was dangerous in the penalty area and linked up play in excellent fashion, making life hard for Bristol Rovers and all too easy for his own teammates to feed off.
The pair have been dazzling in their play up to press and will only improve with more time on the training ground at Cantley Park. When Rayhaan Tulloch returns to fitness, he adds to the group as a trio of loan players Darren Moore can build his attack around.
3. Gomes Adds Method to his Magic
If you had said that Madger Gomes would lead the League One goalscoring charts at any stage this season back in the summer, you would have been laughed at. The Spanish midfielder showed improvement throughout his maiden campaign at Rovers but never troubled the scoresheet and has been asked to fill a deeper central role in 2020/21 so far as Darren Moore has not yet been able to add a replacement for Ben Sheaf to the squad.
Gomes has been a revelation with four goals in five games and continued his scoring run with a belting strike in the first half on Saturday. Each of his goals this season have been fantastic hits borne out of confidence and freedom, and it is to the credit of both player and manager that Gomes has come to the fore so quickly over the past few weeks.
His off the ball work is steadily improving, evidenced by the 84.4% pass completion rate he posted in this game, whilst the intelligence shown for his goal in dropping off to the penalty spot as everyone rushed towards goal at Taylor’s free kick delivery in order to run on and unleash a rasping drive into the top corner is very encouraging. If he keeps working on these areas of his game, he will soon be a complete midfielder and someone Rovers can rely on regularly to help control games.
4. Coppinger Remains the Master
James Coppinger has been made to wait to make his mark on what should be the final year of his storied playing career, but it should come as no surprise that when granted that chance he impressed. Introduced as a half time substitute for a fatigued Jason Lokilo, the 39-year-old made an immediate impression on Bristol Rovers and soon got up to his usual tricks around the edge of the final third, orchestrating play and moving the ball across the pitch to maximise Rovers’ attacking intentions.
This was no more evident than for Taylor’s goal. First he took a cross-field ball out of the air and played a one-two with Reece James, then he fed the ball back to Madger Gomes in order to run beyond two midfielders and take the return ball. There he spun on a dime and threaded the ball beyond the defence to John-Jules, who squared for Taylor to score. It sounds complicated yet Coppinger made it look easy, truly the architect of the goal in classic fashion.
He contributed far more than Lokilo, despite the winger going close with two shots in the first half. Whilst Lokilo completed only eight passes in the game, two of which were in the attacking third, and posted the second worst pass completion in the team (better only than centre half Tom Anderson), Coppinger completed 29 passes, 15 of which were in the attacking third and laid on a goal, as well as getting about the field much more frequently.
The veteran will undoubtedly be a crucial player for Rovers this season even if we don’t see him quite as much as we’re used to.
5. Robust Rovers Unmoved by Physical Challenge
Opponents Bristol Rovers opted for a physical game to try and stop the home side on Saturday but it did not work, and much of that needs to be put down to the team’s collective willingness to meet that challenge. Forwards proved adept at winning free kicks and were not fazed by the overly competitive nature of the Gas defence in particular, and profited from this with two goals from free kicks won high up the field in the first half.
At the other end, the defence stood up to the pressure well despite a lively performance by central striker Brandon Hanlan, and both Joe Wright and Tom Anderson proved robust and ready once again, Wright getting on the scoresheet to add a bonus to another top-level display. Anderson meanwhile got a bloody nose for his trouble yet again but was unmoved and unmatched by Hanlan or any other Bristol Rovers player, and Rovers managed to do enough to contain the creativity of midfielder Zain Westbrooke.
This ability to step up and compete with more functional, strength-based sides in League One will be needed down the stretch this season and this early victory against such a side shows that Darren Moore has the tools equipped to see off the pressure posed by these sides when push comes to shove, another feather in the cap of a developing team looking like true challengers at this early stage of the campaign.