• Adam Stubbings

5 Things We Learned: Rovers 4-1 Ipswich

Doncaster Rovers laid down a marker to the rest of League One with a ruthless victory over Ipswich to move back into the Play-Offs and complete a perfect few days. After a slow start, Rovers grew in confidence and ran clear of their opponents in the second half to earn a 4-1 win that could easily have been more, with a team performance as good as anything we’ve seen in recent times.

1. Reds Roar Back on the Rebound

There was little sign of what was to come from the home side’s perspective in the opening 20 minutes, as pass after pass went astray and Rovers failed to even muster a shot on goal. That sloppy opening period was compounded by Joe Wright’s 15th minute own goal, as the defence failed to communicate and Wright slid in and inadvertently turned Luke Chambers’ low ball across the box past his own goalkeeper.

Cameron John’s emphatic equaliser just before the half hour mark steadied the ship however, and from there Rovers played with more poise, more confidence and more quality, taking the lead soon after through Ben Whiteman’s elusive cross from long range and stretching away after the interval with a mesmerising second half performance. The ability to respond to a setback is admirable, but more notable is just how smoothly the team adjusted to early mistakes and transformed their play from back to front, resulting in a vast improvement.

Rovers have now knocked off two promotion favourites in a matter of days and are looking every inch a contender themselves in this early stage of the campaign.

2. Sims Plays Like a Video Game

The signing of Josh Sims last week came as a pleasant surprise to most Rovers fans as Darren Moore made a late window move for the winger. He has immediately shown the credentials that he was touted with when coming in on loan from Southampton, assisting Reece James for the winning goal on his debut at Portsmouth and following that up with a mesmerising display here in his first start against Ipswich.

Sims had pace to burn, technical prowess in abundance and was even tenacious in the tackle, never letting up whether he was on the ball or pressing to try and win it back. He played a significant role in three of the four Rovers goals and was unlucky not to get one himself in the second half. He laid on Ben Whiteman for the goal which put the home side in front before the break, showed his blinding pace to outrun Toto Nsiala and win a penalty which Whiteman converted, then pressed perfectly to win the ball high up the field and square for Fejiri Okenabirhie to complete the rout. All in a day’s work.

If this is merely a glimpse of what’s to come from Josh Sims, then Rovers fans are in for a real treat.

3. Whiteman, the Master of Puppets

He may have scored twice, but if you just view the goals then you are missing most of the story of just how good Ben Whiteman was in this match. The Rovers captain has been superb throughout this young season so far, pulling the strings in midfield and demonstrating a passing range unmatched at this level. Frankly, the fact he is still playing for the club is nothing short of a triumph because Whiteman is clearly now too good for League One, as ipswich found out to their detriment.

Whilst his first goal of the night was fortuitous in that it was a cross that evaded everyone, it was clearly a dangerous ball from deep after a short corner routine and caused enough trouble to bamboozle the Tractor Boys in numbers. His penalty also was top class, waiting just that split-second longer to hit it so that he could see the decision of goalkeeper Tomas Holy before despatching a perfect shot the other side, and he could have had a hat trick if a later foul on Jon Taylor in the box had resulted in a second spot kick.

Whiteman pulls the strings effortlessly week after week, and with dedicated central midfielder Matt Smith now able to assist him in the heart of the pitch, the captain will only have more opportunity to cut through opponents like he did here.

4. Fejiri Finds His Form

Tyreece John-Jules got the nod up front at the start of the League One campaign, much to the dismay of many who felt that Fejiri Okenabirhie was in good form and deserving of a place in the team. Darren Moore assured everyone that Okenabirhie would get his chance and so it has proven, with John-Jules out injured he has started the last two league games and on Tuesday night he put in a convincing performance full of quality, finally coming to life after some rusty outings in recent weeks.

Although he barely got a kick in the first half an hour, Okenabirhie still put himself about and was constantly hassling Ipswich centre halves Toto Nsiala and James Wilson, something which clearly had an effect as the duo crumbled steadily as the game wore on. Okenabirhie was able to pull the defence out of position constantly and got the reward for a very hard-working night’s effort when he slammed in Rovers’ fourth goal in the second half, showing instinctive precision to fire past Tomas Holy and put the game to bed.

Fejiri has the attributes necessary to be a big hit at this level, and it may just have needed this first league goal of the season to spark him into life.

5. John Justifies Gaffer’s Bold Call

Darren Moore plans his tactical strategy around a heavy emphasis on combating whoever the opposition is on any given day. He does not play favourites nor does he stick with a winning team just for the sake of it. Moore chose to twist again against Ipswich by dropping Reece James to the bench, despite James excelling against Portsmouth as a left winger and scoring the winning goal. Cameron John kept his place at left back and Josh Sims came in to start, yet any doubts fans had before kick off were soon put to bed.

John played superbly against an accomplished Ipswich side, getting up and down the flank well and defending stoically when called upon. When finding himself in attacking areas, he showed no fear and this was typified by the equalising goal that was almost entirely of John’s own making, as he marauded forward into the centre of the field and laid the ball off to Matt Smith so that he could run on and finish like a strike, thumping in off the crossbar with his weak foot.

Yet again, Moore’s “horses for courses” strategy paid dividends, so don’t be surprised to see changes for the visit of Crewe on Saturday despite how good this performance was by the whole team.