Sometimes, no matter how much you can see something coming, it can still turn out to be a pleasant surprise. I wrote after the game against Tottenham that despite the scoreline the signs for Rovers were promising, that our general play was still improving and that we looked well equipped for coming league games. Similarly, during our mid-match twitter coverage of that same game, I was contacted by a Cardiff fan who said he was concerned that his team would face something of a backlash from the Rovers for that midweek defeat. Both of those elements pointed to Rovers defeating Cardiff today, but even so, it remains an unexpected victory for many of us, but that’s not to say it was not deserved.
To say that Rovers began well is becoming something of a cliche on this site, and in general, but they did it again in this fixture. For the opening half an hour Rovers were much the better side, they moved and retained the ball better than their visitors and displayed a confidence which suggested it was they who were league leaders coming into this match, not their opponents. True, Rovers were aided by Cardiff being forced to make a change inside the opening ten minutes as Jay Bothroyd gave way for Kelvin Etuhu, but Rovers had already done enough to suggest they were capable of out-footballing Cardiff and it was this approach which had the Bluebirds on the back foot.
Despite some positive football, Rovers had struggled to create genuine chances in the first ten minutes, with just a wayward Martin Woods shot to show for their efforts. Indeed at this stage, the most significant stir in the West Stand came as Leo Fortune-West was spotted taking up a seat in the crowd. That changed thirteen minutes in though as Rovers forced a corner on their right. Woods put in an inswinging delivery and Adam Lockwood met it with a glancing header that found the net via the far-post for the opening goal. Confidence heightened, Rovers continued to move the ball around and within four minutes they doubled the lead. A fluid passing move looked to have lost its way as Woods miss-cued but he inadvertently picked out John Spicer on the left; Spicer fed Brian Stock on the edge of the box and his low driven shot found the feet of James Hayter with the forward quick enough to turn and shoot and pick out the top corner from twelve yards. Two nil to the Rovers and I can also confirm that Leo celebrated this second goal.
Now in control Rovers began to move the ball about well through a fluid six-man midfield and attack combination. Two things jump out at me from Rovers general play and this seems as fitting a place to note them. Firstly is the trust that Sean O’Driscoll obviously places in his side to not only move the ball around, but move themselves around as well. Whilst Brain Stock, as captain, is the obvious fulcrum in the heart of the pitch the rest of the midfield and attack is much less defined positionally and the end result is fantastic to watch. The second point to make here is that John Oster is looking like an incredibly astute signing. Such is the method of O’Driscoll’s total football approach that it often takes new signings a long time to adapt and become key players within it, less than a month into the season and Oster looks not only at home within the system, but like he’s been crying out to play this way for years.
As the end of the first half had approached Cardiff had begun to scramble their way back into the contest and apply some pressure on the Rovers back-line, but whilst they were certainly occupying Rovers’ half of the field more frequently genuine scoring chances had remained incredibly sparse. Cardiff continued this pressure at the start of the second period with a succession of corners, but Rovers were complimenting their football with a defensive resilience and so again chances eluded City, and instead the first opportunity of the second half was Rovers’. Woods turning on the edge of the box before hitting a left foot shot which was turned away well by David Marshall.
Cardiff were continuing to press though, with Tony Capaldi’s long throws in particular causing concern for Rovers, but still the defence was just about dealing with all Capaldi could throw at them and over them. City’s top scorer Michael Chopra had scored more than doubles Rovers’ entire goal tally coming into this game, but he was having a tough afternoon at the Keepmoat and struggling to make an impact. A clear sign that this wasn’t to be Chopra’s day came twenty minutes in as Neil Sullivan scuffed a clearance straight to Chopra’s feet to put the City man clean through on goal, however Chopra elected to try and chip Sullivan and instead just lofted the ball straight into the keeper’s hands. It was a huge let off, and would also be as close as City came all afternoon as Chopra showed his frustration within a couple of minutes by scything down Stock and rightly receiving a yellow card.
The match was getting scrappier as Cardiff understandably looked to simply get the ball forward but each ball into the Rovers box was being successfully dealt with and despite all the visitors’ pressure the clearer chances remained Doncaster’s. Woods again coming close to a third goal as he struck over from distance and also forced Marshall into a necessary tip over the bar from a swirling deep cross that had begun to arc down toward the top corner of the goal. Sullivan was called on to beat away a long range effort from Peter Whittingham but defensive stability meant that he was rarely challenged beyond that and Rovers stood fast to see out a deserved 2-0 win. Let us hope that the international break does not stifle this momentum when Rovers return to action with tough away games at Reading and West Brom.
Man of the Match:Jason Shackell, the on loan defender put in a solid shift as Rovers defended well against the sort of dead-ball pressure, from Tony Capaldi’s long throws, that has so often caught them out in the past. An impressive defensive display and he looks like he could be a welcome addition should Rovers be able to change his current loan into something more permenent.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-3-1);Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, Adam Lockwood, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts; Brian Stock, John Oster (Lewis Guy); John Spicer (Mark Wilson), Martin Woods, Jamie Coppinger (Sam Hird); James Hayter
subs not used:Ben Smith, Quinton Fortune, Dean Shiels, Paul Heffernan
Cardiff City line-up (4-4-2):David Marshall; Adam Matthews, Mark Hudson, Anthony Gerrard, Tony Capaldi; Gavin Rae, Joe Ledley, Chris Burke (Josh McGennis), Peter Whittingham (Soloman Taiwo); Jay Bothroyd (Kelvin Etuhu), Michael Chopra
subs not used:Peter Enkleman, Gabor Gypes, Steve McPhail, Paul Quinn
booked: Michael Chopra (rash and poorly timed challenge on Brian Stock)