Rovers 2-0 Gainsborough: What We Learned
Pre-season is only just kicking into gear, but already the Rovers squad has had three opportunities to stretch their legs in a game situation and remain unbeaten. Granted, we are yet to face EFL opposition in any of these games, but as experimental exercises and fitness boosters, the games are invaluable. This week’s game with Halifax was moved to the behind-closed-doors setting of Cantley Park owing to pitch issues at The Shay, so today we take a look at the side’s last public fixture, a trip to Lincolnshire last Saturday to face Northern Premier League side Gainsborough Trinity.
Gainsborough are a well-established non-league side who have spent the majority of their history in the upper echelons of the semi-professional pyramid but were relegated for the first time in their history just over a year ago from National League North. Trinity represented a step-up in quality of opposition from local side Rossington Main, who Rovers beat 3-0 the previous midweek, and John Schofield would deploy the same team format for this game as he did there: two sets of eleven for 45 minutes each, with the expected best XI playing from the start.
Rovers opted for a fluid 4-4-2 in the first half at a sunny Northolme and dominated possession from the off. Alfie May made the running up front and had a couple of early chances, one narrowly wide before another blazed over the top of the stand after the Trinity keeper had parried a Ben Whiteman effort into his path. May also linked well with new signing Madger Gomes to proffer an opportunity for Gomes that was saved. Whiteman then took another chance from distance and scored to put Rovers into the lead, demonstrating his knack for getting on the ball and pushing forward through midfield.
Less than ten minutes later the scoreline was doubled as John Marquis broke through the Trinity defence after a lovely lofted ball through from Tom Anderson, slotting home coolly under the goalkeeper to make it 2-0. May and Gomes both had additional chance before the break as the game remained one-way traffic, but Rovers’ first XI settled for the two goals into half time. James Coppinger spent a lot of time out on the right here, linking well with both Matty Blair and new right back Brad Halliday, whilst Sunderland recruit Reece James provided the same support down the left flank for Alfie May.
The second half XI was a youthful one, with Kieran Sadlier the most senior player, operating as a #10 in a 4-5-1 led by out-of-favour forward Alex Kiwomya. Trinity saw more of the ball this half but were undone time after time by Kiwomya’s pace, only for his finishing and decision-making in the penalty area to let him down and prevent Rovers from adding to their lead. Max Watters, coming in off the right wing, had a couple of decent chances and showed smart footwork on more than one occasion, whilst Sadlier tried his luck from distance a few times to no avail.
Ben Sheaf, fresh off signing on loan from Arsenal, demonstrated a composed presence sat at the base of the midfield alongside Cody Prior, doing the basics well and linking play through the lines. He also showed good size and movement, and off this showing alone looks an intriguing prospect. The defence were tested more than in the first half but held things together well. Louis Jones in goal was forced into action late in the game after a terrific effort from range, but he dived full-stretch to keep it out and ultimately earn a clean sheet on a comfortable afternoon for Rovers, who won it 2-0 in the end.
The senior players showed their quality in the first half, particularly Ben Whiteman and James Coppinger. The willingness of new full back pair Brad Halliday and Reece James to get forward is encouraging, as the attacking prowess of the defensive wide players was a particular strength of the side last season, and there was good energy from the forward line too. After the break, Ben Sheaf stood out as a talented player among the second team, whilst Kieran Sadlier appeared fit and hungry after his first break in 18 months. If we can add some strength in depth over the next few weeks with our transfer dealings, we should be well placed for the opening league fixtures.
Room for Improvement
Although he demonstrated good pace and movement to get in behind the defence countless times, Alex Kiwomya flattered to deceive in front of goal. Too often he made the wrong choice with the ball at his feet in the danger area, and this was the main reason Rovers failed to add to the two goals scored in the first half. One caveat here is that he is not a traditional centre forward, but it wasn't the best first impression to make on new manager Darren Moore, who watched this game from the main stand. Will Longbottom, who was also placed on the transfer list at the end of last season, struggled to make an impact on the left hand side of midfield, with Danny Amos providing the bulk of the threat from that side.
Overall, a decent work-out for Rovers here in front of a good crowd, and on an excellent pitch for the level Gainsborough play at. However, we will learn far more about where the squad stands in its preparations from upcoming fixtures against league opposition, starting with Grimsby Town on Saturday. We will not be able to make it to Blundell Park for that one but will provide live coverage of both home friendly games next week, against Huddersfield Town and Hull City, over at the ITEN Twitter account, and will be posting match reports just like this one for both games here at intotheemptynet.com.