Match Verdict & Highlights: Doncaster Rovers 1 Millwall 1
Plenty of questions have been asked of Doncaster Rovers during their February to forget. In the final match of the month they started to provide a positive response.
Though they undoubtedly remain embroiled in a relegation scrap that was unthinkable at the turn of the year, at last they have shown they are up for the fight ahead.
Ending the run of consecutive defeats at four was an important step. It may have been done by picking up a single point against Millwall when a couple of survival rivals grabbed three but it was a positive outcome nonetheless.
Arguably more important than the result was the performance and what it said about the character and quality this team does possess - attributes brought into serious question over the last fortnight.
The record books will show Rovers earned a point when Richard Chaplow cancelled out Steve Morison’s opener for a fairly routine draw. But beyond the top line could prove to read a tale of the day when Rovers’ canter to survival began.
Play like they did on Saturday consistently for the rest of the season and Darren Ferguson’s side will not be troubled by the bottom four for much longer.
They recovered from going a goal down early on to show composure, patience and a real lack of panic. They took the game to an opposition that came to the Keepmoat having won their previous five away games. And it would hardly have been unjust had they grabbed a winner.
To produce such a performance on home soil was a major positive, particularly when troubles at the Keepmoat have been at the forefront of minds in recent months.
The fact that it came after falling behind with just six minutes gone - and six minutes completely dominated by the visitors - was a major indicator that Rovers’ resolve is back.
Millwall were rampant in the opening minutes but they did not have to push hard for their goal. Paul Keegan inadvertently flicked Jordan Archer’s goal kick towards his own goal, allowing Morison to race clear and produce a sublime lob over Thorsten Stuckmann.
There was a justified fear at this point that Millwall could run riot. But instead, their intensity levels dipped and their play dropped deeper, presenting Rovers with a clear opportunity to dictate possession.
And that is exactly what they did.
There was an element of back to basics about Rovers’ approach, all the while sticking to Ferguson’s favoured 3-5-2 system.
He recalled Craig Alcock and played Mitchell Lund at right wing back in place of Cameron Stewart who struggled in the role in the previous two games.
Chaplow came into midfield with Harry Middleton dropping out, a move designed to add dynamism going forward.
Though seeking dynamism, there was a slight change in tact when Rovers had the ball. Possession was much more considered and composed rather than the 100 miles per hour play they showed during their excellent pre-New Year run of form.
It might not have been exhilarating but it was affective, particularly for a side that had been bereft of confidence in previous weeks.
They were happy to keep the ball on the half way line without pondering in possession, waiting for opportunities to play a pass.
It meant frustration levels were kept a minimum and ensured nerves never had the chance to breed among the players.
A show of confidence was what was called for and it was delivered.
All of this came with Rovers still not close to their best.
They continued to lack true, consistent threat in contrast to Millwall who looked very dangerous on the counterattack.
Andy Williams struggled to have an influence on the game, almost bullied out of it by the Lions’ towering central pairing of Mark Beevers and Byron Webster.
And Conor Grant was well shut out and closed down well to prevent him from making the killer passes that have made him one of Rovers’ most influential players.
But the fact such a performance came while still not at their best should be taken as a major plus point for the fight ahead.
A solid foundation has been laid and if they can maintain this as a basic standard, they should only improve from here on in.
From around the 15 minute mark for the remainder of the first half they controlled the ball without creating many clear cut chances.
But a deserved equaliser came eight minutes from the break and it was a particularly sweet one for Chaplow.
He has received dog’s abuse from the 800 strong supporters of his former club Millwall and could hardly rein his delight when he slammed home Williams’ cut back from close range.
Chaplow almost gave Rovers the lead before the break but his shot was saved well by Archer, whom Millwall were certainly indebted to for leaving with a point.
Millwall emerged with more intent after the break and the game panned out into an even contest, though Rovers continued to control possession.
Morison should have put Millwall back in front only for a bobble of the ball to prevent him from tapping in Lee Gregory’s flashed cross.
Rovers had the better chances to win it in the later stages. Substitute Lynden Gooch looped a header just wide from a corner.
And with virtually the last kick of the game, Grant drilled low on the angle with Archer producing a smart save to keep him out.
There was no win but the rot was stopped and Rovers began to answer their critics.
Rovers: Stuckmann 6, Lund 6, Alcock 7, McCullough 7, Taylor-Sinclair 6, Evina 7, Chaplow 7, Keegan 7 (Middleton 52 6), Grant 6, Williams 5 (Gooch 60 6), Tyson 7. Subs not used: Marosi, Butler, Coppinger, Stewart, Mandeville.
Millwall: Archer 8, Romeo 7, Webster 7, Beevers 7, Martin 6, Wallace 6 (Onyedinma 89), Abdou 6, Thompson 7, Ferguson 6 (O’Brien 76), Gregory 7, Morison 6. Subs not used: Forde, Williams, Nelson, Philpot, Mbulu.
Referee: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire)
Attendance: 6,810 (825 away)