5 Things We Learned: Rovers 3-2 Blackpool
A second half blitz brought Doncaster Rovers back from the brink to win against in-form Blackpool at the Keepmoat Stadium this week, as Darren Moore pulled off arguably his biggest achievement as manager of the club to earn a 3-2 victory. Whatever was said in the dressing room at half time worked a treat as goals from Cameron John, Reece James and Ben Whiteman bagged a morale-boosting three points and set the team up nicely for a trip to the league leaders in a week’s time.
Here are five things we learned from Rovers’ superb turnaround win against the Seasiders.
1. Rovers Make Life Tough…For Themselves
There was little sign of the efforts to come from the home side in a wretched first half that saw Rovers play as if they were a bunch of strangers meeting for the first time. To a man they were pedestrian on the ball, slow to react off it and utterly unable to string any meaningful sequence together. After a first half on Saturday against Sunderland that saw their first shot on goal come after 45 minutes, Rovers again failed to even touch the ball in Blackpool’s penalty area until well after the half hour mark, and by which time they were already 2-0 down to a pair of completely avoidable goals.
Ben Whiteman, usually so assured and composed with the ball at his feet, overhit a pass forward for Reece James that was picked off, and two passes later the Tangerines had a penalty for a tussle between Brad Halliday and Gary Madine that referee Ross Joyce deemed enough to point to the spot. Madine had a knack for throwing himself to the floor all night, but regardless it was Doncaster-born striker Jerry Yates who scored the spot kick and he had a hand in his team’s second goal before the interval.
James Coppinger was dispossessed with too many Rovers players committed forward, allowing Yates and winger Sullay Kaikai to play a quick one-two that sent Kaikai clean through past the defence and when Joe Lumley wiped him out in the box, CJ Hamilton spared him a red card with a follow-up finish to deservedly double Blackpool’s advantage. It appeared as though Moore’s men had learned nothing from the darker side of the Sunderland draw and had an almighty job on to get anything from the game.
2. Comeback Shows Winning Resilience
The manager said in his post-match interview that it “just wasn’t us” in the opening 45 and that was dead on. Fortunately, Moore’s half time team talk inspired a comeback rarely seen and his words to the players that an early goal would allow Rovers to go on and win the game proved prophetic. Rovers put a game and a half of toil behind them to burst out the blocks and level the game improbably within seven minutes of the restart.
The goals came from two players whose starting position has caused ample debate amongst fans and pundits alike recently, and both were well taken. First, Cameron John lashed home through a crowded box from Josh Sims’ cutback after a short corner routine to halve the deficit and then Reece James scored a delightfully deft flick to make it 2-2 from a perfect centre by substitute Taylor Richards. From being as goal-shy as could be to ruthless in attack in mere minutes, Rovers had found the answer and from there had Blackpool on the back foot.
In the end, the more positive and urgent possession play paid off as James slid Sims in behind the defence and Matt Smith was felled by Kenny Dougall attempting to get on the end of his ball into the box. Whiteman duly dispatched the penalty for his 5th goal of the season and won a game that Rovers had next to no chance of winning at half time. Indeed, it was the first time the team had come from two goals down to win since a 6-2 victory over Ebbsfleet in the FA Cup three years ago.
3. Richards Rallies – Can He Be a Key Player?
A number of key players in midfield and attack have been absent for the past few weeks and their collective return will make life so much easier for Darren Moore. The first of these to return has been Brighton loanee Taylor Richards, who came off the bench on Tuesday night and had an immediate impact. The youngster replaced James Coppinger at the interval and had a hand in both quickfire goals that brought Rovers level, showing effortless class in both instances.
First, it was Richards’ cross off the short corner that led to John being teed up by Sims, then he put the ball on a plate for James to flick over Blackpool keeper Chris Maxwell. He continued this fine form throughout the game, playing forward-facing football and adding speed and tempo. Richards has all the tools to be a big hit with Rovers and if he can return to the team operating as a fulcrum in central midfield it could spare everyone the frustration of listless displays like those seen by Rovers for large spells of the past two games.
4. Fejiri No Threat Without Help
No area of the team needs reinforcements from those currently in the physio’s room than the attack. With Rayhaan Tulloch still out indefinitely and Tyreece John-Jules yet to reach full fitness for a return, Fejiri Okenabirhie has been tasked with playing as a lone striker and he has looked increasingly isolated with each passing game. Against Blackpool he was barely a factor, unable to snatch up any chances to score and lacking in the hold-up aspects of centre forward play.
In Okenabirhie’s defence, this is not his strong suit. The former Shrewsbury striker is a last-line sort of player who thrives on taking chances quickly in the box, and Rovers have really struggled to get the ball into those danger areas for him of late. However, he does need to operate as more of an all-rounder when playing up front on his own, and he has been swallowed up all too easily by successive defences now.
When John-Jules returns, Darren Moore may be wise to find a tactic that allows them both to play together as their respective qualities could complement one another and help both to flourish.
5. Honesty, The Best Policy?
Blackpool proved to be the latest in a long line of teams to implement gamesmanship throughout the game against Rovers, with forward Gary Madine a particularly noteworthy culprit. It worked initially, especially as Madine made the most of contact with Brad Halliday to win a penalty and the histrionics of several other players leading to yellow cards in the first half for Halliday and Josh Sims, but in the end Rovers won out with a penalty of their own, prompting the question of whether the so-called “dark arts” of the game are necessary in League One.
Kenny Dougall for instance committed at least half a dozen fouls, earning only one yellow card, before scything down Matt Smith from behind to concede what proved to be the winning penalty. The Tangerines are clearly a talented team, with players like Yates, Hamilton and Kaikai all more than a match for any defence in the division, whilst manager Neil Critchley comes with a high coaching pedigree.
Perhaps it is these aspects of the team that should be emphasised going forward as Rovers’ honest approach won out in the end, as it often does, and that is a philosophy that starts with Darren Moore and works its way down.