Fergie’s Boys Show Passion & Grit in Burton Draw
The New-Found Fight in Doncaster Rovers
One thing that is certain from the first two months of Darren Ferguson’s time at the club is that Rovers have found their ability to fight in games. Far too often under Paul Dickov our displays were plodding and lacking in both creativity and energy. Fergie has talked of wanting to create an identity within the club both in the way we operate and the way we try to win games on the pitch, and anyone who has seen our recent performances against the likes of Coventry, Walsall and Burton will know that he has implemented it to some degree already. When was the last time we came from behind in injury time to win a game? And how often did we expect to cope blow-for-blow with teams at the top of the league like the three mentioned? Saturday’s draw marked a fifth successive game unbeaten in all competitions, and with winnable fixtures against Scunthorpe and Oldham to come in the next week, that run could be extended further.
Against Burton, Rovers weathered the first half storm after the home side had levelled and dealt with them growing into the game, seeing off all attacking threats largely thanks to some brave defensive work by Craig Alcock and goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann. The big German denied Mark Duffy one-on-one, whilst Alcock marshaled the back line and met every cross and corner to clear the danger. Too many times under previous managers, heads went down when goals were conceded. Certainly, having missed a penalty and then conceded to go 2-1 down, no one would have expected us to come back much less take the lead. But we did, proving our newly found set piece threat to score a direct free kick for a second successive game, and then go ahead through a penalty. Yes, that lead didn’t last, but Burton were a resilient team with quality up front, and even at 3-3 with the seconds ticking down, Rovers created chances and tried to get into goalscoring positions instead of settling for the draw.
Fergie & Formations: Revisited
Under Fergie the 3-5-2 has been used almost exclusively, and with some degree of success. It has brought the best out of many players who had previously underperformed, particularly James Coppinger, Harry Middleton and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. However, against Burton it did not have the desired effect defensively, despite the excellent attacking work of young right back Mitchell Lund. Cedric Evina struggled to deal with Mark Duffy until being hauled off for Luke McCullough, and it was the double alteration immediately after Andy Williams’ penalty miss that changed the game completely. McCullough came in to a reshuffled back four, which placed more onus at the back on Taylor-Sinclair and Lund to deal with the Brewers’ wing play supported by Conor Grant and James Coppinger further up the field. Paul Keegan came in to partner Middleton to try and pull back control in midfield, as Middleton had been largely overrun all afternoon by the influential John Mousinho linking to the forward line.
The change in formation not only helped us to tighten up at the back (despite McCullough being beaten man-for-man by Butcher for the second Burton goal) and reduce the risk of Duffy and El Khayati out wide, as well as freeing Nathan Tyson to have more of an attacking influence. Keegan had a critical impact by levelling the scores from a free kick, a terrific way to announce his return to the fold. Tyson ran himself into the ground in characteristic style and looked to be on his last legs by the time he netted Rovers’ third from the penalty spot. The main positive to take from this is that Ferguson has concocted a Plan B in the event his usual set-up is being nullified, as it was on Saturday. This is mightily encouraging and demonstrates the intelligence and forethought of the man, and is something that was a major complaint not only under Paul Dickov (who seemed to lack even a Plan A in most games), but under predecessors Dean Saunders and Sean O’Driscoll too.
Duffy Does the Damage
Relentlessly jeered from pre-match to full time by the Rovers fans, Mark Duffy responded in kind by turning in a Man of the Match performance. Duffy left Rovers in acrimonious circumstances, largely down to a lack of use under manager Paul Dickov, but showed why the Scot was perhaps wrong to under utilise the winger as he was a constant menace from the right wing for Burton, carving out chance after chance and delivering good set pieces too. He did also squander two glorious chances when faced up by Thorsten Stuckmann, but his late equaliser was full of quality and capped a fine performance. In Dickov’s defence, the two best performances I have ever seen him give were in this game, and for Scunthorpe in a Rovers win at Glanford Park in our League One title-winning campaign before he signed for us, so he is a bit of a hot/cold player but he was on form from the word ‘go’ on Saturday.
Burton on the whole were a very good team who always played the ball on the floor and created some terrific chances. They never looked like losing their heads when they went behind late on either, and the crowd at the Pirelli Stadium played their part in keeping things in the home side’s favour throughout. Nigel Clough has inherited a very good squad that is used to winning, so he might not have to change too much to sustain Burton’s unlikely promotion push through to the end of the season.
Thorsten Stuckmann: Once again proved how vital it is to have a good pair of hands between the sticks, stopping Burton one-on-ones three times. Keeps his head in every game. 8/10
Craig Alcock: The undoubted boss of the defence in this game, Alcock is proving why Sheffield United really don’t know a good player when they have one under their nose as he looks every bit the experienced and assured presence we have lacked at the back since Rob Jones’ neck injury last season. Rovers best player on the day. 9/10
Andy Butler: Has been more suited to the 3-5-2 but wasn’t able to stamp his authority on the back line. Did provide a good threat at attacking set pieces for Rovers and didn’t do anything majorly wrong. Harshly booked by a poor referee too. 6/10
Aaron Taylor-Sinclair: Not a lot to say about ATS in this game. Did a better job at left back in the second half than Cedric Evina did in the first. 7/10
Mitchell Lund: Hit and miss day for young Lund, who had his best game in an attacking sense but struggled in defensive duties against a talented winger and was hauled off before the hour. Assisted the opener and played in Tyson for the first penalty, proving class on the wing that we haven’t really seen before. 7/10
Cedric Evina: Perhaps his worst game of an otherwise excellent season, failing to cope with Mark Duffy on the right wing. Given a torrid time but his improvement since last year has been remarkable and he can’t be expected to play out of his skin every week. 5/10
Harry Middleton: A friend of mine described it as ‘a game too far’ for Middleton and I think he’s right. Has been on a great run of late but was overrun in the middle by Burton’s talented midfield and only steadied up after the introduction of Paul Keegan. 5/10
Conor Grant: Largely nullified for the first hour by the opposition, Grant still demonstrated his natural ability and was able to pull off more of his usual range of passing after the formation switch in the second half. 6/10
James Coppinger: Industrious in midfield again, Coppinger played a role in the opening goal and was troublesome for the Burton defence all afternoon. Did lose Duffy for the late leveller, but overall a good performance from Captain Copps. 7/10
Andy Williams: A really Jekyll and Hyde performance from our 1o-goal top scorer, who finished brilliantly to make it 1-0 but then gave the ball away cheaply letting Burton in for their equaliser then missing a penalty that would have put us back in front. Perhaps tried too hard to atone for his error and as a result didn’t quite manage to. 7/10
Nathan Tyson: Epitomises Fergie’s Fight and ran his socks off for every ball. Won the first penalty and converted the second, without him we are a totally different team. Even when carrying a knock and lacking energy late on, he still did his best to try and get Rovers going. 9/10
The Subs: Luke McCullough did a job in the back four but was beaten far too easily by Calum Butcher on his way to making it 2-1. Paul Keegan helped shore up the middle of the field and scored a real collector’s item to make it 2-2. What a strike that was from the Irishman. Richard Chaplow came on in injury time and isn’t really worth more than this mention. The two changes on 54 minutes gave Rovers a much stronger foot in the game and were a smart switch up by Darren Ferguson. 7/10