As Glad All Over blared out the Keepmoat Stadium PA the Dave Clark Five had, without knowing it, pre-emptively summarised this match as well as anyone. Having gone four games unbeaten today’s match against fellow promotion contenders Carlisle was to be a key test for Rovers. In the end it was one which they deservedly passed. True, this one-nil victory was not as clear cut as Rovers’ festive results, but the three points gained are arguably more significant, lifting Rovers back into fourth place.
Although the margin of victory may not have been as convincing as recent victories, the win was every bit as deserved. Rovers dominated the first half, with Carlisle threatening Neil Sullivan’s goal only once in the entire forty-five minutes; Joe Garner heading over from a left wing free-kick. Inside the opening two minutes Rovers had forced a corner; setting the tone for the half as Carlisle were forced to sit back and try to prevent Doncaster rather than create anything themselves. Despite long periods of possession in and around the visitors’ penalty area Rovers shooting was letting them down; Paul Green, Jamie Coppinger and Brian Stock all hitting efforts high or wide.
Richie Wellens had been at the centre of most things had done and he threatened more than anyone to break the deadlock. After a long run forward Wellens’ thunderous strike only missed the target due to cannoning off a defender’s face on its route to the top corner, whilst a second strike from a similar range did find that corner of the net, but by then the whistle had gone for a foul in the Carlisle area. Instead Wellens’ contribution to the game stats was the match’s first booking, cautioned for dissent after two innocuous fouls had been given against him. Despite Rovers’ best efforts it remained goalless at the break; something those connected with Carlisle would have been mightily relieved about.
In the second half the Cumbrians finally became a threat to the Rovers pursuit of three points and had a great chance to take a surprise lead minutes after the break. Rovers failed to get to grips with a long clearance from goalkeeper Kieren Westwood and Garner in behind the Rovers defence skewed his half-volley wide of the post. At the other end Rovers’ shooting was finally beginning to work the Carlisle goalkeeper more than the ballboys, but aside from a long range James O’Connor effort that was tipped round the foot of the far post everything seemed to be heading straight at Westwood. James Coppinger and James Price had two attempts each at finding the net, but all four instead found the seemingly impassable Westwood.
United pushed again and Sullivan was called into his first save of the game after seventy-seven minutes as Danny Carlton whipped a low inswinging ball from the left, but the former Scotland keeper read the ball well and managed to block the ball safely to the feet of Adam Lockwood who sent Rovers forward once again. Just as those ‘here we go again’ thoughts of a last minute defeat started to enter the heads of many in the Keepmoat the breakthrough came and for all the fluent football played by Rovers of late it came via an almighty old school goalmouth scramble. Gareth Roberts hoisted a free kick into a packed six yard box and after a series of unattributable ricochets it eventually found its way into the back of the net. The PA credited it to Stephen Roberts, and who am I to argue.
Rovers attempted to see out the clock but with four minutes of added time and Carlisle pushing they were given a chance to finish it off. Substitute Lewis Guy broke down the right and whilst his marker thought he was heading for the corner flag Guy had other ideas, nutmegging the defender before laying the ball off for James Hayter, but his strike went inches wide. In a final throw of the dice Carlisle nearly grabbed an unlikely point; Garner hitting a low long range effort that Sullivan brilliantly tipped round his left post to save the victory. A deserved win in front of Rovers’ biggest crowd since the opening day, does it get any better than this? Tune in next week at Elland Road where it just might.
Man of the Match: Richie Wellens is fast becoming for this Rovers’ side what John Doolan was for the Division Three title winning side of 2003-2004. At the heart of most things today Wellens has the ability to lift his team-mates and the crowd and his performance today certainly did both.
Wilson Watch: On as a sub for the injured Brian Stock seconds before the goal Wilson effectively sat in front of the back four to break up any late surge Carlisle mustered.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-1-2): Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Adam Lockwood, Stephen Roberts, Gareth Roberts; Richie Wellens, Brian Stock (Mark Wilson), Paul Green; James Coppinger (Lewis Guy); Jason Price, Mark McCammon (James Hayter)
subs not used: Martin Woods, Sean McDaid
booked: Richie Wellens (dissent)
Carlisle United line-up (4-4-2): Keiren Westwood; David Raven (Kevin Gall), Peter Murphy, Danny Livesey, Zigor Aranalde; Simon Hackney (Danny Carlton), Chris Lumsden, Mark Bridge-Wilkinson, Jeff Smith; David Graham, Joe Garner
subs not used: Luke Joyce, Paul Arnison, Chris Howarth
booked: Joe Garner, Danny Carlton, Zigor Aranalde, Mark Bridge-Wilkinson