• Adam Stubbings

5 Things We Learned from Wigan 1-0 Rovers

Doncaster Rovers crashed back to earth with a bump on Saturday, losing 1-0 at Wigan in a game that they should have won comfortably. A reality check in the pouring rain will no doubt disappoint and frustrate Darren Moore in equal measure, as well as reshaping the focus for the players to iron out the mistakes that led to the defeat.

Here are five things we learned from a wet and miserable afternoon in Lancashire.

1. Finishing Touch Deserts Reds

Rovers made a solid start at the DW Stadium, taking control of the ball and crafting plenty of chances to score. The problem came at that final point as a series of opportunities went begging and the visitors failed to make their superiority in general play count. Wigan were understandably easy to dominate in the first half, short on players and forced to pair a winger with a new signing at centre half, but they got away with numerous slack defensive errors through a combination of good goalkeeping and more so poor finishing by Rovers.

James Coppinger did sting the gloves of Latics keeper Jamie Jones with a pair of efforts inside the penalty area, but he also blazed a good chance over the bar after superb build-up play, whilst Tyreece John-Jules missed the target from close range and both Madger Gomes and Jon Taylor put shots wide when well placed, all in the first half. Aside from a very good shout for a penalty for handball against Joe Wright, Wigan barely threatened in the opening 45 minutes and were fortunate to go in to the break level.

2. Overconfidence and Ineptitude, A Bad Mix

Rovers had every reason to be confident going into the second half, having had the better of things up to that point and coming off the back of two very impressive wins against Charlton and Bristol Rovers. However, a touch of overconfidence seemed to creep into the play with misplaced passes occurring more frequently as the likes of Ben Whiteman and Taylor Richards - usually much more composed on the ball - tried too often to thread the ball through the eye of the needle when simpler options were on, disrupting the team’s rhythm.

Couple that with defensive mistakes and you have a recipe for disaster, as was proven just before the hour mark when Wigan scored what proved to be the winner thanks to a litany of errors by Rovers players. First, Joe Wright lost the ball in his own area when a simple clearance would have done, then Reece James failed to close down Viv Solomon-Otabor as he crossed into the area for Joe Garner to head home. Brad Halliday didn’t compete for the ball, allowing Garner an easy run on to the delivery which wrong-footed Joe Bursik and nestled in the middle of the goal.

All of this together adds up to a sloppy goal conceded and a game lost as a direct result, as from there Rovers completely lost their grip on the game. Bursik did make a superb save to deny Wigan a second through Solomon-Otabor minutes later, but again the defence was exposed by mistakes as first Whiteman and then Halliday gave the ball away too easily, allowing the Latics in. Manager Moore must be annoyed by the way his side threw the result away here and won’t be quick to blame extraneous factors like the weather either, knowing his players must do better.

3. Muddled Midfield Highlights Missing Piece

The trio of Ben Whiteman, Madger Gomes and Taylor Richards has worked well for Rovers in the opening few games, not least because the way the team has played on the front-foot allowed Richards and Gomes freedom to affect play high up the field more so than defensively. However, the duo’s lack of refinement in these areas was shown up by Wigan as they began to grow in stature throughout the second half, and the lack of grit displayed by the midfield on the whole surely indicates to the manager where he needs to add a body.

Rovers have done good business this summer, especially with the financial climate as it is in the pandemic, but the one need not yet addressed is a proper replacement for Ben Sheaf, who combined so well with Whiteman last season in his loan spell from Arsenal. Gomes has come in and made a hot start to 2020/21, but he is beaten by opponents too easily and too often to be ready to take on that more grounded central role, and is much better operating in the attacking third, linking with forwards and looking to get on the scoresheet.

Richards as well is clearly better suited to this sort of game and in truth should be competing with Gomes for the #10 spot, whilst Whiteman is also affected by having to do extra defensive work. Wigan exploited this just as MK Dons did on the opening day, so with ten days to go in the Domestic Transfer Window, Rovers have to try and bring someone in to help that midfield unit.

4. Fejiri Slow Out The Blocks

One person who has not benefited from the good transfer business the club have done this summer is striker Fejiri Okenabirhie. Signed in January to take on the mantle of being Darren Moore’s main striker and goal threat, the former Shrewsbury man has seen himself relegated to the substitute’s bench after the arrival on loan of Tyreece John-Jules and limited to brief appearances in the second half of league games so far this season.

He fluffed a great chance for a goal late on in the 4-1 win over Bristol Rovers and that rustiness is starting to become a concern, as he also failed to impose himself on the game at Wigan despite getting 20 minutes to try and bring Rovers back level. Playing alongside John-Jules in a reworked front-line pairing, Okenabirhie got on the ball and got stuck into the physical battle with defenders but was unable to get close to a goal, even when put clean through on goal by John-Jules, instead running the ball out for a goal kick.

The striker will hopefully find form again once he’s given a chance to play regularly, and he has a great chance in midweek when Rovers take on Oldham in the EFL Trophy as John-Jules is away on international duty with England U20s, but he will have to make an impact soon or else questions will be asked about his ability to contribute.

5. No Head in Clouds for Rovers

One positive of this result is that it will stop anyone getting carried away with where Rovers are currently in their progress as a squad. There is plenty to be optimistic about and on the whole, these first four games of the League One season represent a very solid effort, with seven points gained and some excellent football on show at times. It remains a young squad that Darren Moore has at his disposal and many of these players will only get better as the season goes on, so the fast start made bodes well for the coming months.

Something else the defeat does is keep those players grounded. The likes of John-Jules and Richards are used to winning at youth level but need to know they are in a real scrap for places in the EFL, whilst their more established team mates will know that work must be done to maintain consistency across the campaign. On another day, Rovers could have won by four or five against this Wigan side and they should take heart from that.