• Adam Stubbings

Butler's Winning Start: Doncaster Rovers 2-1 Portsmouth

The Andy Butler Era got off to the perfect start on Tuesday night when Rovers dispatched promotion rivals Portsmouth, completing the double over the South Coast side and shoring up a top six position in the process.

Here are five things we learned from the new manager’s first game in charge.

1. Live By The Sword

Butler said of his team selection for the game that “you live and die by the sword” and on this first line-up, he certainly lived. Louis Jones was handed a surprise league debut and fully justified his manager’s faith with a mature, composed display that passed without fault – even if a debut clean sheet disappeared in injury time courtesy of a well-taken John Marquis goal. Butler also brought James Coppinger back for a first start since December, and that decision proved pivotal as well as the 40-year-old ensured he was at the heart of Rovers’ efforts in the attacking third.

It is clear that the new man wanted to put his own stamp on things, despite only having barely 24 hours to prepare for his new role. He succeeded by putting together a team that went out and won the game against tough opponents, scoring two fantastic goals and generally playing with positivity throughout. Butler said that he asked for desire and commitment from his players and he got that in spades, with Rovers looking a much more vibrant and capable outfit than they have in truth for at least the past month.

2. Bold Approach

Team selection was the starting point, but the real influence of Andy Butler’s philosophy came in the way Rovers executed their game plan. The game was played at a higher tempo than we have become accustomed to seeing over the past 18 months – both in possession and when chasing Portsmouth down to win the ball back. Danny Amos referred to “Ten-second Fury” on iFollow commentary and it was clear to see that Butler had quickly instilled a sense of urgency in the way his team approached proceedings.

Portsmouth aided this somewhat by sitting off Rovers rather than pressing from the front for the most part, but Rovers made sure it wasn’t easy for them by transitioning the ball upfield quickly through John Bostock, whilst also ensuring they mixed up their distribution patterns from the back to keep the opposition guessing. Both goals for the home side came from crisp passing sequences through the ‘thirds’ and if that is to be a key part of Butler’s tactical approach going forward then Rovers fans could be in for a treat.

3. Players Unburdened

There was an overwhelming sense from watching the game that the players had been let off the leash somewhat just in the two days since Butler stepped into the role. Under the previous manager, every player was asked to play a disciplined role and often times this meant that players simply didn’t feel the freedom to adapt in games or change things up based on the inevitable changing contexts of a football match.

Take Jones for example, who on numerous occasions aborted a short pass-out due to pressure, instead opting to go long where Ellery Balcombe would likely have persisted with the short option even if it meant inviting pressure. Further forward there was a clear sign that players were being afforded the room to express themselves – Bostock buzzed around the field to find space and make plays, whereas against Ipswich last Saturday he stayed deep in his own half most of the time in order to pick team mates out, leading to a self-imposed wall going up whenever Rovers tried to break through the Tractor Boys’ defence.

Instead of Taylor Richards being the only player afforded the license to be individually creative, every player was looking to make something happen when on the ball – a direct result of which was Fejiri Okenabirhie’s scorching strike that ultimately sealed the win – and above all the team wanted to make life hard for Portsmouth rather than show them too much respect. Butler essentially asked his opposite number Kenny Jackett to stop us rather than the other way around, and it was the rookie boss who won the battle.

4. Beleaguered at the Back

As good as it felt to earn that vital first win in six games, it still was not a flawless display. Defensively there are still issues to work out even if the overall performance and end result were greatly improved on recent horror shows against Fleetwood, Sunderland and Hull. Butler undoubtedly picked his best four defenders to guard Louis Jones’ goal but as a unit things are not quite clicking, and that was shown up again in the second half once Portsmouth introduced John Marquis to cause problems for them.

Tom Anderson has been remarkably consistent over the past two seasons or so but is not quite back to the level he was playing prior to his concussion injury. Whilst he did make a number of crucial blocks and marshalled Ellis Harrison superbly in the first half, he came unstuck against Marquis and was second-best in a number of aerial situations which is most unlike Big Tom. We know that Rovers are capable of better defensively and hopefully with more time on the training field, Butler can instil some of his ideas and wisdom to turn things around for the back four soon.

5. Attacking Edge Will Come

Rovers scored two excellent goals off the left flank, first when Reece James – who was Man of the Match for his overall quality as well as the goal and a match-saving double-block at the death to ensure the win – stole a march on the Portsmouth defence to tuck home John Bostock’s sumptuous through ball, and then when Fejiri Okenabirhie made mincemeat of Jack Whatmough to score after finding space behind the right wing-back. However, Butler will know that his side could have had several more if they had found a ruthless attacking edge.

The first of two glaring moments came early, when James Coppinger played a deft cross over to Brad Halliday in space and the full-back sent the ball across the six yard box low. All it needed was a touch to convert but Jon Taylor was half a yard behind the ball despite doing well to get himself into space. The other came in the second half when Omar Bogle put a header over the bar after a lovely one-two move in the box, and it was Bogle who is perhaps the key to Rovers unlocking more productivity in the penalty area.

Bogle is yet to score from open play for the club but has been doing the hard yards in his appearances to date, using his physical attributes to cause trouble for defenders and bring others into play. He was more of a presence in the 18-yard box against Portsmouth than in any other game yet and just needs to find the knack of scoring, especially with a patchy goalscoring rate in recent seasons. It will surely come for him and the team, who remain one of the division’s best scoring teams and now have more weapons at their disposal up front.