5 Things We Learned: Rovers 0-1 Blackpool
A sucker punch at the death handed Rovers a first league defeat under Darren Moore on a frustrating night under the floodlights at the Keepmoat Stadium. Here are five things we took away from the home loss to Blackpool.
1. Gameplan pays off for Grayson
Full credit to Blackpool for setting up to stifle Rovers’ creative outlets, doing just that with a bold 3-5-2 formation that gave them a man advantage in the middle of the park. Ben Whiteman and Ben Sheaf struggled to impose themselves on proceedings until late in the game in terms of possession thanks to the tireless and effective work of Jay Spearing, Matty Virtue and, in particular, Jordan Thompson. Nullified by the press, Rovers were faced with finding alternative routes through to attack and the energy of this trio also made life hard for Kieran Sadlier operating at #10.
Added to that, the bold decision of Simon Grayson to leave his two main goal threats on the bench also paid off as the second half introduction of Sullay Kaikai and eventual match winner Armand Gnanduillet freshened the attacking ranks of the Seasiders at the perfect time and allowed them to switch up their style as Rovers took control of possession but made themselves more vulnerable to the breakaway. That was borne out in the injury time winner as Liam Feeney streaked away from Reece James down the wing and crossed for Gnanduillet to head home after Ben Whiteman had cheaply given the ball away in the Blackpool half.
2. Ennis’ struggles highlight the big issue
The other major battle that Rovers lost was in the attacking third, as Niall Ennis found himself bullied by the gargantuan defensive trio deployed by Blackpool. The youngster had a torrid time in the physical battle against Curtis Tilt, who also denied a goal when Ennis took hold of the best chance of the game for the home side. Running on to a superb lofted through ball by Whiteman, Ennis touched beyond the keeper and shifted to hit a right foot shot that only stayed out courtesy of Tilt’s head getting in the way in the goalmouth.
Ennis ran his socks off and carved out a few good chances but wasn’t able to leave a lasting impression on the opposing defenders, with Tilt, Ben Heneghan and Ryan Edwards protecting the 18-yard box solidly throughout. Although multi-talented, Ennis is perhaps not best suited to the lone frontman role and so another way forward to get the best out of him may be needed from Darren Moore. A return to fitness for Kazaiah Sterling may allow a switch to two central strikers with the pair able to share the burden, but time will tell.
3. Coppinger sorely missed from the start
At 38 years old, we can’t expect James Coppinger to play 90 minutes three times in the space of a week, but the special nuance that he brings to his performances and to the team as a collective are always vital and that is never more evident than when he isn’t in the side. Smartly rested ahead of another tough clash with Peterborough on Saturday, Copps’ absence led to Kieran Sadlier taking his place in the #10 slot, but a combination of excellent pressing and a lack of experience in terms of cohesion meant it was a tough night for the Irishman.
Although responsible for two real moments of quality to work his way to shooting opportunities in the first half, Sadlier wasn’t able to knit Rovers’ attacking play together as the true ‘Trequartista’ he was tasked with being, and it showed in how tough the team found it to carve out real clear-cut chances. Coppinger’s introduction from the bench meant making the ball stick higher up the field more often, and it seems to be the case that the best place for Sadlier is probably cutting in from wide areas and linking play around the defensive line instead.
Sadlier may yet grow into this role but it is plain to see that replacing what Coppinger brings to the side is a mighty, mighty undertaking for whomever is charged with finding it when the great man finally calls it a day.
4. Taylor looking a savvy addition
Aside from Sadlier, the only player making anything concrete happen in the attacking third in the first half was Jon Taylor. A real livewire, Taylor is one of the most direct wide midfielders we have seen in the hoops in years and always wants to take his man on and work space both on the touchline and inside the full back. He carved out several chances for himself either side of half time and was much more effective than Alfie May, who struggled with the physicality of Blackpool after coming on early for the injured Matty Blair.
Taylor tired as the game wore on which is understandable considering his lack of a proper pre-season, but he has shown now in a handful of outings that he can threaten against any opponent. He provides balance and interchangeability to the side and could grow into a real asset. He is also the only player other than Coppinger left in the squad capable of delivering dangerous, varied set piece deliveries which cannot be discounted. Although a late window pick-up, Taylor could easily become Darren Moore’s first real success in the transfer market with Rovers.
5. Questions for Lawlor
Goalkeeper Ian Lawlor has well justified earning the #1 shirt at the start of the season with some confident, accomplished displays in the early part of this season. However, Tuesday night was an example of why the Irish stopper is still a developing player and not yet the finished article. Struggling to deal with the advanced press of Blackpool’s front seven, his decision-making in distribution was often lacking and contributed to a lot of cheap possession losses, none more so than when he gifted the ball straight to Ryan Hardie in the second half only for the forward to fluff his lines allowing Lawlor to make a routine stop and atone for the error.
Command of the area is one other concern in Lawlor’s game, one which he has always had. It is a choice for a #1 whether to be a roving ‘sweeper keeper’ or a stopper and Lawlor favours the latter, but it can be costly as was evident in Gnanduillet rising largely unchallenged in the six yard area to head in a winner that Lawlor simply could not stop. Understudy Seny Dieng has shown that he prefers the former playing style, commanding his box with assertiveness and one could wager he would probably have tried to meet Feeney’s cross rather than wait to see if a defender beat the 6’4” Gnanduillet to it instead.
It is worth noting that Lawlor did make an excellent diving stop from Hardie in the first half after the Scotsman got the better of Tom Anderson, so this is by no means a hit-piece on our first choice goalkeeper. His shot-stopping is generally superb and he is a far more polished player than he was even 6 months ago, but there are still flaws that need to be ironed out and question marks remain over his viability as the long-term choice between the sticks.