OPINION: Doncaster Rovers 3 Fleetwood Town 2

Wes Burns is consoled by Josh Morris
Wes Burns is consoled by Josh Morris

It should have been a day to celebrate the return to goalscoring form of Conor McAleny but Town’s trip to the Keepmoat Stadium highlighted their set-piece frailty.

Since the departure of Amari’i Bell in January 2018 Town’s left flank has been a problem area but on Saturday their right side was torn apart by Rovers in the first half.

And Town unfortunately were the architects of their own downfall,: sloppy marking in the box, a failure to clear their lines, not closing down and an unfortunate own-goal from Burns after a lack of communication across the board at the death.

But Town should have won, especially after getting the first goal. Without John Marquis this Rovers side are not the same beast that challenged for promotion last term.

But they punished Town’s errors and Town, once again, were not clinical enough at the other end.

McAleny, Josh Morris and Jack Sowerby all returned to the starting line-up after Town’s Carabao Cup exit at Nottingham Forest as Ash Hunter, Paddy Madden and Harrison Biggins moved to the bench.

After McAleny and Morris’ impact off the bench at the City Ground it was no surprise to see them back but Sowerby’s introduction was a surprise. Barton stuck with the 4-3-3, Sowerby starting on the right of that midfield three.

It started promisingly, with McAleny and Morris going close. Morris’ effort was only just kept out by Tom Anderson’s toe on the line.

Then a Rossiter surging run from the middle would do the damage in the 11th minute.

He steamed unmarked into the box to latch on to Lewis Coyle’s cross from the right and nodded the ball at keeper Ian Lawlor. He batted it straight back to Rossiter, who hooked the ball over to McAleny.

The striker’s instinctive header flew home and his celebration said it all.

The emotion in his face was clear as the striker deservedly ended his 16-month wait for a Fleetwood Town goal.

Boss Barton backed his forward and said the goals would flow. McAleny’s performances have deserved goals and hopefully his confidence will grow as he remains injury-free.

He can certainly score at this level, a blistering loan spell at Oxford from Everton in 2017 the reason Town snapped him up that summer.

Now, finally, the most technically gifted player in Town’s crop is living up to his promise.

He could have made it two just moments later as he pounced on a Lawlor mistake but his shot was saved.

Rossiter had been forced off for treatment after cutting his eye in the celebrations. He returned with a head bandage and Town lost a chance to build on their momentum and Rovers seized the initiative.

It was to be Town’s right flank that was targeted. Morris did not track back enough, with Coyle outnumbered.

Sowerby and Coutts were too central and when they did come over it was too late.

May’s strike was tipped over by Cairns as Rovers tried their luck from deep.

They would level from the subsequent set-piece as Town failed to clear and Cameron John rifled the ball home off the crossbar.

Rovers upped the onslaught, roared on by their home crowd. Ben Whiteman forced Cairns into another save and Ben Sheaf rattled the crossbar.

But Town still had their own threats up top. Rossiter was felled and Lawlor tipped over Morris’ free-kick.

Souttar was having a stormer for Town in central defence. The giant defender nodded away anything in his path and pulled off some strong blocks

Souttar deserved a clean sheet but he was to be let down by his team mates.

Coppinger, famed for his shooting from distance, was allowed too much time just outside the box. Cairns was helpless and Town found themselves behind in the 39th minute.

Barton’s men did not roll over and kept their pressing game up at the other end. Again they forced an error, Burns racing on to a loose Whiteman pass but he could only fire over.

Madden was sent into the mix for the wounded Rossiter after half-time, shifting to a 4-2-3-1 formation that oozes goals. Sadlier ran rings around ex-Rovers man Danny Andrew before sending the ball into the crossbar, then at the other end Madden struck.

Morris whipped the ball up over from the left, with the striker in prime position in the six-yard box.

His initial header was batted back by Lawlor but he left his goal open for Madden to nod home.

Controversy would strike at both ends of the pitch. You could not have blamed the referee for pointing at the spot when May tumbled in the box under pressure from Clarke. But instead he brandished a yellow card at the Rovers man for simulation.

Up the other end Town were crying out for VAR and goal-line technology. Souttar had nodded the ball back to Jack Sowerby. His header kissed the bar and bounced down, Lawlor scooping it away. It looked like it had crossed the line.

The winner came when Coyle felled Sadlier just after the clock hit 90, handing the hosts a needless set-piece in a plum position.

Coppinger stepped up and sent the ball whirling towards the back post.

With no shout or communication, Burns instinctively swung a leg. The ball was flying off-target but he was not to know and inadvertently diverted it past Cairns.

Heartbreak for Town but lessons to be learned.

This should have been a point, if not more, but better the lessons are in August than in April.