5 Things We Learned: Rovers 2-1 Rotherham
There’s nothing sweeter than a win over Rotherham. If coming from behind to do so is the icing on the cake, then a late winner from the penalty spot is the cherry on top. Ben Whiteman sent Lewis Price the wrong way to seal a third straight league win for Darren Moore and the Rovers this past weekend, lifting any lingering gloom over a transfer window that failed to live up to expectations. Today we take a look at five things we can learn from the 2-1 victory against our local rivals.
1. The pieces begin to fit together
Disappointment over the club’s failure to secure an experienced replacement for John Marquis up front is understandable, but despite a heavy influx of young players this summer, the reasons behind Darren Moore’s recruitment strategy appear to be coming together. Although short on experience, the most featured new boys so far have demonstrated their worth and began to gel together with the squad into a formidable unit, something which has been more apparent with each passing game and which came to the fore against Rotherham.
Through the spine of the team, a trio of players barely old enough to drink are showcasing their ability and intelligence. Cameron John, although nervous at times in a big derby, added to his growing portfolio with a mature display in defence, whilst Ben Sheaf put in his best overall performance in a Rovers shirt so far to help the midfield take control of the game in the second half. On up front at half time, Niall Ennis once again made his case for being the true Marquis replacement at centre forward, setting up James Coppinger’s equaliser with quality and oodles of tenacity before earning the penalty that won the game with his strength and determination to see off the manhandling of Michael Ihiekwe.
At full back, both Reece James and Brad Halliday showed improvement (although James comes from a much more accomplished starting point than Halliday) as part of a defensive unit that contributed plenty going forward, and the endeavour of former Rotherham winger Jon Taylor cannot be faulted. Kazaiah Sterling was feeding off scraps before pulling up with a dead leg just before half time, but the lively young striker has undoubtedly got more to show in the near future.
Overall, the balance of the side looks good and the speed with which several unheralded young players have adapted to the rigours of League One is admirable and encouraging for Rovers fans.
2. Copps can do no wrong
Man of the Match again, named in the EFL Team of the Week once more, it is just about a weekly guarantee that James Coppinger is going to deliver on his top-class reputation in a Doncaster Rovers shirt. Saturday was no different as the veteran spear-headed the Rovers comeback in the second half, capping off a fine passing move down the right flank by turning Niall Ennis’ cutback into the goal for the equaliser.
Darren Moore seems to have more respect for the endurance of Coppinger than some of his predecessors, keeping him on the field for the full 90 minutes more often to help see through a game, whilst deploying the evergreen midfielder in the central ‘#10’ position allows him to exert more influence on our possession and attacking moves than he was usually afforded under Grant McCann.
Still able to muster up a chip on his shoulder this late in his career, Copps made sure his equaliser was noted in the away end as he turned and ran towards them with his arms outstretched after nabbing his goal, stating after the game that he wanted to make a point to their fans after some clearly unwarranted stick relating to his age and ability to damage them over the years. All in all, Coppinger remains irrepressible and a crucial element in this brave new Rovers side.
3. Kieran Sadlier: Game Changer
The manager sprung a surprise when he left Kieran Sadlier on the bench from the start of this game, with Jon Taylor preferred against his former club. Sadlier was available after missing out on the final Republic of Ireland squad despite a provisional call-up and had started every game under Moore to date, netting two goals. It took until just past the hour mark for Sadlier to be introduced, on in place of Alfie May with Rovers still chasing the game following Jake Hastie’s fortunate opener from an indirect free kick in the first half.
It didn’t take long for Sadlier to make his mark on proceedings as he was involved in Coppinger’s equaliser just minutes after coming on. Taking the ball with his back to goal and two defenders bearing down, he shifted right and sent the ball wide to Brad Halliday, who played in Ennis to set up Coppinger. Playing primarily on the left hand side thereafter, Sadlier linked up with Reece James multiple times to create chances in the box and his energetic presence caught Rotherham out multiple times.
He will likely start again next week, but in terms of an impact substitute Sadlier was the perfect candidate here and Darren Moore made the most of this. He changes the dynamic of our attack wherever he plays and is showing the cutting edge that brought him plaudits in the League of Ireland leading to his move to Rovers in January.
4. Big Tom standing tall
Another player coming into his own with increased responsibility in the side is Tom Anderson. Since Joe Wright’s injury in our final game of pre-season, Anderson has become the leader of the defensive quartet and has stepped up to the plate in a big way. Since arriving in the middle of Darren Ferguson’s last season as injury cover, Anderson hasn’t had much chance to establish himself in the first XI due to a combination of factors. The departure of Andy Butler in the summer and aforementioned injury to Wright put him in the spotlight and he has proven invaluable through the first month of this campaign.
Anderson suffered a nasty broken jaw in one of his first games for Rovers, coming in a cruel 2-1 loss at Rotherham in the last meeting between these sides. Here he was a towering force who largely kept the precocious Freddie Ladapo out of the game and covered errors made early on by a nervy looking Cameron John. Anderson also threatened in attack from one of James Coppinger’s lofted corners and is sure to grab a couple of important goals with his height as the season wears on. He is fast becoming the linchpin of our back four and one of the first names on the team sheet. Long may that continue!
5. Rovers must learn to strike first
It isn’t all positive though, and Rovers once again found themselves behind in the game. A familiar occurrence, Rovers have now conceded first in four out of five league games (six in seven in all competitions) and are yet to keep a clean sheet in any competition. Ian Lawlor cannot take the blame for that having made some brilliant saves in games and finding himself unsighted for Hastie’s free kick in this game, but something remains amiss in the mentality of Rovers defensively.
Whether that is down to concentration or something else remains to be seen, but it must be a concern for Darren Moore. Whilst the fighting spirit of the side to continually come back and win having gone behind is a welcome trait, we shouldn’t put ourselves in a position to have to fight back so often. There have been some excellent displays from defenders individually already this term but as a collective we haven’t yet seen the complete performance so Moore and his coaching staff must continue to work out the kinks to ensure Rovers can start racking up clean sheets.
If they do, think about just how dangerous to the rest of League One this Rovers team can be having already found the knack for scoring goals and winning games.