Rovers 0-2 Huddersfield: What We Learned
In the midst of Britain’s hottest week of the year, Rovers turned in a decidedly lukewarm performance in defeat to Huddersfield last night. Jan Siewert elected to field a largely second-string side, and this combined with a baffling red card for Joe Wright meant the game failed to provide a worthwhile learning experience for Darren Moore and his new side.
It was a pretty even affair for the opening quarter of an hour or so, with Rovers putting together some nice passing interplay through the middle, Ben Sheaf at the heart of much of it. John Marquis dropped back consistently to link up play, whilst Matty Blair provided plenty of energy. An early effort for Kieran Sadlier flew well over after a deft flick by Marquis to lay him on, whilst Madger Gomes put a decent cross to the back post that Brad Halliday was almost on the end of after a good foray down the wing by the Spaniard, those chances coming either side of a blocked effort for Collin Quaner at the other end.
Huddersfield grew into the game as the half wore on, with Ian Lawlor called into action to punch away a driven long-range effort from Juninho Bacuna, before Elias Kachunga guided a shot wide after Matty Blair had given it away in midfield, encouraging the break. Ben Sheaf then got a shot off for Rovers that was held by Grabara in the Terriers’ goal, the Arsenal loanee salvaging the situation after a spot of overplaying on the approach between himself and Gomes.
Rajiv van la Parra then took centre stage, first cynically hacking down Brad Halliday after the full back had dispossessed him and strode over the halfway line. With hindsight, it is strange that referee Darren England didn’t produce a yellow card for this challenge considering what occurred in the second half, but it can’t be changed now. A few minutes later, however, van la Parra would open the scoring with a terrific curling shot from outside the area, laid on by Quaner.
Rovers continued to threaten into half time, responding well to going behind, but Marquis was unable to get on the end of a dangerous low ball across the goalmouth by Sadlier, whilst a strong attempt by James Coppinger from distance was tipped over the bar by Grabara, but overall there was a distinct lack of cutting edge from the home side once they worked the ball into the final third and it told on the scoreline at the interval.
The match was killed off as a contest by the hour mark, with Huddersfield doubling the lead at a free kick soon after the restart. Bacuna got on the end of a clipped delivery and volleyed home, with the Rovers defence looking statuesque. The referee then took it upon himself to spoil the game as a competitive exercise by sending off Joe Wright for two bookable offences in a short space of time. Wright protested that he got the ball both times, in truth it was a pair of marginally late, honest challenges that in a league fixture may have merited one booking, but to see two in a friendly match was baffling and ruined the ability of either side to learn much about themselves thereafter.
Darren Moore made only one change during the game, bringing Will Longbottom on to replace Coppinger, and for the final half an hour it was largely an exercise in off-the-ball discipline for Rovers as Huddersfield made the extra man count. Sadlier had a pair of decent efforts before Gomes fluffed a great chance to half the deficit, the ball breaking to him centre of the area but his shot was straight at Grabara. Blair also fizzed one wide and Lawlor made another routine save at the other end, but it ended 2-0 to the Terriers.
Once again, Ben Sheaf looked impressive, particularly without Ben Whiteman alongside him as a guide (Whiteman is nursing an injury but should be fit for Saturday’s game with Hull). The young midfielder shows composure on the ball, demonstrates good vision going forward and has plenty of energy to get about the field. Joe Wright and Tom Anderson continue to build a solid defensive rapport, in spite of that dismissal which led to Sheaf playing in the back line for the final 30 minutes, and there was a nice display of endeavour from Madger Gomes on the left hand side, albeit with no end product.
Room for Improvement
Squad depth is clearly a concern at present for Darren Moore. He elected not to use the majority of his substitutes, including first team regulars Ali Crawford and Alfie May, and the regularity with which John Marquis found himself isolated in the attacking third highlights the need for more creativity and fluidity behind him in the midfield. If Moore is going with the 4-2-3-1 formation as it appears, we should be okay in the holding role with a strong core of Whiteman, Sheaf, Crawford and young Lirak Hasani, but in front of them we are desperate for some pace and goalscoring nous.
Wright’s red card highlights the need to bring in another centre half too. Whilst Sheaf can deputise there, and we have good prospects in development squad members Shane Blaney and Rian McLean, an experienced alternative to the first choice pairing is a must, particularly with the recent injury records of both Wright and Tom Anderson. The same can be said up front, with only May really available to back up John Marquis, and this is before we factor in the still-likely departure of our #9.
Grant McCann brings his new Hull City side to town on Saturday for our final pre-season game, by which point we will hopefully be a bit further along with potential new signings. If we can keep all eleven men on the pitch and show a bit more urgency and attacking prowess, this should be the best dry-run Darren Moore will get ahead of the crucial League One opener against Gillingham the following week.
Please check back here on ITEN tomorrow for an in-depth look at the current state of play with the Rovers squad, as we assess what needs to be done to fully equip ourselves for a renewed promotion push in 2019/20.