Producing a performance devoid of quality and composure is hardly ideal for a side still without a win or a goal from open play.
Rovers’ hunt for both continues after an awful showing at Port Vale that could easily have been a great deal worse.
The passion and conviction of Wigan away last week may as well have been a lifetime ago with Rovers barely a shell of that side on their second road outing of the campaign.
Three goals conceded and never even a whiff of getting one back.
Sam Foley made up for an earlier saved penalty by giving Vale a deserved lead before former Rovers loanee Uche Ikpeazu effectively put the game to bed just after half time.
And the impressive Byron Moore netted on the stroke of full time to produce a scoreline that flattered the hosts by no means at all.
Lacklustre, sluggish and without invention, Rovers were on the back foot from the first whistle and appeared to have no real idea of how to change the pattern of the game.
It is hard to think of many performances as bad as this one during Paul Dickov’s time at the club, including last season’s woeful trip to Vale Park.
Until Billy Whitehouse’s introduction in the second half, no player truly carried the ball with any real conviction or bravery.
And there was a distinct lack of width, resulting in few crosses of note, as both James Coppinger and Cedric Evina, plus their supporting full backs, failed to get into the game.
The Vale defence could not have wished for a more simple afternoon of work as they were never tested by anything other than a busy Andy Williams.
Dickov’s message to his players before the game was ‘shoot on sight’ as he bidded to banish the goal drought. If only there were opportunities to do so.
Redeeming features were hard to come by beyond a superb performance from Thorsten Stuckmann, who led an ultimately doomed one-man rescue mission.
Without Stuckmann’s heroics in the first half, the scoreline would have reached embarrassing proportions. Keeping out Foley’s penalty was probably the most simple stop in a string of superb saves.
But his own personal performance will be of little consolation to the big man.
Port Vale went at Rovers from the first whistle, pressing incredibly high up the pitch and never giving them chance to settle. Just as Rovers did in the magnificent performance at Wigan, Vale’s intense pressing caused problems and panic.
Rovers struggled to clear their lines and faced wave after wave of attacks during a first half which Vale’s impressive midfield dominated.
What Rovers needed was time on the ball, a breather during which they could settle things down and begin to methodically build attacks. Instead, there seemed little desire to maintain possession but rather get the ball forward quickly.
Williams ran his proverbial socks off yet again and could not hide his frustration at how the afternoon was panning out.
It is not hard to see that he is a striker who relies on quality service. But after all the signs of a developing relationship with Rovers’ midfielders in recent games, he found decent providers severely lacking on Saturday.
As Rovers struggled to create, lazy and thoughtless long balls crept into their game, ensuring a monumental effort for Williams against Vale’s grateful centre half pairing of Richard Duffy and Ryan Inniss.
In contrast to Williams’ performance, Ikpeazu had a field day at the opposite end of the pitch.
It was clear the big forward was up for the game, likely spurred on by the perceived wrongs against him during his brief time on loan at Rovers last season.
While criticised for his effort and performances in Doncaster, there was no doubting the desire and threat he showed against Rovers this time out.
For someone so familiar to them, Rovers did not know how to deal with Ikpeazu in such form. There were times his power made the usually assured defence look rather toothless.
Much of Vale’s threat in the first half came from the Ikpeazu battering ram and the pace of Enoch Andoh on the left, who gave Luke McCullough a torrid time.
Andoh won his side a penalty on ten minutes, spinning off his marker and falling as Richard Chaplow came in to challenge. Soft to say the least with more than a hint of a dive.
Referee Rob Lewis was sure in his decision however which could not be said of kick taker Foley who put the ball at a perfect height for Stuckmann to parry out.
It was the start of a brilliant string of stops from Stuckmann. He went full stretch to keep out drives from Louis Dodds and Carl Dickinson. But his best save saw him acrobatically tip over with a Dodds header seemingly destined for the top corner.
After banging on the door, Vale finally found a way in on 35 minutes. Dickinson chipped a cross into the heart of the box where Foley rose and flicked a header over Stuckmann to score.
Curtis Main was thrown on at half time as Rovers switched to a 4-4-2 with Harry Middleton sacrificed from a five man midfield.
But there was no chance for the change to take effect before Ikpeazu got the goal his performance deserved.
Receiving a pass in the box, Ikpeazu turned Gary MacKenzie before rifling under Stuckmann to double the advantage.
The goal ended the game as a contest with close to a full half to be played. Vale looked happy to sit on their lead.
It took 57 minutes for Rovers to register a shot on goal with Williams cutting in off the left and firing straight at Jak Alnwick.
And their best chance came 14 minutes from time when Williams drilled over the bar after Main’s initial shot was saved.
Vale had one last piece of quality up their sleeves two minutes from time. Ben Purkiss cut back a low cross from the byline with Moore darting in and producing a sublime backheel to score.
The third goal gave both Vale and Rovers what they deserved and removed any doubt that there is still plenty of work for Dickov and company to do.
Port Vale: Alnwick 6, Purkiss 7, Inniss 6, Duffy 6, Dickinson 7, Moore 8, Grant 7, Andoh 7 (Daniel 70 6), Foley 7, Dodds 7, Ikpeazu 8 (Leitch Smith 76 7). Subs not used: Johnson, Birchall, Streete, Brown, Kelly
Rovers: Stuckmann 8, McCullough 5, MacKenzie 5, Butler 6, Taylor-Sinclair 6, Coppinger 5, Wellens 6, Middleton 6 (Main 46), Chaplow 6, Evina 5 (Whitehouse 58 6), Williams 6. Subs not used: Marosi, Lund, Jones, Mandeville, P McKay
Referee: Rob Lewis (Shropshire)