• Adam Stubbings

Rovers 2-2 Hull: What We Learned

Rovers saved their best pre-season performance for last as Grant McCann leaves DN4 lucky to have seen his new side earn a draw in a competitive friendly fixture.

The surprise absence of John Marquis from the squad caused murmurs before kick-off but it was confirmed swiftly by the Free Press that he was called away from the stadium 90 minutes from kick-off due to personal reasons. In his stead, Kieran Sadlier led the line and we also got a look at three trialists who have been in training under Darren Moore’s watchful eye this week.

The Match

Rovers lined up in the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been favoured by Moore throughout pre-season, with Sadlier at the front and Alfie May on the right flank opposite Madger Gomes. Hull started the game much brighter, with plenty of energy pressing from the front and took the lead inside ten minutes when Jackson Irvine tapped in from close range after a quick move down the right hand side. Nouha Dicko, lively as ever, had a couple of opportunities that he didn’t make the most of, either side of being tackled strongly in the area by Joe Wright, with appeals for a penalty from the forward and the away dugout earning short shrift from the referee.

From there, Rovers grew into proceedings and began to threaten. James Coppinger tested keeper George Long from distance before working a nice move with Alfie May, started down the left flank by Reece James, before working it to Gomes on the right wing. He took a touch inside, adjusted his feet and curled a top quality effort over Long and into the goal for the equaliser. This was a moment of real quality from Rovers, and they continued on the front foot thereafter despite losing Joe Wright to injury. His replacement, trialist Alex Baptiste, was steady and composed in this audition for a contract despite playing very little football over the past year.

Brad Halliday fired wildly over after breaking into the box to get on the end of a pass from May as Rovers pressed their momentum, and he threatened again to earn a corner minutes later. James Coppinger took aim next for Rovers, skewing an effort wide after Hull puffed a quick free kick straight into our midfield, before both Gomes and May got into good positions without threatening the target just before half time. The energy and link-up play was a vast improvement across the board on prior showings, a sense that Darren Moore is finally getting things to click with his new squad.

Hull offered more going forward after the break, although it was Baptiste who headed the first attempt of the second period on target from an early Rovers corner. Debutant Seny Dieng was forced into action at the other end shortly after as Jarrod Bowen volleyed goalward from a corner, the Senegalese stopper tipping the shot round the post well before comfortably saving a header at the follow-up set-piece.

A few meaty challenges in midfield, usually centring around Ben Sheaf in his combative exchanges with Irvine and Kevin Stewart, punctured the flow of the game for a time, but Rovers clicked into gear again to take the lead with another expertly crafted passing move. Gomes, scorer of the opener, was involved again as a neat flick put Kieran Sadlier through the Hull defence, and although they recovered and marshalled him well, he was able to skim a square ball through a crowd of players to Coppinger who slotted home with consummate ease to give the home side a deserved lead.

From there, Moore sought to test out his other trialists by withdrawing Coppinger and Alfie May in favour of former Coventry midfielder Gael Bigirimana and Northern Ireland international Jamie Ward. Rovers maintained a firm grip on the game with the renewed energy brought about by the changes, the new duo combining down the right to almost put Gomes in for a third, before Halliday shot wide on the follow-up set on by Ben Whiteman.

Hull’s talented wide forwards, Bowen and Kamil Grosicki, took more shots on from range as legs began to tire, but the defence contained them well for large periods. Both had chances that they should’ve done better with before Jamie Ward took the initiative for himself and broke down the left, driving in on goal. His effort was straight at Long, and he had Sadlier square, but most would have gone for it in his position. Moments later he created another opportunity for himself, dispossessing Burke on halfway before streaking through on goal, but good goalkeeping denied him as an attempted dink was thwarted by Long.

There was to be a sting in the tail in the final minutes despite Rovers’ excellent display, substitute Josh Bowler tucking away simple finish to level the score at 2-2 from a deflected effort by fellow sub Daniel Batty as the home side failed to heed the warning and clear their lines. Hull finished the game stronger but in truth barely deserved a draw from a game in which Rovers had shown their ability and creativity in a sustained manner for the first time this summer.

Stand Outs

Madger Gomes took the ITEN Man of the Match award for his tremendous display on the left wing here. Linking superbly with his fellow attackers, Gomes showed guile and energy topped off with a superb curling finish to open his Rovers account and could have had another in the second half had the ball fallen a little kinder for him. Overall this was a very encouraging, complete performance from a player who has joined as something of an unknown quantity.

It was a solid team performance all-round, but most of the focus was on the new boys. Goalkeeper Seny Dieng looks set to start the season as first choice, perhaps a little harsh on Ian Lawlor, but Dieng handled everything that he had to comfortably in this game and couldn’t be faulted for either of Hull’s goals. Likewise, experienced trialists Baptiste and Ward look like very capable squad additions and bring a wealth of experience at a higher level to the table. A word too for Kieran Sadlier, who led the line competently at short notice in the absence of Marquis.

Room for Improvement

Third trialist Gael Bigirimana showed endeavour but didn’t contribute significantly in the half hour that he played but is mobile and apparently trained well in the preceding week. There remains a clear deficit in terms of attacking prowess within the squad, and a first choice front four of Coppinger, Sadlier, Marquis and either Gomes or May still feels lacking in terms of output, not to mention a glaring omission of pace now that Mallik Wilks is no longer among the ranks.

Things are starting to come together, but with only days left before the curtain raiser against Gillingham, time begins to run short for Darren Moore and Gavin Baldwin to pull together the last pieces of the puzzle. Much will hinge on the future of Marquis and how swiftly the club can move to replace him if he is to leave for pastures new, but for now we must wait and see.

Looking Ahead

All eyes of course now turn to Gillingham and the start of the 2019/20 league campaign on Saturday. Several transfers should take place this week, between the trialists who played in this contest and any further additions currently being scouted by the club. ITEN will of course keep you up to date with all the latest news on Twitter - @DRFC_ITEN – and will have a feature article on the website here later in the week discussing the prospects of the 23 sides competing with Rovers in League One this season.