Doncaster Rovers 1 Swindon 0: Town’s automatic promotion hopes fade

Swindon couldn’t make it into the top two as they went down to a 1-0 defeat against top of the table Doncaster. Adam Johnson watched the game from his recliner…

Thank you Sky for showing our game on TV, but sorry to anyone who watched it and wasn’t a fan of Swindon or Doncaster. In a game billed as ‘must win’ Swindon were outplayed and out done tactically as they managed zero shots on target and couldn’t hold on for a point. Jamie McCombe scored the winner from a corner in the 81st minute as Doncaster got the three points they deserved.

Kevin MacDonald made three changes to the side that played versus Oldham with Nathan Thompson and Andy Williams missing out through injury and Roberts dropping to the bench. Those three were replaced by Tottenham loanee Nathan Byrne, James Collins and Adam Rooney.

Swindon lined up in the now traditional formation of ‘So, does anyone know what it is?’ Sky Sports went for a 4-3-3 with Rooney and Parrett on either side of James Collins upfront but as the game went on you’d learn not to trust what Sky Sports had to say about Swindon.  Twitter went for a 4-1-4-1 with Navarro playing in the hole but otherwise as you’d expect.

Personally, I saw it as a 4-2-3-1 (basically 4-5-1 still, kind of) due to Town’s narrow approach to the game. It’s certain that Parrett was playing behind Collins, not on a wing, and Rooney was out on a wing rather than upfront. Navarro and Luongo looked to be playing the deepest in midfield with Ferry supporting Byrne on the right flank. Your guess is as good as mine though. If it’s not 4-4-2, we all get confused.

The formation discussion would be the most entertaining aspect of a dire first half as neither team were able to build any sustained pressure or produce any decent football of note.

Doncaster had the better of the play but that wasn’t much of a compliment as a pitch away from the County Ground once again looked like ruining a game of football. It was Swindon who had the game’s first chance as Dean Parrett’s long range effort went flying over the bar.

Doncaster and Swindon would continue to struggle to break the other down but Aden Flint nearly gave Doncaster a goal out of nothing as he brought down James Coppinger in the box. The centre defender’s rash nature raised to the surface once again as he miss-timed his challenge and brought down Coppinger but the referee gave no penalty.

More time passed by as expectation levels of a good game dropped by the minute but Alan McCormack’s ball chasing dog like nature came out as he hassled the Doncaster backline into a mistake but was only able to put his long range shot over. A bit of energy on show made for a nice change.

The main chance of the half, but not even a shot on target, came in the 38th minute as McCormack would try to walk his way out of the defence. He was caught in possession by David Cotterill whose crossed got a deflection but Darren Ward was there to clear off the line.

The half time whistle couldn’t come soon enough for both sides and supporters but Swindon would have one more long range effort as Nathan Byrne worked hard to keep possession down the right and found Parrett who couldn’t test the Doncaster keeper. Half time, thank you referee.

The second half wouldn’t get any better for Swindon as the league leaders came out taking the initiative seeing three points were for the taking.

Everything in the half would be Doncaster so for the next few paragraphs, I apologise. The first effort to test Foderingham came from Kyle Bennett who managed to be let free on the wing but his shot was straight at the Swindon number one.

Doncaster would trouble Town from corners on a number of occasions with the likes of Rob Jones, Jamie McCombe and Chris Brown proving to be a nuisance and Jones in the 52nd minute had a chance from 4 yards but was distracted enough by Darren Ward to head wide. With Swindon being forced back and having to defend, no change was coming from Kevin MacDonald as James Collins, Adam Rooney, Simon Ferry and Dean Parrett became forgotten men.

Foderingham would be called into action as his reaction save kept out Chris Brown’s header and the striker would again be angered as he jumped with Aden Flint in the area but was brought down as both players missed the header but the referee again gave no penalty.

Dean Furman would be the man given the next chance as he was allowed space to wander into the area, beat the oncoming Byrne, but Aden Flint recovered to clear the danger. However, this was the last time Swindon would be able to clear their lines. Another corner for Doncaster would finally break the barrier as Jamie McCombe got his head on the ball in a busy six yard box which found its way through 3 or 4 Town players to give Doncaster all three points.

Kevin MacDonald did react with two subs, Navarro and Parrett off for De Vita and Roberts, as Swindon tried for an equaliser that wasn’t going to come. It was too late for the boss as Swindon made it only two wins in their last seven collecting nine points on the way.

Most of the criticism about the game was directed at MacDonald’s tactics. His desire to play with one upfront has left many bewildered but I’ve not been against the use of this tactic. What I was most against was the lack of change in reacting to the game or situation.

For the majority of the first half, the tactics were working okay. It was negative but away from home many managers would be. It was doing a job in maintaining Doncaster and limiting their threats even though we weren’t creating ourselves. However, in the second half we were under pressure and not even keeping possession, something had to change.

MacDonald refused to change his system and Collins, Rooney, Parrett and Ferry were all lost as they struggled to keep hold of the ball for any sustainable period.  The former Villa man persists in playing Ferry and Rooney out wide when they clearly are not wide players, maybe showing his opinions of Luke Rooney, Gary Roberts and Raffaele De Vita.

I think the system can work in League One but the players we have aren’t best suited to a 4-3-3/4-5-1/4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 and so forth. The players are used to playing 4-4-2 and were playing slick passing attractive football which didn’t need changing but MacDonald wants to put his mark on the team it seems.

I don’t want this to be ‘have a go at MacDonald day’ but v Doncaster he got it wrong. It’s a bad day at the office but let’s not allow it to ruin the rest of the season. There are five games left to dictate a season that has been very dramatic, let’s not fall at the last hurdles.

On a positive note, Massimo Luongo continued to impress in a Swindon shirt with tough tackling, work rate and a fair few blocks. Nathan Byrne looks solid at right back, I wonder if him or Thompson fancy a stint at left back, and Flint and Ward both had solid performances albeit with the penalty appeals against Aden Flint.

Swindon are now 5th, five points off 2nd place, and have played more games than Brentford and Sheffield United in 3rd and 4th. The dream of automatic promotion is disappearing and with trips to MK Dons and Sheffield United in the next two games, it’s unlikely that’ll change. But a place in the playoffs is definitely ours for the taking. Support the team; it’s all we can do as fans.


  • Thanks for the excellent summary of a dour game Adam. I too watched on TV stream at home being unable to visit. Fortunately I saved my money. What I can’t fathom is what McCormack is doing? does he think that because he’s Captain he can play anywhere? very disappointing performance by him as a poor substitute for injured Jay Mc.


    • I think Alan McCormack is a great professional who has been asked to fill in one too many roles. He’s a CM, did well turning into a CB but he isn’t a left back. He’s told to play there without Jay McEveley. He has been caught out a few times but he’s out of position and trying his hardest. We don’t have cover and Alan seems to be Mr Versatile.


  • ghost of malpas

    NO shots on target ? ….shameful.
    That’s relegation form. It can only get better.
    PS. I’m ready if you want me


  • Great report. Just to add to the comments about McCormack, he’s a great player but he had a complete stinker today and he’s definitely not a left back! He was actually at fault on Friday for the Oldham goal – trying to make a needless challenge and getting caught on the outside of his man.


  • I watched the game on tv and as I live in Norway and don’t have the possibility to watch every match (but I listen to almost every match on BBC Wiltshire),so I’m open to any critics on my views by those of you who go to every match. I would like to add that I am aware that the injury situation forces some changes in the team.

    From my POV, the players looked uncomfortable or unexperienced with the formation. The pitch was awful, but still, there were too many simple passes that went to the opposition or over the line for a throw in or goal kick. Several players tried to run with the ball (Parrett in particular), but on the bumpy pitch, almost every attempt ended up in loosing the ball.

    Joe Devera told the Swindon Advertiser “The training has been a lot sharper, quicker and harder but with less of it. With the old regime it went on for a lot longer but it wasn’t as hard as with Kevin MacDonald”

    With a new formation, a slightly different playing style and three new players that all are in the starting 11 and two of them in the midfield/attack, maybe there should be spent more time in training on player’s relation/movement on the pitch. The system and style should be so known to all the players that they should be able to pass the ball blindfolded (to a teammate) Repetition can be boring, but a very important factor in making each player knowing what the other 10 will be doing when attacking and defending.

    If all these changes were to happen during the summer, I wouldn’t be too worried as the team have more time to adapt to the new style and formation, but the current situation is that we are able to get promoted and I’m not sure if too many changes in too short time are doing us any good.


  • It’s a shame that during a period where it matters most, we’ve been unable to put any sort of winning run together.
    In the 9 games since being League One Leaders (seems a long time ago, but we did top League One this season!) our record of 2 wins, 3 losses and 4 draws has seen us drop out of immediate contention for automatic promotion.

    Statements like ‘We don’t have a divine right to go up’ or ‘It’s not bad to be in the top 6 with all that’s gone on’ are words self-comforting words used when settling for mediocrity.

    No team has a divine right to go up, it’s the top 2 teams with the most points at the end of the season + the PO winner, last time I looked. And why not take advantage when you’re this close; it could be a long wait otherwise…

    But yesterday, contrary to some very frustration games result-wise recently, I wasn’t that disappointed, mainly because we did not deserve to get anything out of the game and I cannot think of many other than Preston away where we did not deserve anything from a game this season.

    There were some very good performances especially from Ferry and Flint who could genuinely after the game say they gave it their all and Wes made some great saves keeping the score down.

    But besides obvious tactical ‘quirks’, for instance having to rely on Ferry to whip in crosses from the same side where Ritchie used to terrorise the opposition or getting balls to our midfield at head height whilst they are all several inches shorter than the opposition, there were some other things I noticed that has crept into our game. Ball watching and giving up too easily after having been passed.
    I was surprised to see this a few times, especially in and around our final third.

    For now, we’ve dropped to 5th in the table with 5 games still to play. Let’s hope for some better performances and results in these remaining games, starting a week today. Keep the faith, you never know….


  • I must say I find it difficult to understand what K Mac is trying to achieve! When Paolo and his gang left we were top. We’d achieved that by playing with two strikers, and four in midfield. Yes, 4-4-2 is not the perfect system, and it does have its flaws, and if we’d been struggling at the foot of the table then a change of formation might have yielded results. But the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it” springs to mind. All the new manager had to do was keep things ticking along in the same way as in the previous 6 months. I realise injuries can sometime force your hand, but we do have the personnel to play 4-4-2. I don’t suppose K Mac will read this, but just in case – this is what he should be aiming at – Foderingham in goal – centre backs any 2 from Devera, Flint, and Ward. Right back – Thompson or Byrne (thought he did OK), left back – McEvely, or McCormack if stuck. Centre midfield – Simon Ferry with 1 other from Miller, McCormack, Luonga. Wingers – any 2 from Roberts, Da Vita, Luke Rooney, and possibly Parret (too greedy though for my liking). Centre forwards any 2 from Adam Rooney, Williams, and Collins. Let’s get back to basics – and quick!


  • Thanks for all the comments guys. Think the general message is go back to basics and let’s get what we can out of the final few games to get a playoff place.

    The formation K-Mac likes is a formation that has come at the wrong time with the wrong players. Next season it could work well from the glimpses of it we have seen but he’ll need a summer to work with and get the necessary players in.

    It’s not just been a case of formation, but also players playing out of position and not getting into the game or just being lost. Adam Rooney is good at annoying CB’s and making them work hard. Sticking him out a wing is wasting his main skills.

    I like that K-Mac has his own ideas and wants to print his own style on the team, shows he has tactical thought and wants to impress but he’s doing it at the wrong time. He needs to motivate and give structure when required to a system that had us top of the league with the players we have.

    I hope we finish the season well but even if we do, I only see a playoff place and anything could happen then.


  • ghost of malpas

    Correction Adam … ‘I only see a playoff place and nothing would happen then’.
    At the moment we are toothless, clueless, confused, and nowhere near Championship quality.


  • Pingback: We Need to Talk About Kevin MacDonald… – The Washbag

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