5 Things We Learned: Rovers 2-2 Burton
A difficult day in trying conditions meant a performance well below expectations for Darren Moore, but Rovers still came away with a point from a game that they could and should have lost. Here are five things we learned from Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Burton.
1. Defensive Dithering: Part One
Despite a lack of clean sheets, Rovers’ defence has up to now been largely an early success story for Darren Moore. His side possess the joint-seventh best defensive record in League One, with three clubs only one goal better off, but the relative solidity and composure deserted the team on Saturday. Both Burton goals came from awful errors at the back whilst several more great chances went begging for the visitors after Rovers gifted the ball to them in dangerous areas.
David Templeton’s opener was a superb curling effort, but he was handed the ball by Ben Sheaf inside the penalty area with ridiculous ease as Sheaf opted for a blind sideways pass into trouble rather than clearing it. He and Tom Anderson left it for each other in front of goal before Sheaf flicked it to Templeton, who had space to pick his spot, in a galling example of the one major flaw in the young Arsenal loanee’s game – that of trying to force passes when keeping it simple is a better option.
The midfielder was by no means the worst culprit – and was battling illness as it transpired after the game – but these sorts of misjudgements can be costly as was proven in this fixture.
2. Defensive Dithering: Part Two
As much as Sheaf’s mistake was a case of failing to learn from previous individual errors, the play that led to Burton’s second goal was a case of the team failing to adapt to a tactic that simply was not working on the day. Seny Dieng and Donervon Daniels contrived to make a total mess of a simple pass-out from the back, with Daniels miscontrolling Dieng’s short ball in the area leading to him tripping Joe Sbarra when the forward took the ball off him, allowing Lucas Akins to dispatch the penalty.
Frustratingly, Rovers just didn’t learn from previous let-offs. Twice in the first half Burton squandered great opportunities to score after similar errors, with Daniels the source of the giveaway on both occasions. First, Liam Boyce stretched to toe a ball across from Templeton wide after a sloppy clearance, then Scott Fraser made a mess of his close-range effort when Daniels had conceded possession deep in Rovers’ own territory. The goal did then come from Sheaf’s error but the distribution woes continued.
Nigel Clough was right to say after the game that his side had dropped two points, as the savvy veteran coach had his side pressing high from the off, causing numerous problems for Rovers. Daniels in particular couldn’t cope with the added pressure and so the incident that led to the Akins penalty felt somewhat inevitable, as his confidence sank the longer the afternoon wore on. It was his own slack backpass under no pressure that gave Dieng a harder job of getting the ball back to him as Burton pushed on the pair, and Daniels’ inability to keep his feet awaiting Sbarra’s charge led to the error.
Darren Moore maintained his trust in the players to stick to the edict of playing the ball out from the back but, lacking confidence from a catalogue of mistakes and up against a side very effective at disruption, switching to a more straight-forward, safe style of defensive play would have been the wiser option on this occasion.
3. Lady Luck has a mixed day
Going behind twice to avoidable goals can knock the mental stuffing out of the best of sides, but Rovers again showed their fortitude to quickly cancel out those goals here and grind out a potentially vital point. The home side trailed for only seven minutes combined in the game, with fortune playing a key role in the comeback.
Man of the Match Jon Taylor will be cursing Lady Luck rather than thanking her though as he could have almost single-handedly had Rovers in front at half time. It was Taylor who tucked home the equaliser at the second attempt after keeper Kieran O’Hara had brilliantly saved James Coppinger’s effort, but the reactions of four Burton defenders clustered around the six-yard box have to be called into question. Minutes later, a Taylor free kick barely stayed out after hitting the crossbar, then the back of a sprawling O’Hara before he was able to get his hands on it.
After the break, luck was back to help Rovers back into it after the self-inflicted Burton second. In just about the only example of playing through the lines from defence actually working in this one, James Coppinger found a yard of space in midfield to thread a beautiful ball through the defence for Kieran Sadlier to run on to, but the onrushing O’Hara meant Sadlier had to stab at it from the edge of the area. O’Hara’s block cannoned back up onto Sadlier (or perhaps defender Kieran Wallace, it is truly hard to tell on replay) and bobbled into the net for 2-2.
Couple that moment of happenstance with the trio of terrific chances Burton had in front of goal and missed, and Darren Moore will have been left thanking the footballing Gods before going to sleep that evening.
4. Taylor a lone bright spot
It would however be disingenuous to write off Rovers’ efforts as entirely down to fate. Jon Taylor was superb again and strolled away with the consensus Man of the Match award among fans despite the no-doubt tipsy sponsors giving the accolade to Sadlier in the stadium. Taylor’s composure got the equaliser for Rovers, the winger laying on a lovely give-and-go with Ben Whiteman to set Coppinger on for the initial shot before Taylor’s tenacity to get into the box and force a good save out of O’Hara before slotting in the rebound drew Rovers level.
He went close to a second with the aforementioned free kick that hit the bar and turned provider in the second half to lay on a couple of half-decent chances in the area for Sadlier and Whiteman. He picked up a knock late in the game, so had to be replaced by debutant Rakish Bingham, but is clearly growing into his role as a creative outlet in Moore’s 4-2-3-1 which relies heavily on the attacking trio behind the lone striker.
Saturday marked Taylor’s third goal of the season in addition to two assists, which is a decent tally for someone who came in without a proper pre-season.
5. Squad gaps starting to cost points
With absences starting to pile up, perhaps it was no surprise that Rovers struggled throughout this encounter. Several players who made key contributions in the early weeks of the season are currently absent, and the lack of squad depth is starting to strain. Donervon Daniels’ struggles highlighted the need to get Cameron John back, although it is slightly puzzling that Joe Wright has not yet been reintroduced as a starter now he’s fully recovered from injury.
Niall Ennis was missing with a muscle strain again meaning Kwame Thomas played the full 90 minutes up front, and whilst Thomas won plenty of headers he went to ground too easily, too often and failed to stretch the Burton defence. As a centre forward he didn’t have a single shot on goal which simply isn’t good enough, and thus far he pales in comparison to Ennis in terms of energy and link-up play despite two poacher’s goals at Southend.
The bench had an inexperienced look about it on Saturday, with Matty Blair another notable long-term absentee. Rakish Bingham did well when he came on but will have to hit the ground running to prove himself after an unremarkable career to date, with his signing representing another case of Moore plugging the gaps where he can until January.