5 Things We Learned: Rovers 2-1 Lincoln
It is back-to-back wins for Rovers as goals from Niall Ennis and Jon Taylor led to victory over old rivals Lincoln City in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday. Edging a competitive game 2-1 through Taylor’s late winner, the unbeaten Rovers move up to 8th place and can class the opening four games as a very solid start to the season. As optimism begins to grow around the capabilities of this side, we pull out five things gleaned from an impressive win over a team many expect to be at the top end of the table in May.
1. Darren Moore can pick a player
The most frequent topic discussed about our new manager since his arrival has undoubtedly been his wants and wishes in the transfer market. Darren Moore has made seven signings in his seven weeks at the helm, and several of them made a significant contribution to this victory. The opener from Niall Ennis was superb, the young forward picking Ian Lawlor’s long kick out of the air, shifting onto his left foot in front of the defender and unleashing a bullet of a shot into the top corner from over 20 yards out.
Ennis thrived as the lone striker, well supported by three longer tenured Rovers players, but when joined by two fellow Moore recruits later in the game, the match-winning mark was made by them. Snatching a rebound away from a Lincoln defender, Spurs loanee Kazaiah Sterling did brilliantly to work his way inside and, after having an initial shot parried back to him, picked out Jon Taylor to turn home what proved to be the winning goal. The diminutive winger was an under-the-radar signing having left Rotherham in the summer, but he has already proven decisive in two games, adding his first Rovers goal to the assist for Kieran Sadlier’s late equaliser at Rochdale a fortnight ago.
The swift impact of Ennis, Sterling and Taylor proves Moore knows what he is doing in the transfer market, eschewing targets lined up by the previous manager (such as Rangers’ Glenn Middleton) in order to bring in players he believes can strengthen his team. So far, so good on that front and the win over Lincoln is something he can point to going forward to justify his intentions in the transfer window.
2. Mental fortitude pulls Rovers through
This young side is clearly a work-in-progress and will be for some time as a new management team impart their ideas on a squad still learning about one another. That we have started with two wins and two draws then is a credit to how quickly everyone has knuckled down and got on with the task of blending together the quality and know-how to compete with the best sides in League One, but the kinks are still being worked out. We are yet to see a complete performance from Doncaster Rovers in 2019/20 but this game represented our best start to a game and the first time we scored the first goal in a fixture this season.
More impressive however was the way we fought to earn victory largely against the run of play after conceding an equaliser in the second half. That stat about conceding the first goal in every game can be spun into a positive, being that we are unbeaten in the league. That means we have come from behind three times, once to earn victory and twice to earn a point. We’ve also netted important late goals in three successive league games now, showing a desire and fortitude to compete to the last whistle that has often been missing under previous managers.
Darren Moore has been lauded for his man management skills and leadership attributes before coming back to DN4, and it is easy to surmise that he has put those skills into action to build the players’ will to fight, with the results borne out in our resilience and response to falling behind. It is a quality all teams strive for but few achieve, which can be worth crucial extra points over the course of the season, as seen when a never-say-die attitude carried us to the division championship in 2012/13 under Brian Flynn and Rob Jones.
3. Defensive resilience yet to be found
That being said, having to respond to conceding highlights a glaring deficiency present in the team right now. Rovers are yet to keep a clean sheet in any competitive game so far under Moore, and although mitigating factors such as injuries and a host of new signings in defence are certainly playing a part in that, it is simple enough that any football team wishing to be at the business end of the table needs to be able to keep clean sheets. The manager favours a strong possession-based tactical plan with the ball played out from the back constantly, which whilst admirable leads to teething problems ironing out such a system.
Brad Halliday endured a torrid time defending Rovers’ right flank on Saturday, up against the roving Harry Toffolo and skilful Jorge Grant, who used his quick feet to evade Halliday and get on the end of a deep cross to tap in the Imps’ equaliser. Our new right back is yet to find consistency in his play but is new to League One and still learning his role. Alongside him we are yet to see a settled central pairing owing to injuries suffered by Joe Wright and Alex Baptiste, but Tom Anderson improved on a shaky display against Fleetwood to boss Lincoln’s strikers out of the game and in Cameron John, Moore may have unearthed a real gem of a player.
The collective is not yet excelling above the individual as far as the defensive unit is concerned, but the elements are all there. Despite some brilliant performances from goalkeeper Ian Lawlor, Rovers are yet to manage a clean sheet and this must change quickly if we are to compete for a Play-Off place.
4. Madger just needs time
A bizarre injury to Ben Sheaf – an infected insect bite the ailment – afforded a chance for Spanish midfielder Madger Gomes to return to the starting line-up after being dropped to the bench for the win over Fleetwood. Gomes came in for some stick after a poor showing at Rochdale the week before, stick which is wholly unwarranted at any point from his own fans, much less two games into the season for a player with barely any senior experience, and was thrust into the central midfield role alongside captain Ben Whiteman for this tie.
Gomes played his part well here with some nice touches, supporting Whiteman the playmaker throughout and doing a good job getting up and down the pitch. He didn’t excel beyond his remit but was a committed performer and deserved the ovation he got from the fans as he walked off injured late in the game. Players like Gomes should be given that encouragement as they try to bed in, it is a daunting undertaking for a foreign-born player who hasn’t had much first team football in his career and who hasn’t really settled in one place for long enough to make his mark.
Madger has shown enough in his short time with Rovers so far to merit his inclusion within the squad and will hopefully improve further with more time, match action and support.
5. Who is the new striker, and where will he fit in?
Into the final week of the summer transfer window, there is still no #9 at Doncaster Rovers. The departure of John Marquis was a full four weeks ago now and whilst the arrivals of Kazaiah Sterling and Niall Ennis give Rovers options up front, the lack of an experienced centre forward will undoubtedly hamper us down the line if the position isn’t filled. Darren Moore sounds confident he will get his man before window slams shut, but after successive home wins in which we have created plenty of chances and the aforementioned young forwards have played their part, how will any new arrival fit in to the equation?
To ask 19- and 20-year-old players with a handful of senior games to lead the line for an entire season and contribute 20+ goals like Marquis did is unrealistic, so possessing multiple options is a must. It also allows for the manager to make game-changing tactical alterations such as the one that saw Sterling and Taylor come on and combine for the winning goal against Lincoln, so what type of player will Moore seek to bring in?
A more physical presence is probably what is needed, even if it isn’t an out-and-out target man. Fans clamour for a “big man up top” but Moore may not wish to play this way as it could compromise the fluidity and speed of attack that has developed in the early games of this season. Somebody with the mobility and work-rate to match Ennis or Alfie May, but also the physical intelligence and experience to outmatch defenders and score goals is the ideal candidate but putting a name to that blueprint is tough to achieve.
Whomever it may be, the identity of that elusive striker to replace Marquis has to reveal himself before this time next week. Bringing in the right player to fire Rovers forward could easily be the difference between success and failure for Darren Moore in his first season in charge.