In a battle of two free-scoring teams, there was just one goal to separate Doncaster Rovers and Rochdale at the Keepmoat Stadium, with Jon Taylor’s 31st minute strike securing all three points for Darren Moore’s side.
Dale had seen 20 goals in their opening three games of 2021 and travelled to Doncaster with just one available centre-back following the red card to Jim McNulty against Wigan at the weekend, as well as injuries to Eoghan O’Connell and Paul McShane.
This meant that Aaron Morley would partner Haydon Roberts at centre-back, with Ryan McLaughlin and Stephen Dooley also coming into the side, whilst Matty Done dropped to the bench.
After the crazy games of late, it was something of a surprise that after ten minutes there had been no chances of note, as both sides allowed the opposition goalkeeper and defences time on the ball.
It was Dale who arguably had the first chance, as good hold-up play from Stephen Humphrys led to him breaking forward and feeding Kwadwo Baah, but he couldn’t repeat his heroics from Charlton and saw a tame shot blocked before Doncaster scrambled the ball away.
Captain Ollie Rathbone then flashed a shot wide of Ellery Balcombe’s post as Dale began to create chances in South Yorkshire.
More good play from Humphrys, who has been in impressive form of late, created another half-chance for Brian Barry-Murphy’s side but Matty Lund’s strike was just wide.
Doncaster grew into the game after this and created their first opportunity shortly after the hour-mark, which would lead to the opening goal.
The impressive Matthew Smith was afforded far too much time on the ball and he hung up a cross at the back post for Brad Halliday to meet.
His knock down would reach Jon Taylor, who had far too much space in the area to sweep a comfortable finish past Gavin Bazunu to make it 1-0.
Fingers may be pointed at the goalkeeper or even Jimmy Keohane for the goal, but it was arguably Baah’s lack of tracking back that allowed the Doncaster forward so much time and space.
Whilst the 17-year-old is an exciting prospect and is capable of moments of magic, he has a lot of work to do on the defensive side of his game.
Elliot Simões then produced some superb footwork on the edge of the box before slipping in Cameron John, but his powerful drive was straight at Bazunu, in what was the only other chance of note in the first half.
Half Time: Doncaster 1-0 Rochdale
The first 15 minutes of the second half were something of a non-event, with Doncaster more than happy to keep the ball, with no intention to really push forward in search of a second goal.
Such is the quality they possess, that they were able to keep the ball at the back without ever really looking threatened, something which, unfortunately, cannot be said of Dale.
There was a blow just before the hour mark as Jake Beesley was forced off injured, with Alex Newby replacing him.
The last thing Barry-Murphy needs right now is more injuries and the club must look at bringing numbers in during the current transfer window, especially in defence, otherwise we risk running out of steam.
The Irish manager was clearly confident in Baah’s ability to beat Halliday, as he kept him on the left-hand side for the duration of the game when I felt that switching things up was definitely worth trying, as the former Crystal Palace youngster struggled to impose himself on the game.
Doncaster’s players were doubling up on the 17-year-old at times, which is a sign of great respect for the talent that the teenager possesses.
The home side were content to just pass the ball around and rarely looked dangerous, which encouraged Dale to push forward in search of an equaliser.
Humphrys got too much contact on Morley’s excellent whipped free-kick after some great skills by Baah on the left-hand side.
The youngster was starting to get the better of Halliday and after beating the right-back for pace, he cut inside and saw a shot superbly blocked by Tom Anderson.
However, as the minutes ran out, there were several occasions where Baah should have played the ball to his teammates, as too often he tried to beat multiple defenders, rather than playing a simple pass to keep possession.
Unfortunately for Dale, Doncaster managed the game superbly and Balcombe was never really troubled in goal, meaning Darren Moore’s side could solidify their place in the play-off positions.
Full Time: Doncaster Rovers 1-0 Rochdale
Man of the Match: Tom Anderson