I honestly cannot think of another time when I have felt so enthused after such a high-scoring defeat. After Rovers reduced the deficit to 4-1 in the second half a chorus of “We’re gonna win 5-4” broke out in the South Stand, had they been singing “We could have won 5-4” then they would have been much more realistic. Spurs were clean, crisp and efficient, as well oiled a football machine as you would expect from the top of the top flight, but Rovers were not the cannon-fodder the score-line suggests. Tonight could have been very different.
As is often their want, particularly at the Keepmoat Stadium, Rovers flew out of the blocks; got the ball down, got to business and had Tottenham on the back foot for the opening ten minutes. Inside two minutes Rovers could even have been in front as Lewis Guy made space before feeding Gareth Roberts on the left and the full-back’s low cross picked out James Hayter in the middle. Hayter connected well but was denied by a brilliant reaction stop by Carlo Cudicini. Within three minutes of that came another great opportunity. John Spicer, Martin Woods and James Chambers combined neatly down the right, and the latter’s cross was met brilliantly on the half volley by John Oster, only for Cudicini to get down to his left for another excellent save.
However, just as Rovers looked in charge they gifted Tottenham an opening goal. Ben Smith fed Adam Lockwood on the right, and caught in two minds Lockwood played a risky ball across the pitch which was pounced on by Tom Huddlestone and the giant midfielder slotted it under Smith for the opening goal. If that was hard to stomach, it got even worse within ninety seconds as Spurs found themselves 2-0 in front completely against the initial pattern of the game. Giovani Dos Santos, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Peter Crouch worked the ball from left flank to right, and though David Bentley’s low cross was just behind Crouch it did find its way to Jamie O’Hara on the edge of the box and he picked out the top corner.
If Rovers were going to salvage something from the game, even at this stage it was vital that they hit back quickly to regain some momentum. They had a chance on the quarter of an hour mark as Hayter’s cross was deflected into the path of Oster on the edge of the box, but his excellent low half-volley was again turned away by Cudicini. Five minutes on and Oster broke forward into space created by Guy’s run and Hayter on the right, but the forward’s shot was inches wide and for the rest of the half Rovers momentum drained with each passing minute.
I may be stating the obvious here but Peter Crouch is inhumanly tall, to the point where you wonder if Spurs have obtained the correct planning permission for him. As a result there were cheers all round when Chambers out-jumped Crouch not once, but twice. Sadly neither of these occasions were on Bentley’s 37th minute corner as Crouch stooped to meet the ball and flick it beyond Smith for his first Tottenham goal. Crouch’s strike partner Pavlyuchenko was not having as enjoyable a night as he wasted one chance by getting himself in an unnecessary offside position and then looking even sillier as he tripped over whilst protesting. Spurs fans thought they had a fourth before the break as O’Hara’s low shot hit the stanchion and rippled the wrong side of the net, but as my cohorts on the back row pointed out to the cheering away fans “Aaaah, sit down, its only 3-0, aaaahh”.
Early in the second half there was a double sign of encouragement to both Rovers’ chances and the improvement of Lewis Guy. Tugged back by Sebastien Bassong Guy simply shrugged off the attention when many would have expected him to stop and made space for a great left footed strike from twenty-five yards which whistled just past Cudicini’s top left corner. Again though early momentum was to be swiftly swept away by a Spurs goal as Dos Santos got in a cross from the left and the ball fell to Bentley who confidently picked out the net via the post for 4-0.
With the game all but over as a contest Sean O’Driscoll took off Brian Stock and John Oster, only for those left on the pitch to try and re-awaken the event. Guy and Hayter combined down the right with the latter’s pull-back meeting the arm of Kevin Prince-Boateng as he slipped in the area, and after a hesitation to allow Woods to have a shot saved by Cudicini the referee pointed to the spot. Woods took the penalty and slotted it into the bottom left corner as Quinton Fortune optimistically sprinted to retain the ball. Fortune’s optimism was almost rewarded minutes later as Guy got onto a through ball from Roberts but was unlucky to see his hooked shot come back off the bar, and bounce irritatingly clear of Hayter following in.
As was the pattern of the night though, as Rovers looked like coming back into it Tottenham proved to be annoyingly clinical. Boateng made amends for his earlier error as he caught Rovers back-line too flat and his through ball released Pavlyuchenko; the Russian forward slotting the ball just under Smith to make it 5-1. A sucker punch just as Rovers were beginning to play again.
Considering his career history it is perhaps a surprise that of all the Rovers players on show tonight, the least composed on the ball was Quinton Fortune. He looked sluggish and indecisive and capped a terrible cameo late in the game with a Boris Johnson-esque tackle on O’Hara. That said, how confident would you be if you were announced onto the pitch as “Sponsored by Ice Cream Direct, Quiton Fortune”. As Matt pointed out on the back row, “he must be a nightmare at training, he’ll keep selling all the cones”. Back to the action though, and just in case you wanted confirmation that this was not to be Rovers’ night then it came in the closing minutes as Webster rose to meet Woods’ inswinging corner only to be denied by the post.
Those who were not at the Keepmoat Stadium tonight will be fearing the worst ahead of Saturday’s visit from Cardiff City, understandably. Having been a witness to tonight’s game, if anything I’m more positive. Tonight Rovers matched the Premier League leaders in all but one area; finishing. This was as evenly matched a 5-1 score-line as you are likely to see and had Rovers displayed Tottenham’s conviction at the crucial moments we could just as easily be claiming another major Cup upset… of course the end result does not accurately reflect that, and we can only hope it is that which Cardiff take into Saturday rather than the performance.
Man of the Match: Lewis Guy – rewarded his manager’s faith tonight with a hard-working and impressive performance. Spread the play well when he had it, kept Tottenham under pressure when he didn’t and made some intelligent running both to give himself space and to create chances for others. He had a top flight defence worried and long may it continue
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-2-2): Ben Smith; James Chambers, Adam Lockwood (Byron Webster), Sam Hird, Gareth Roberts; John Oster (Waide Fairhurst), Brian Stock (Quinton Fortune); John Spicer, Martin Woods; James Hayter, Lewis Guy
subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Mark Wilson, Dean Shiels, Paul Heffernan
Tottenham Hotspur line-up (4-4-2): Carlo Cudicini (Button); Kyle Naughton, Vedran Corluka, Sebastien Bassong (Kevin Prince-Boateng), Alan Hutton; David Bentley, Tom Huddlestone (Danny Rose), Jamie O’Hara, Giovani dos Santos; Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko
subs not used: Wilson Palacios, Aaron Lennon, Jermaine Defoe (*only six named owing to Pascal Chimbonda’s transfer)