Doncaster 3-1 Portsmouth: Five Things We Learnt

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Marquis impressed with a double

A John Marquis brace helped Doncaster to a 3-1 win over Portsmouth on Thursday night to go 10 points clear in the League Two promotion race. But what have we learnt from the game?

Donny have quality in the final third

Those believing League Two to be a division without quality might want to watch Doncaster’s three goals. Right-back Craig Alcock combined well with James Coppinger early on and the latter put in a superb looping cross for John Marquis to head into the opposite corner.

In the second half, Coppinger was involved again to set up Tommy Rowe, who rifled the ball into the roof of the net. Rowe then put in a superb ball from the left and at the back-post, Marquis finished with unerring ease.

Some Doncaster fans were worried when Andy Williams got injured in October, then teenager Liam Mandeville emerged and fears were forgotten. Mandeville was unavailable for tonight’s game yet Marquis was excellent, in terms of his finishing and hold-up play. Rovers can cope without individuals, they have depth in attack and are capable of real quality in the final third, which is why they are scoring effectively two goals per game.

Donny should play to their strengths

Bearing in mind the quality Doncaster showed for the goals, it is noticeable that their ability with the ball exceeds their ability without it. When they played positive possession football, which they did in the first 15 minutes and also with the score at 1-1, they looked a threat. When they kept the ball at 2-1 ahead, they at least looked in control.

However, the nervier moments came with the score at 1-0 and 3-1, when Darren Ferguson’s side sat back and allowed Portsmouth to have the ball. Gareth Evans and Kal Naismith combined well down the right in the first half, yet there were times when the latter was allowed to pause on the ball in dangerous areas, without being closed down by Niall Mason among others. The energetic Evans put in a good cross late on for Milan Lalkovic at the back-post, but the substitute’s header from point-blank range was well-saved by Marko Marosi. Until the goalkeeper’s injury in the closing stages, he had made some key saves at times when Doncaster were sitting on a lead. If Rovers can be more positive when in front, the work load placed on their stopper and defence may be reduced.

Pompey must press better

Naismith deserved his goal in the first half, because he was one of the few attacking players in Portsmouth’s side who provided energy and dynamism. Striker Michael Smith was bullied by Mathieu Baudry and Andy Butler throughout the contest and does not have the pace to run in behind. Nor does Carl Baker, who is 34 and looks a shadow of the man that won Player of the Year in MK Dons’ 14/15 League One promotion winning team. Kyle Bennett did not have the right body language out of possession and though he set up the equalizer against his old club, there was a sense that he turned it on when he felt like it. These players fared well when Doncaster sat back and allowed them time to construct attacks, but badly when they had to adapt to the tempo of the game. The recruitment team at Portsmouth need to look at more than just the technical ability of the attacking players they bring in. Qualities such as power, pace and desire need to be considered if they are to form a coherent and balanced team.

Pompey need more midfield muscle

For somebody who was recently captain and ball-winner at Sheffield United, it seemed surprising to see Michael Doyle out-muscled in the middle of the park. The 35-year-old was forced back in spells and struggled to impose himself. Similarly, Daniel Rose got bullied off the ball too easily and the standard of his simple passes did not make up for his physical limitations. The best thing one could say about Rose was that he had energy, yet without intelligence, bravery or power, energy in a player becomes fruitless. Portsmouth could do with somebody who has both strength and a capacity to drive forward from deep.

Gap opening at the top

Defeat means Portsmouth have now taken two points from games against Doncaster, Plymouth and Carlisle. Failure to capitalize on dominant performances against the latter two feels significant and if the top three maintain their current form, Paul Cook’s side may have to settle for another May of play-off drama. Only a catastrophic capitulation would see Donny endure such a fate. If the rest of the league maintains the same points per game record, they only need a return rate similar to Crawley between now and the end of the season to secure promotion. It is theirs to lose.

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