We’ve suffered worse derby day defeats than this; last season’s capitulation at Oakwell, and a pre-Christmas mauling from Sheffield Wednesday at Belle Vue spring to mind, but few have been as frustrating as this one. There were boos at the final whistle from sections of the home support today, an unecessarily harsh inditement, but you can empathise to a degree with the feeling of disappointment. Rovers bettered Barnsley today in almost all aspects except the most telling one; we just weren’t as clinical in front of goal.
And for most people that is where the frustration understandably lies. Football-wise Rovers play beyond the sum of their parts. Despite being without six first team players Doncaster took the game to their opponents and for much of the game, particularly the opening twenty-five minutes of the second half they were firmly in control. But for all the neat interplay and measured approach work the end product was more often than not a resounding “Ooooh” sound around the Keepmoat and a lot of hands on heads.
As the teams entered the field just before 3pm there were early indications that we were set for a significant clash; that between the match officials’ luminous peach shirts and the Barnsley team’s dull gold shorts. Thankfully the two teams offered enough distraction from this lurid kaleidoscope as the match began at a distinctly high tempo. Barnsley forced the game’s early opportunities, John Macken forcing a save from Neil Sullivan which led to a succession of corners, just about dealt with by the Rovers backline. At the other end Doncaster’s opening opportunity went to Jamie Coppinger who jinked his way into space before hitting a low effort comfortably saved by Luke Steele.
Coppinger was bringing due life to Rovers attack on his return to the side and some neat play between him and James Chambers forced an opportunity for Jsames Hayter with a low cut-back from the byline, but the latter stabbed his effort just wide via a deflection. Within a couple of minutes Rovers had the ball in the net as Simon Gillett released Billy Sharp with an excellent through-ball and though the forward struck the ball firmly beyond Steele the flag had already gone up for a marginal offside call. Rovers were in the ascendency at this point and came close again to opening the scoring twenty minutes in. Gillett picked out Gareth Roberts on the left and his swinging cross was met by a flicked header from Coppinger which was clawed out the top corner by Steele to keep the game goalless.
As the half wore on the initial frantic pattern and vociferous crowd noise both began to drain away, Rovers were clearly frustrating the visitors which led to a few cynical and clumsy fouls, one on Martin Woods causing a booming voice at the back of the West Stand to label the culprit a “dirty toe rag”. As half-time approached Barnsley, aided by the lively Iain Hume, began to threaten more. Hume feeding Macken who headed just wide before another burst of corners for the visitors which again Rovers just about dealt with. The last chance of the half came to Woods who cut inside and forced a save from Steele with a low shot from the edge of the area, but the first period ended goalless.
As the teams re-emerged for the second half it appeared that Barnsley had reverted to a back-five, although we eventually established that two of those five were in fact Darren Moore, his part played this afternoon by former London Monarchs linebacker William ‘The Fridge’ Perry. Rovers came out all guns blazing and though they were camped in the Barnsley half for much of the opening twenty minutes there was little to show from this spell but for a succession of blocked shots and cleared crosses.
Dean Shiels came close on two occasions from the edge of the box, striking the bar with one effort and pulling another inches wide of the post, whilst Coppinger also forced a save from Steele and Woods sent a free-kick just wide. However, the lack of a clinical edge was evident as time and again Rovers spurned opportunities to take a pot shot at goal by taking an extra touch or looking for an additional pass which ultimately allowed Barnsley to get another man behind the ball and snuff out the danger.
As Rovers attacks faltered signs that Barnsley were still very much in this game began to appear; Macken and Hume both forged opportunities to shoot midway through the half but thankfully both went straight at Sullivan. Eventually though the inevitable sucker punch was struck with quarter of an hour to go; a poor corner from the Barnsley right went to the feet of Adam Hammil who was able to turn and rifle a shot in at goal from a tight angle that found the far corner of the net. 1-0 to the visitors, enough to knock the wind out of a hole fleet of Rovers sails.
From that point on Rovers were a shadow of the side which had up to the goal dominated much of the game. Sean O’Driscoll sent on a trio of forwards, though too late in the eyes of many, to try and salvage something but it was not to be. Barnsley defended as resolutely as they had throughout and Rovers attacks, now enthused with an element of panic, lost the fluidity on which they had previously thrived. As O’Driscoll will no doubt point out there were many positives to take from this game, but unless that includes the goal difference you cannot really be happy.
Man of the Match: Credit first to Sam Hird for another accomplished performance in the Rovers back-line, though he just misses out on getting Viva Rovers’ Man of the Match award. Instead this goes to an impressive debut from new signing Simon Gillett. As we said in the week, O’Driscoll can spot a player to suit our system and in Gillett he certainly has managed that. The miniture midfielder proved an excellent fulcrum for Rovers posession and combined some impressive passing with a sound reading of the game to significantly lessen the burden of playing without Brian Stock.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-2-2); Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, Sam Hird, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts (Paul Heffernan); Simon Gillett (Lewis Guy), Martin Woods; Dean Shiels (Waide Fairhurst), Jamie Coppinger; James Hayter, Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, James O’Connor, Mustapha Dumbaya, John Spicer
Barnsley line-up (4-4-2); Luke Steele; Ryan Shotton, Steve Foster, Darren Moore, Carl Dickinson; Adam Hammill, Nathan Doyle (Jacob Butterfield), Hugo Colace, Emil Halfredsson (Anderson de Silva); Iain Hume, John Macken (Andy Gray)
subs not used: David Preece, Daniel Bogdanovic, Julian Gray, O’Neil Thompson
booked: Ryan Shotton, Nathan Doyle