Doncaster 3 Pompey 1: Neil Allen’s match report

Pompey suffered a 3-1 defeat at Doncaster. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey suffered a 3-1 defeat at Doncaster. Picture: Joe Pepler
Stuart O'Keefe. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey midfielder will relish facing former club

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Pompey’s promotion credentials faltered in front of the television cameras and the League Two leaders last night.

The closest pretenders to the top three failed their audition piece as impressive Doncaster Rovers completed a winning double.

John Marquis opens the scoring for Doncaster. Picture: Joe Pepler

John Marquis opens the scoring for Doncaster. Picture: Joe Pepler

In the process, Darren Ferguson’s side clinically crowbarred open the cracks which remain in the Blues’ set-up.

The defeat was as convincing as the 3-1 scoreline suggests – this was no hard-luck story or miscarriage of justice.

Susceptibility at right-back, Michael Smith’s fluctuating form, the erratic nature of several attacking players and sparse creativity – all glaringly obvious.

Granted, Paul Cook’s side have maintained fourth spot.

Yet when the challenge came to match themselves against sides they should be competing with for promotion, they fell well short.

And that is the most disappointing aspect of last night’s televised Keepmoat Stadium fixture.

Rovers are now 10 points ahead of the Blues as they strengthened their position at the top – realistically for Pompey, two promotion spots now remain.

For a side undefeated on their travels for more than three months, this was not the night to implode.

Yet, as at Blackpool in their previous away loss, they were simply not good enough.

In mitigation, they did find a way back into the game following a wretched opening 20 minutes in which John Marquis netted one of his two goals.

Kal Naismith converted Kyle Bennett’s pass to send them in at the break 1-1 as the visitors finished the first half strongly.

Yet they never got going after the break and once Tommy Rowe restored Rovers’ lead there was no way back.

The best side won. A team which have demonstrated they are superior to Pompey on two occasions this season.

Not good enough from the visitors, nowhere near satisfactory, outclassed and exposed, it was frustratingly poor.

Now Cook must utilise a transfer window to revamp his squad to ensure they are capable of chasing down Carlisle and Plymouth Argyle, who occupy the remaining two promotion slots.

What a big, big month ahead for both Pompey’s boss and the team he manages.

For the Keepmoat Stadium visit, Cook retained the side which on Monday defeated Luton Town in the Blues’ first game of 2017.

That meant Gary Roberts remained on the bench, despite his recent return from having been granted a two-game rest.

Instead, Naismith operated in the hole behind lone striker Smith in the manager’s favoured 4-2-3-1.

The substitutes were also unchanged as Jamal Lowe once again failed to make the match-day 18 following his official arrival from Hampton & Richmond.

The striker and Adam Buxton were the two members of Pompey’s 20-man travelling party to miss out, although they both warmed up on the pitch before the game.

Table-topping Rovers made once alteration to the team which beat Stevenage earlier this week.

Full-back Craig Alcock came in for midfielder Harry Middleton as Ferguson ditched the 3-5-2 system he recently operated with.

The hosts won the game’s first corner on two minutes, James Coppinger providing the delivery which was headed away by Naismith.

Barely three minutes later and Doncaster had themselves the lead.

Coppinger’s cross from the right flicked off the back of team-mate Matty Blair, the ball bouncing to Marquis at the far post for the striker to comfortably steer a header home.

Pompey were rocking and moments later Conor Grant sent in a swerving shot from long range which keeper David Forde did well to follow its path and grasp.

The visitors were struggling to get any of the ball, although on 13 minutes Enda Stevens won a corner following clever link-up play down the left.

From the resulting set-piece, Carl Baker picked out the Matt Clarke, who was denied a headed equaliser by keeper Marko Marosi’s sprawling stop on the goal line.

There was a scare for Pompey on 18 minutes when Alcock’s deep cross from the right was headed against the outside of the post by Marquis, who was unmarked.

Cook’s men responded with a succession of right-wing corners and they began to apply pressure on the home goal.

At the other end, Grant ballooned the ball over with a left-foot shot after Baker had initially been dispossessed in the opposition half.

On 34 minutes, Christian Burgess collected the first booking of the game following a trip on Marquis which prevented the striker bursting forward.

He was followed into the book by Gareth Evans, who was handed a yellow after he was adjudged to have dived having cut across the box.

However, the Blues levelled on 41 minutes following a superb ball from Bennett.

The winger threaded a pass into the path of Naismith, who demonstrated magnificent composure to slot a left-footed shot past Doncaster keeper Marosi.

On the stroke of half-time, Michael Doyle collected Pompey’s third booking following a trip on Grant.

In the opening minutes after the break, Alcock was booked for a late challenge on Baker in the centre circle.

On 55 minutes, Blair made way for striker Andy Williams, although moments later Marosi produced a low save from Evans’ 25-yard shot.

Yet Doncaster regained their lead on 58 minutes when Rowe managed to get the better of Evans and rifle a fierce angled shot past Forde to make it 2-1.

Immediately, Milan Lalkovic was introduced for a rare appearance – replacing Baker.

He was shortly followed by Roberts for Bennett. Doncaster’s lead was increased on 71 minutes when a cross from the left was crashed home by Marquis.

Lalkovic had the opportunity to reduce the arrears, although produced a weak far-post header from Evans’ cross from the right and the ball was beaten out.

The visitors kept fighting to the end, yet Doncaster had their two-goal advantage, thereby remaining in control and saw it out to claim an important victory.