• Adam Stubbings

5 Things We Learned: Rovers 0-1 Shrewsbury

Doncaster Rovers huffed and puffed but couldn’t find a route to goal as they fell to defeat against Shrewsbury, blowing the chance to go top of the table for Christmas.

Here are five things we learned from Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss.

1. No Cutting Edge in Attack

Darren Moore named a strong, positive line-up for the game by selecting both Tyreece John-Jules and Fejiri Okenabirhie for the game, and Rovers played on the front foot from the first minute to the last, but rarely crafted clear-cut opportunities in front of goal despite registering 19 shots. Unfortunately, they simply didn’t test Shrews keeper Matija Sarkic nearly enough.

Play up to the edge of the penalty area was generally very good, as Rovers moved their opponents around and worked the space out wide to good effect. Jon Taylor showed plenty of endeavour, there were a number of dangerous crosses from substitute Jason Lokilo, and on the rare occasions that Sarkic was tested – most notably when making a great diving save to deny John-Jules with a header in the second half – the chances came from the flank.

It just didn’t happen often enough, and the team didn’t adapt to the restrictions Shrewsbury put on their attacking efforts. Long range efforts from Ben Whiteman and Taylor Richards didn’t trouble the goal and Taylor put a good chance wide when well placed inside the box, but aside from that and a goal disallowed for offside from Fejiri Okenabirhie early on, the visitors had a comfortable night inside their own 18-yard box and that put paid to any hope of a fifth straight Rovers victory.

2. Set Pieces Woes

The winning goal came shortly after the interval, and it came from a free kick out wide after a foul by Taylor Richards. A peach of a delivery into a crowded box was headed home strongly by defender Aaron Pierre, paying off the half time change of shape that Steve Cotterill deployed allowing Shrewsbury to come out with more intent from their own half. Being undone by a set piece is frustrating at the best of times, but when combined with a complete lack of threat from our own it meant a truly trying experience for Rovers.

The truth is that this team doesn’t do enough to trouble the scoresheet from corners and free kicks, and that was put into sharp focus by the difficulty found in putting the ball into dangerous areas to hurt Shrewsbury. Corner delivery from a number of players was sub-par throughout the night and if the ball had been able to get to physical threats like Tom Anderson, Andy Butler and John-Jules more often, it could have been a different story for Darren Moore’s side.

3. Changes Come Late

It became apparent before the hour mark that Rovers were not going to have much joy with their preferred method of attack, yet Moore waited to make substitutions that could have altered proceedings. Cotterill had already done this for his team, acting at the break to bring Shilow Tracey on for Dave Edwards which allowed him to change the shape of the team – a move which paid off handsomely – yet it took until the 74th minute for Moore to do the same.

When he did, Jason Lokilo proved a positive swap for Jon Taylor. The Belgian winger became a focal point for Rovers’ attacking endeavours and he had both Matt Millar and former Premier League defender Charlie Daniels turning in circles for the last quarter of an hour, but he was one of only two subs deployed by Moore. James Coppinger came on for the final ten minutes but was unable to impose himself too much with space restricted in central areas.

Moore has made good use of his bench in games this season but this was a departure from that. It remains to be seen however how much of a part player fatigue and the need to manage minutes played ahead of two more big league games in the coming week.

4. Okenabirhie Building Steam

In a more positive light, striker Fejiri Okenabirhie is beginning to build momentum in his own personal performance. If the call had gone his way on a very tight offside call, he would have opened the scoring in the 9th minute and this game may well have gone in Rovers’ favour, but regardless of that he was unlucky not to have more to show for his efforts up front following on from a Man of the Match display at Burton last Saturday.

Okenabirhie has moved up a gear in these two games, holding the ball up very well and getting into the area to get shots away and challenge the goalkeeper. This is in stark contrast to some of his previous outings this season and he clearly had plenty of desire to impress against the team that discarded him in January of this year, allowing Rovers to swoop in and sign him up. If he can keep this form going over a longer run of games, he can easily be on for a great season in the red and white hoops.

5. A Blip, Not Bust

Whilst it is disappointing to miss out on top spot in the table, the fact that Rovers were even in that position at this stage of the season is very impressive. This game was something of a bonus after a brilliant run of four straight victories, and the team has another chance to go top on Boxing Day with Portsmouth and Hull not in action. The performance over 90 minutes was also very strong, with Rovers again dominating play, working the ball in the opposition half with regularity and getting shots on goal often.

Therefore, there is no reason to think this is anything more than a one-off, and 12 points from a possible 15 since the late loss at Hull to kick off December is a superb haul. The team is moving in the right direction and there is plenty of time left this season for improvement and development throughout the squad. January represents a chance to refresh the side a bit and make a renewed push, and if Moore and co. keep up even a semblance of their current form they will be promotion contenders.