A short stint in the EFL Cup for Rovers this season, but there are signs of encouragement despite another late defeat.
Toe-to-toe with the Tricky Trees
A few short years ago we were on a level playing field with Tuesday’s opponents Nottingham Forest, but hard times have fallen on Rovers since then and this meeting would be a stern test of our abilities. Unlike in Saturday’s flaky performance at Accrington, we stood up to that challenge and did very well to match our opponents throughout most of the game, growing in stature as the minutes wore on. Forest may be a team in transition, but they are still an established Championship side so it was pleasing to see us keep up with our rather more illustrious opponents, particularly after the familiar inconsistencies we witnessed at the Crown Ground last weekend.
Whilst there was some sloppy play in the opening 45 minutes, Rovers probably edged the play after half time and would have been well deserving of the extra time that beckoned until Jamie Ward slammed home the 91st minute winner on the counter for Forest. Yes, it as another late goal that sunk us as concentration levels dipped and the rain poured down, but ultimately the quality of the visitors showed and it was probably not a bad thing that our players were spared an extra half an hour of football with several league games coming up in the next couple of weeks.
The Wright Stuff
Joe Wright was back from injury to make his competitive debut in the back line here and he demonstrated throughout exactly why Darren Ferguson fought hard to bring him to the club in the summer. Wright is strong, tall and young, but crucially he isn’t afraid to go forward with the ball at his feet. The much feted “cultured centre half” is not something we are used to seeing in the red and white hoops, but things may be about to change and if Wright can cement his place in the starting line-up then the prospect of playing 3-5-2 for the rest of the season may not seem such a daunting one for fans any longer.
Wright was composed, looked to get the ball forward in an effective rather than rushed manner, and he was also solid without the ball. The defence looked miles better for his inclusion, and watching him play against Forest had me thinking about just how formidable our central trio could be in League Two when Mathieu Baudry is back from his achilles injury. With these two strong, skilful players either side of Andy Butler, we can be a force to fear in the fourth tier this year.
Liam Mandeville again made an impact from the bench against Forest, the 19-year-old forward netting our equaliser and injecting some much needed energy into the attacking third. He did the same thing at Accrington on Saturday, adding some guile and intelligence to our attacks and bringing the goods to boot, crossing for Andy Williams to turn home and make it 2-2 in that game. Here, he showed tenacity to put away a close range effort from a corner that brought us deservedly back on level terms with our opponents, and looked threatening throughout.
Mandeville was deployed on the right hand side in the Accrington loss, but instead played at the point of the midfield three on Tuesday night, setting up attacks for the forwards. He isn’t blessed with great pace, but has intelligence to find space and could be an asset if he continues to improve. We are crying out for a versatile goalscorer, and based on his words in interviews Fergie clearly believes Mandeville can fulfill this role so that we don’t have to dip into the loan market again. He has a couple of weeks to prove we don’t need attacking reinforcements, and he’s going about it the right way so far.
Safe hands, please
After Saturday’s defeat I singled out Ross Etheridge for criticism. Fergie may be unsure over his goalkeeping choice at the moment but after watching Marko Marosi get his chance against Forest, I am no longer unsure. Marosi is yet to demonstrate much when called upon in his brief appearances since signing two years ago from Wigan, and he looked suspect again here. His kicking was alarming in the first half, and his handling not all that much better either. Whilst I can’t fault him for either goal, and thought he had a very good half in the Newcastle friendly, I don’t believe he will make it at the club and stand by my assertion that we should have released him in the summer instead of giving him a new deal.
Etheridge made some big errors against his old team in our opening league game, but I believe he can develop into a superb goalkeeper for us and would like to see him restored to the starting line-up against Crawley. It will do nothing for the young man’s confidence if he is dropped after only one appearance, but it isn’t something that would surprise me either given Fergie’s track record. Perhaps the gaffer was too hasty in ditching Thorsten Stuckmann altogether, as Etheridge would surely benefit from prolonged training alongside an experienced pro, rather than somebody he actually has more professional experience than despite only making his professional debut in January of this year.
Fergie’s had a look, what’s the verdict?
Darren Ferguson said he wanted to get a look at a couple of his players by giving them run-outs in the EFL Cup, so what has he gleaned from doing this? Marko Marosi failed to impress when given the chance, but another given his opportunity here was Tyler Garratt. Garratt comes highly rated from the Bolton academy, and was asked to play in two different positions against Forest. In the first half he unfortunately struggled to cope with the high demands of playing in the troublesome left wing back position, and looked out of his depth. Shifted inside to play in the back three after half time however, he looked much better and helped keep our defensive shape well.
As a result of this, Riccardo Calder was brought on to play left wing back instead and, unlike his performance against Accrington, Calder looked much more comfortable fulfilling his defensive duties in that position here. Perhaps applying a more cautious approach due to the higher standard of opposition, Calder too stuck to his role in the defensive line well and only broke forward when the opportunity really presented itself. It was encouraging to see him improve so quickly, and bodes well for the Aston Villa loanee. Harry Middleton also got a start in midfield, but looked like a passenger and may need some more time before reaching full fitness. His replacement Liam Mandeville did a far better job at contributing to attacks and tracking back.
Two games down and still no victory, but our first home league game of the season awaits on Saturday as Crawley Town come to the Keepmoat. Despite being one of the favourites for relegation, Crawley won their opening fixture against Wycombe so will be in confident mood so won’t be laying down for us. Rovers need to finally show what they are capable of and get that vital first victory, and add three points to the board before our slow start becomes an early slump.