5 Things We Learned: Rovers 3-1 Southend
Another win and a league double to boot for Darren Moore and his Doncaster Rovers side as they dispatched relegation candidates Southend United at the Keepmoat Stadium last night. Here are five things we learned from the side’s fourth January win from six outings.
1. Clinical Makes Comfortable
In a results business, this win will leave everyone at Rovers smiling. However, Darren Moore stated that the performance from his side was “not quite the standard” that it should have been and that’s a fair comment, as well as a sign that Moore is not somebody to rest on his laurels when a scoreline masks shortcomings. Southend clearly posed little threat and have the worst record in League One for a reason, so the fact that Rovers found it hard to break them down at times with poor decision making and sloppy play is a little disappointing.
That said, the three points are all that matters and they came courtesy of three high quality goals. Rovers showed that their prowess in front of goal is not lacking as Niall Ennis took a delightful turn and shot into the corner to open the scoring before Kieran Sadlier added two superb finishes. James Coppinger also struck a post whilst debutant Devante Cole was unlucky to see his late effort blocked too.
As modest as our opponents were, the clinical edge and overall comfortability Rovers had once in front is the mark of a successful side. Teams who can win whilst playing below their optimum level usually find themselves at the top end of the table come May.
2. Ennis Makes A Case
The final week of the January transfer window has inevitability led to rampant speculation and increased gossip reports on potential incomings at the club, mostly revolving around centre forwards. Niall Ennis has spent the first half of the season as Rovers’ only recognisable striking option and he has performed valiantly without setting the world alight. His committed displays have brought praise for the tenacity, teamwork and energy Ennis has brought, but it has not quietened the expectation that senior reinforcements would arrive.
The first of those additions came on Monday with the signing of Devante Cole, whilst today’s reports of an imminent signing in the form of Shrewsbury striker Fejiri Okenabirhie serves to further highlight the challenge ahead of young Niall. Whether he knew it or not, this game represented something of an audition for him to prove why Darren Moore should stick with what he already has in the starting line-up, and he passed with flying colours.
Ennis, clearly back to his best since returning to full fitness around Christmas, led the line superbly again against Southend, besting the Shrimpers defence time after time and taking his moment brilliantly with a lovely touch, turn and finish to put Rovers 1-0 up. His level sustained from there and he frequently created space for team mates to press on the penalty area. Ennis spoke of relishing the competition for places after the game and on this showing has the edge ahead of Cole and Okenabirhie (if he joins) for now.
3. Full Backs Key To Success
Consistency in team performance may not be there right now, but who can name the last time both Reece James and Brad Halliday played below par? As far as individuals go, the summer recruits at full back have been as good as anyone else as the season has worn on, with Halliday in particular making marked strides forward since the start of the campaign. Both have played a key role in the recent defensive excellence and are beginning to show real threat going forward too.
This attacking prominence was acutely noticeable against Southend, a team playing wing backs and three centre halves who struggled to impose themselves out wide despite the suitable formation. James and Halliday pushed them back and frequently found channels to cut through and carve out opportunities, an asset that not many teams at this level have in their wide defenders.
James assisted the opening goal by cutting forward inside the left wing and laying off for Ennis to score, following on from an effort of his own a minute earlier when he took up the position of an attacking midfielder before firing wide from 20 yards. He and Halliday took attacking positions high up the field plenty, and it was James who almost set Cole on right in front of goal late on before a lovely run through three Southend defenders allowed him to find Cole for his blocked effort in injury time.
Halliday too took the responsibility of bringing the ball to the edge of the area a few times, usually laying it off for Whiteman or Taylor to craft shooting opportunities. This type of full back play is a huge part of Darren Moore’s possession game and it is starting to bear real fruit thanks to the form of this duo.
4. Joe The Wright Way To Go
Defender Joe Wright picked up a knock in training over the last few days according to Darren Moore, so sat out this one as a substitute with Cameron John moving back into central defence alongside Tom Anderson. Although John has shown his ability in the role this season, it is Wright who has emerged as the best partner for Big Tom over the past six weeks and his resilience was missed at times against Southend.
John had a shaky start to the game conceding possession from a short pass out in a dangerous area and getting his feet mixed up a couple of times when contesting possession at the touchline, before making a meal of a clearance that allowed Jason Demetriou to set Stephen Humphrys up for Southend’s best chance of the first half, a header that struck the post with the score at 1-0.
He improved from there and his class on the ball was invaluable as Rovers struggled to get their passing game going in the second half, but overall John may not be best pleased with his performance against the club with whom he played as a youth. For now, the youngster may be best served giving way to Wright and developing with a bit less pressure on him as Joe has built a formidable partnership with Anderson and was missed at times in this game.
5. Sadlier Shows His Worth Again
With 11 goals and 4 assists from 32 games this season, Kieran Sadlier is head and shoulders above the rest as Rovers’ most productive player, and he was on top form again here. Two very well taken goals underlined the importance of the Irish winger to the team and the fact that he is yet to sign a new contract keeping him at the club beyond the summer should be cause for concern.
His first goal was a lovely curling finish into the top corner having approached the area from James Coppinger’s forward ball. This second was a trademark leaping header from a pinpoint Jon Taylor cross, demonstrating the ruthless edge Sadlier has in front of goal. This is a golden quality for a player who is ostensibly a winger and his dynamic creativity in the attacking third is something Rovers have lacked at times in recent years.
He is on course to surpass Mallik Wilks’ figures from wide last season comfortably at the moment, a considerable feat when you factor in that Wilks played a slightly more advanced forward role to Sadlier’s left wing berth, and his latest brace will only heighten the interest in him from clubs looking for their next attacking star. Kieran has earned a bumper new contract and we must hope that the club can get his signature on the dotted line sooner rather than later.