• Adam Stubbings

Dissecting Donny: Rovers 2-0 Colchester

The 2015-16 season has been a struggle for Doncaster Rovers so far, but up against Colchester United this past Saturday the Reds excellently responded to two shambolic away defeats in a week by securing a hard earned victory.

The visitors had the better of the opportunities in a tight first half. Thorsten Stuckmann was in fine form to twice deny efforts from George Moncur, including a strong stop at his near post after a ricochet had fallen favourably for the midfielder.

Rovers broke the deadlock in the 41st minute with a sublime strike from debutant Conor Grant, who used the space afforded to him just outside the area to steady himself and curl a delightful left-footed shot into the corner to stun Colchester, who had edged the play in the first half without managing to find a breakthrough.

The second half saw the home side continue to play positively and seek to carve out openings, and the perfect opportunity came when a defensive clearance bounced awkwardly near the halfway line allowing James Coppinger to leave defender Tosin Olufemi in his wake and surge forward on the break and lay the ball on into the penalty area for Andy Williams to finish first time and double the lead. Williams looked reinvigorated all afternoon and deserved to net his first goal from open play in the league for Rovers, a strike which enabled Ferguson to change things around and consolidate soon after.

The impressive Callum Harriott did manage to create a superb opportunity in the last 20 minutes, beating Mitchell Lund as he often did throughout the game before crossing for Darren Ambrose, but the former Ipswich man saw his header saved, Stuckmann showing brilliant reflexes to keep his clean sheet. Substitute Curtis Main did fluff a late chance for a third after doing well to turn two defenders in the box, but it was no matter for the Rovers who sealed a 2-0 victory, having been made to work very hard from the first whistle by Colchester.

Learning to Defend

Defensively the team has been a complete mess for much of the season so far, but against Colchester it was a different story. The switch to 3-5-2 allowed a much more solid unit to form, and it looks like the players are starting to get to grips with the ideas being put forward in training from the new manager.

Andy Butler has made several uncharacteristic mistakes in previous matches, but on Saturday he was back to his old self, solid and assured in the centre of the defensive trio, and left-sided defender Aaron Taylor-Sinclair also looked more comfortable than he has recently. Young right back Mitchell Lund had a lot to deal with, playing in an unfamiliar position against a winger with clear ability above this level to contend with for 90 minutes. Callum Harriott was without a doubt the best player in the visiting line-up and he made life difficult for Lund all afternoon, but the teenager coped well under the circumstances.

The main change in this match was the consistency in defending set pieces that has been woefully lacking for the entire campaign. Rovers had conceded from a set play in six consecutive games prior to facing Colchester, but nearly every corner was met first by a Rovers head here and the U’s were unable to really create any chances from corners or free kicks unlike most of the sides that have come up against the Reds so far.

Fergie and Formations

The 3-5-2 deployed by Darren Ferguson for this match worked perfectly. Rovers were more robust at the back and had more balance and substance in midfield, leading to a better variety of chances created from all sides. Nathan Tyson and Andy Williams fed off that midfield substance, with Everton loanee Conor Grant slotting in perfectly to provide balance and guile, culminating in a superb opening goal from his own left boot.

The midfield selection should also be praised as James Coppinger came back to the forefront of Rovers’ play. Much of the attacking vigour went through the veteran, in stark contrast to the benign and anonymous displays he has put in for months. Coppinger, who equalled the club’s appearance record in this game, set up both goals and showed why he still has so much to offer if he gets himself involved in matches. Harry Middleton put in another cool display as well, he is a player who appears to be progressing very well this year.

Andy Williams deservedly got on the scoresheet after being restored to the starting line-up, his recent lack of confidence nowhere to be seen. This may be because he has finally settled into his new home up north with his family, or because the new set-up allows him to play as he prefers – in the vicinity of the 18-yard box with the ball given to his feet. Too often under Paul Dickov & Rob Jones, Williams seemed to be coming deep or drifting out to the touchlines to try and force openings. Instead of being on the end of crosses, he was putting them in, and instead of taking down knock-ons, he was asked to provide them himself, despite there being no outlet. That has all changed now and we may start to see what made him one of the division’s most prolific marksmen at Swindon.

Vitally also, Rovers looked much more energetic and determined from kick off until full time, whether looking for the lead or defending it. It has become a hallmark of Doncaster Rovers’ performances to be slow and methodical, overly cautious to a fault. Instead of resting on their laurels at 1-0, Rovers continued to play progressive and positive football, resulting in opportunities much more than we were likely to see in the past. Part of the reason for this seems to be the removal from midfield of Richie Wellens who, despite possessing excellent vision and technical ability, is a penchant for slowing proceedings down to a crawl resulting in a lack of fluidity and space in the attacking third. Grant and Coppinger provided a much more potent outlet for attacks in the game, and the 3-5-2 allowed the strikers and wing backs to feed off of them regularly.


Player Performance

Thorsten Stuckmann: Put in one of his best performances of the season. The stop from Ambrose in the second half probably his finest in a Rovers shirt yet.

Mitchell Lund: Another solid performance from the youngster. Run ragged at times by Harriott but largely coped well with his assignment.

Andy Butler: Back to his best after a shaky few weeks. The clear first choice at centre half.

Aaron Taylor-Sinclair: Playing in an unfamiliar position, ATS was a key part of the solidity in the back line and also contributed to attacks well.

Cameron Stewart: Didn’t look comfortable at all as a wing back, failing to create much going forward and also failing to protect Lund well enough from the menace of Harriott. Might not be the position for him in this set-up.

Cedric Evina: Has adapted to any position asked of him superbly this season and did it again here, defending well and providing width and threat from the left wing in attacks.

Harry Middleton: Performed exactly how a holding midfielder should: assertive in the tackle and on the ball, always calm and composed.

James Coppinger: “Vintage Copps” should be the headline of the midfielder’s record-equalling 468th Rovers appearance. Two assists barely tell the story of how influential he was in the win, showing why it is so obvious when he doesn’t play well because nearly every attack went through him on Saturday.

Conor Grant: An excellent debut from the young Everton midfielder, a top class finish to break the deadlock the icing on the cake for a player who brought ability, balance and creativity to the side.

Nathan Tyson: Extremely unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, working tirelessly up front as he does every week. The energy and intent in the side just wouldn’t have been there without him.

Andy Williams: Possibly his best showing in a Rovers shirt too, a confidence building display capped with a well taken goal to make it 2-0. Hopefully this is the start of a goalscoring run.

The Subs: Luke McCullough and Paul Keegan came on in a formation change at 2-0 to make Rovers more solid and to tighten up the open pace of the game. Both did their job in this role well, and McCullough also provided additional support for Lund that Stewart, who he replaced, had not. Curtis Main huffed and puffed for 25 minutes with little to show except for a missed shot towards the end of the game that he should have done better with. His work to get himself into a goalscoring position however was excellent.