• Adam Stubbings

5 Things We Learned: Rovers 3-2 Fleetwood

The misguided boot of Wes Burns handed Darren Moore his first victory as Doncaster Rovers’ manager on Saturday afternoon as a lively encounter against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town ended with five goals split in favour of the home side. Here, ITEN takes a look at five things we learned from the 3-2 victory that kick-starts our campaign.

1. 15 years and counting

We gave the last word on the Gillingham game to James Coppinger’s contribution, but there is no better place to start than with the club legend this week. ‘Copps’ rolled back the years to put in an influential display of quality and was a presence for all three Rovers goals. For Cameron John’s equaliser, Coppinger took control after seeing his initial corner cleared haphazardly by the Fleetwood defence, sliding the ball to Ben Sheaf as Arsenal loanee overlapped towards the byline, and from Sheaf’s cross John ultimately slammed home to bring the scores level.

Coppinger then unleashed a moment of magic entirely of his own making, finding space on the corner of the penalty area before curling in a beautiful effort to put Rovers into the lead, not only for the first time in the game but for the first time all season. His guile to find space and vision to pick his spot in the far corner of the goal was sublime and had echoes of his memorable one-man show in the 2008 Play Offs against Southend. Fleetwood’s defence should have known better than to afford Coppinger as much space as they did, but the finish was straight out of the top drawer.

Our #26 ran the show throughout the game, finding himself at the heart of everything good Rovers were putting together. There’s no doubt that a central attacking midfield role suits him at this advanced stage of his career, but his knack for popping up wherever he can eek out a pocket of space is second to none in this league and he proved that time and again over 90 minutes here. His final contribution was the match-winning one, lining up a free kick seconds after being announced as the Man of the Match in the stadium, sending in a delivery that was ultimately turned in off the boot of Fleetwood’s Wes Burns for the unlikely winning goal.

Once again, Doncaster Rovers have James Coppinger to thank for three points.

2. Set pieces an area to rely on

As highlighted in each of the goals described above, set pieces were key to Darren Moore’s side taking victory this weekend. We have never really been known for our prowess at the dead ball during recent years – save for when we had man mountains Rob Jones and Jamie McCombe in the team – yet conjured up three goals all from set piece situations against Fleetwood. The opener came in the second phase of a Coppinger corner, the second was similar and from the same side, Rovers’ left flank, whilst the winning goal came from an indirect free kick. A set play was also responsible for Kieran Sadlier’s headed equaliser at Rochdale last week, coming in injury time from a Jon Taylor corner.

If Darren Moore can keep improving the team’s potency at corners and free kicks, it could go a long way to solving the problem of making good play count where it matters: in the attacking third and on the scoresheet. Rovers’ inability to score with regularity has been the defining issue of the opening weeks of the season, with John Marquis’ departure meaning Moore has had to come up with new solutions fast to get his freshened side firing up front. Our problems are by no means sorted despite three goals here, but it should give everyone encouragement that we don’t need one talisman striker to be the sole source of goals.

3. Another loanee gem in Cameron John?

Injury problems have thrust Wolves youngster Cameron John into the first team sooner than anyone expected, much less the athletic teenager himself, but he has taken on the responsibility with the look of a player with five or ten years more experience than he actually has. Impressing on debut in the Carabao Cup defeat at Grimsby in midweek, John boosted his reputation further with a complete performance on his maiden league outing against Fleetwood and bagging a goal to top it off.

He took that goal well, controlling a fast ball in from the left and beating three onrushing defenders to slam home off the inside of the crossbar to bring Rovers level in a game that they had struggled to get a foothold in to that point. John is tall and physically agile which makes him a threat at set pieces, and he showed good awareness in staying up front after the initial corner was cleared so that he could contribute in the second phase. In defence, he was composed on the ball and strong in the tackle, demonstrating excellent awareness of his positioning and body shape to thwart defenders time and again.

It's early days yet, but already John looks a bright prospect and potentially the next in a line of recent resounding successes for Rovers in the loan market.

4. Costly concentration lapses

There is always room for improvement though, and there was plenty to analyse in the two goals Rovers conceded in this game. Both close-range headers on the rebound, the Fleetwood goals were a horror show from a defensive standpoint with too many in the hoops ball-watching and a blatant lack of cohesion between a back four still trying to understand one another. Jordan Rossiter got round the back of the defence to force a fine reaction save from Ian Lawlor but was then given the freedom of Doncaster to hook a hopeful ball back across the six-yard box and Conor McAleny mopped it up, flicking a header into the far corner having trotted straight across the entire Rovers back-line.

It was much the same in the second half as Paddy Madden, on as a substitute, got two bites at a Josh Morris cross. Brad Halliday failed to stop the winger, adding to being totally out of position for the first, and Madden first beat everyone to the header to bring Lawlor into action again, then was the only man to react to the parry and tuck home as Tom Anderson, Cameron John and Reece James pretty much fell over each other. Lacking a leader with Andy Butler now departed to Scunthorpe, someone needs to step up and command this defensive group or else sloppy goals like this will only continue.

5. Lawlor ready to shine

Our Irish goalkeeper can feel hard done by for both of those goals having made excellent short-range saves to initially keep Fleetwood out, and if not for his heroics it would have happened again minutes later. The gigantic Harry Souttar headed a corner back across the face of goal for Jack Sowerby to take aim, his effort clawed off the line by Lawlor, but the best was to come in the following seconds. Facing completely the wrong way, Lawlor had to swivel in an instant and throw himself at the ground as Josh Morris took advantage of more non-existent reactions from Rovers defenders, looking set for a certain goal just inches out from the goal-line.

Instead, Lawlor got himself between ball and goal to keep the scores level, blocking Morris’ effort with one of the best saves we’ve seen from the #1 since he came to the club two odd years ago. He made a couple more decent saves in this match and was in the conversation for Man of the Match, as much a contributor to the victory as anyone at the other end of the field. There were questions over Lawlor going into this season, coming off a bad shoulder injury and now being pushed for the shirt by QPR loanee Seny Dieng, who looks very much the ‘sweeper keeper’ that is seen as a popular type of player in modern football teams.

On this showing though, Dieng will have to wait a while for his turn. The position is Lawlor’s to lose and he enhanced his reputation in a big way against Fleetwood.


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