Analysis: Doncaster Rovers 1 Gillingham 2 - Dire home record is undermining Paul Dickov

Kyle Bennett in action against Gillingham
Kyle Bennett in action against Gillingham

Ryan Murrant, Rovers’ new marketing manager, may have just walked into one of the hardest jobs in the Football League.

Tasked primarily with getting more people through the turnstiles at the Keepmoat Stadium, it is a job becoming harder by the week as Doncaster’s home form goes from bad to worse.

Sky Bet League One Football - Doncaster Rovers vs Gillingham FC . James Coppinger up against Bradley Dack

Sky Bet League One Football - Doncaster Rovers vs Gillingham FC . James Coppinger up against Bradley Dack

No amount of sales patter, special offers or supporter liaison can mask an abysmal home record which is threatening to undermine boss Paul Dickov and Rovers’ return to League One.

Fans ultimately want to see a winning team - a club’s most powerful marketing tool will always be performances and results on the pitch - but the Doncaster supporters who don’t follow their team away from home have almost forgotten what winning feels like.

Rovers have won just once at the Keepmoat since March.

They have the joint worst home record in England’s top four divisions.

Sky Bet League One Football - Doncaster Rovers vs Gillingham FC. Curtis Main

Sky Bet League One Football - Doncaster Rovers vs Gillingham FC. Curtis Main

And only Sheffield Wednesday have scored fewer goals in their own backyard this season.

The hardy home fans who skipped Christmas shopping to watch their team lose to the side with the worst away record in the division saved their fiercest recent criticism of Dickov and his team for the full time whistle on Saturday.

Their frustration was understandable.

There was no shortage of effort from Rovers, and no lack of goalscoring opportunities either, but it was a case of deja-vu as a visiting team set up to defend deep, get men behind the ball, frustrate Doncaster and then punish them with a sucker punch.

“If Doncaster score it’s a different game, but the longer it goes on I think they get nervous they won’t break us down,” said Gills boss Peter Taylor, after seeing his side notch their first away win of the season.

“Sometimes they’re vulnerable to the counter attack because of that.”

So the secret is well and truly out.

It is stating the obvious, given the horrifying statistics, but opposing teams are clearly wise as to how to win at Doncaster.

On the plus side, Rovers are at least creating chances. Saturday’s performance was markedly better than the horror show at Fleetwood, for instance, or the insipid home defeat to Oldham.

To the players’ credit too, their heads are not dropping as things continue to go against them at home. It’s just not happening at the Keepmoat, but it’s not for the want of trying.

But the fact that a Gillingham team who have become accustomed to losing on the road, a team whose last away win came nine months ago, became the latest visiting side to cash in will be a serious concern to everyone connected with Rovers, not just Dickov.

Rovers moved the ball nicely at times during a decent enough first half display.

They bossed possession and territory - but that final killer ball or cool finish was lacking.

Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson had to be alert to save from James Coppinger and Kyle Bennett, who both stung his palms with shots from the edge of the box.

Bennett, the liveliest of Rovers’ front six, also saw a deflected effort blocked by Nelson’s legs. It was his clever header that also sent Theo Robinson clear for the best chance of the half, but the striker pulled his effort wide.

Having negotiated their way to half time, Gillingham’s plan was half way to fruition.

They came out for the second period buoyed by their clean sheet - and it didn’t take them long to strike an all-important first blow.

The only time Rovers have won at home this season, against Chesterfield, was when they scored the first goal in the game.

But on 51 minutes Dickov’s men found themselves one down and facing another uphill climb.

Michael Doughty broke down the left and his cross-cum-shot fell perfectly for Luke Norris at the back post to coolly stroke past Sam Johnstone.

After initially losing their way after the goal, Rovers continued to enjoy the majority of possession - but also kept up their wastefulness in front of goal. Coppinger clipped an effort inches wide after being expertly sent clear by Richie Wellens, while Andy Butler headed wide after getting on the end of a good cross from Reece Wabara.

It was turning into one of those days, again.

And with the game entering its final stages, the Gills completely winded Rovers with the sort of long range effort that seems to be becoming the norm for away teams at the Keepmoat.

Substitute Harry Forrester was guilty of playing a ball blind on half way, it was worked to Norris who found space and fired home superbly from distance, just like Notts County’s Liam Noble and Sheffield United’s Jamie Murphy.

Wabara headed against the bar from Bennett’s corner as the frustration reached boiling point.

When Robinson was upended in the box deep into stoppage time, Main kept his cool to halve the deficit and at least end Rovers’ 490-minute wait for a goal on home turf.

It was scant consolation, however, and the boos at full time left Dickov and his players in no doubt what the fans think of a home hoodoo that is holding Doncaster back.

It is a blot on the club’s copybook that needs sorting out urgently - for the sake of Dickov, Murrant and everyone associated with Rovers.

Rovers (4-4-2): Johnstone 5; Wabara 6, Butler 6, McCullough 6, Stevens 6; Coppinger 6, Wellens 6, Keegan 5 (Forrester 57, 5), Bennett 7; Robinson 5, Main 5. Subs: Marosi, Evina, Wakefield, De Val, Whitehouse, J McKay.

Gillingham (3-5-2): Nelson 8, Legge 7, Egan 7, Ehmer 7, Martin 7, Hessenthaler 6, Loft 7, Doughty 7, Dack 7 (Galbraith 80), Dickenson 6, Norris 8. Subs: Bywater, McGlashan, Pritchard, Lennon, Hoyte, McDonald.