Lets just get the usual often spouted gubbins out the way first shall we. Yes, this was a big game for Rovers, but not because Leeds were not so long ago in a European Cup Semi Final (we defeated someone with a better European record four days ago), because it was a Yorkshire derby and it would affect the promotion race. Yes there were Leeds fans in the Rovers end, there was always going to be, when you average just over 8,000 and your local visitors average three times that its inevitable. And yes the match was not frozen off this time.
There, that’s all that done. Despite the weight of conspiracy theories trotted out of West Yorkshire when the scheduled date of this match followed the coldest night of the year; that initial postponement has surely helped Leeds more than Rovers. Back in February Leeds were still in transition from the realisation that Dennis Wise was not a tactical mastermind to the establishment of Gary McAllister’s current crop. In February Rovers would have won, tonight they were beaten by a much improved Leeds side.
However, these days Rovers always start well and buoyed on by Friday’s great performance against Forest they began this match in a similar vein. Rovers had early chances as Paul Heffernan pulled an effort wide and later had an effort well saved by Casper Ankergren. After twenty minutes in control Rovers needed a goal to reward their efforts; instead the breakthrough went to the home side. A brilliant free-kick from Alan Sheehan, whose left foot effort curled over the wall and into the far corner for an arguably undeserved lead.
Rovers almost hit back straight away as Coppinger cut in from the left but he too was denied by Ankergren and Rovers rarely threatened for the rest of the half. Where on Friday night they had taken control and pressed Forest both with and without the ball tonight roles were reversed and Leeds looked assured in possession for the rest of the half. However for all their possession domincance they failed to create a clear cut chance and in fact it was Rovers who again went closest; Jason Price meeting Brian Stock’s corner only for Frazer Richardson to clear his header off the line.
At the start of the second half Rovers began in the same vein as they had the first and nearly equalised inside twenty seconds as Price laid the ball off for Richie Wellens but the midfielder drove his shot wide. Rovers came even closer minutes later as Gareth Roberts right wing free-kick swung past everyone and glanced off the far post and away. Camped in the Leeds half of the field Rovers attacked again as Stock’s cross was met by a diving header from Heffernan, the forward could only divert it towards the far post where Stephen Roberts flung himself at it only to fire over the bar. If ever there was a moment you thought it was not to be our day, this was most certainly it.
With Rovers searching for a way back in Leeds were restricted to attacking on the counter, however with the pace of Jermaine Beckford at their disposal there was always a danger they would double their lead. Beckford with a header, Jonny Howson with a wayward drive and Neil Kilkenny whose strike was tipped over all came close to beating Neil Sullivan but they could not kill the game off.
Rovers meanwhile were creating chances of their own, but were unable to provide a clinical finish; Heffernan, Wellens, Price and James Hayter were all unable to beat Ankergren and level the scores. In the closing minutes a Rovers set-piece caused chaos in the Leeds six yard box but Stephen Roberts header across the empty goalmouth was cleared and Leeds held to inflict a defeat that was harsh on the Rovers. What could have been a terrible night proved to be just a bad one as Nottingham Forest defied the odds brought on by their recent form to win at Carlisle. Still in front of a capacity crowd, Rovers would have hoped for better.
Man of the match: Gareth Roberts, looking decidedly like the best left back in the division he is consistent both in defence and in attack where he continues to supply some fantastic crosses from the left.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-1-2): Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Matt Mills, Adam Lockwood (Stephen Roberts), Gareth Roberts ; Paul Green, Brian Stock, Richie Wellens; Jamie Coppinger (Lewis Guy); Paul Heffernan (James Hayter), Jason Price
subs not used: Gareth Taylor, Sean McDaid
Leeds United line-up (4-4-2): Casper Ankergren; Frazer Richardson, Paul Huntingdon, Lubomir Michalik, Alan Sheehan; Bradley Johnson (Andy Hughes), Jonny Howson, Jonathan Douglas, Neil Kilkenny; Jermaine Beckford, Dougie Freedman
subs not used: Sebastian Carole, Tresor Kandol, Dave Lucas, Antony Elding
booked: Jonny Howson, Neil Kilkenny, Bradley Johnson, Alan Sheehan, Lubomir Michalik