Not a great night in terms of conditions or quality of football at the Keepmoat, but another win none the less to keep Rovers on course in second place. Have Rovers ever scored as many early goals as they have under Sean O’Driscoll? Since he came to the helm Rovers seem to have generated an incredible focus from the first whistle; it won us the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last year and it may just get Rovers promoted this time round. Goals inside the opening minutes of each half proved to make all the difference for Doncaster as they defeated Gillingham and the wind 2-1.
Today Rovers’ fans had to wait what must have seemed an eternity until they could bounce around to irrelevant music as Rovers eventually took the lead in the fourth minute. Richie Wellens putting Jamie Coppinger through and the attacking midfielder held off the Gills last defender just long enough to roll a shot past Simon Royce for the lead.
With the wind at their backs Gillingham seemed to be relying on the pace of Delroy Facey to get them back in the match and he came close to doing that job as he latched onto a through ball to volley on goal from a tight angle; only the reactions of Neil Sullivan punching clear preventing the equaliser.
On the half hour mark Rovers came close themselves as Sean McDaid struck from outside the box to force a brilliant tip over by Royce. And from the resulting corner Donny came closer still as the ball was cleared as far as Brian Stock who fired it back at goal through the melee only for the ball to strike the inside of the left post and ricochet across the face of goal and to safety. Gillingham forged a couple of half chances of their own but the last real opportunity of the half went Rovers way; Stock’s corner was swung out to Wellens on the edge of the box and his first time volley would have found the net but for a good save from Royce diving down to his right.
Rovers threw themselves into the second half with the same impetus as they had the first and were rewarded in equal measure with another early goal. This time it came from the penalty spot as a high ball into the box by Paul Green was punched clear by one of the Gillingham defence. Paul Heffernan stepped up and netted his third goal in three games to give Rovers a two goal lead. Within a couple of minutes Heffernan could have sealed the win as he got clean through on Royce, however the keeper again got down well and turned Heffernan’s effort away with his left hand.
Instead within ten minutes of Rovers doubling their lead, the deficit was halved as Gillingham pulled a goal back. Neil Sullivan was having a torrid night in the wind and failed to grasp a Gillingham corner cleanly instead the ball dropped to his feet and somewhere in the resultant scramble Andrew Crofts poked it home for 2-1.
Rovers still had chances to close it out not least when McDaid threaded Heffernan through fifteen minutes from time; Royce again denied Heffernan but the keeper’s parry was poked back at goal by McDaid with the keeper beaten, only for Barry Fuller to hack the ball off the line. Instead then Rovers were left nervously grinding out a win that but for some quality goalkeeping from Simon Royce could have been much more convincing.
There are now just ten games to go in Rover’s League One season and around the Keepmoat tempers and nerves are getting frayed. Second and winning Rovers may be but a sense of wider perspective is never something you can take for granted amongst Rovers fans. I know it wasn’t pretty, but the team did not deserve the moans their play got. And those who cheered the substitution of Mark McCammon will need to gain some patience before this campaign is out.
Man of the Match: No outstanding performances tonight so credit where its due to Sean McDaid. O’Driscoll is determined to turn McDaid into a midfielder and tonight after replacing Mark Wilson he played as well as he ever has in his new role. Closed down Gillingham well and played some useful passes in attack as well.
Wilson Watch: Viva Rovers’ man settled into his midfield role well doing the simple things before unfortunately having to leave the field injured just twenty minutes in.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-1-2); Neil Sullivan; Paul Green, Matt Mills, Adam Lockwood, Gareth Roberts; Richie Wellens, Brian Stock, Mark Wilson (Sean McDaid); Jamie Coppinger (James Hayter); Paul Heffernan, Mark McCammon (Stuart Elliott)
subs not used: Gareth Taylor, Sam Hird
booked: Adam Lockwood (deliberate obstruction)
Gillingham line-up (4-5-1); Simon Royce; Barry Fuller, Simon King, Adam Bygrave, John Nutter; Dennis Oli (Simeon Jackson), Andrew Crofts, Kevin Maher, Adam Miller, Leroy Griffiths (Gary Mulligan); Delroy Facey
subs not used: Sean Clohessy, Stuart Thurgood, Derek Stille
booked: Adam Bygrave, Adam Miller