Football is bloody annoying isn’t it. With its unpredictable nature and its twists and turns. Just when you think you’ve had a good day some vastly overpaid annoyance pops up at the end to change what you thought had been a productive day away into a thoroughly miserable one. I suppose it’s what the contestants on X-Factor go through as soon as Simon Cowell opens his trap, or what the rest of us go through the moment X-Factor comes on the TV. Lazy similes aside, the end result is that Rovers lost a match they were expected to lose, and on the balance of play probably deserved too, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
We did all the ‘from nadir to here’ stuff in the build up to this match so I won’t bore you with any more of that, except to say that few Rovers fans could have ever imagined watching Doncaster play a league match from such a vantage point; half in St James Park, half in a cloud. Similarly few could have expected to see Rovers take the lead at a ground such as this, but eighteen minutes in thats exactly what they did. Jamie Coppinger on the right fed Martin Woods in the area, his outside of the boot flick found Billy Sharp and his low ball across goal was turned into the net by Dean Shiels. It wasn’t a vertigo induced mirage, Rovers were indeed 1-0 up at Newcastle.
Understandably Newcastle pushed back almost straight away, but they were struggling to create clear-cut chances. For all the balls being delivered into the box the next ten minutes brought Rovers as many shots on goal – Coppinger’s effort straight at Steve Harper – as their opponents with only Danny Guthrie testing Neil Sullivan. Woods also threatened to double Rovers’ lead as he tested Harper but as the half wore Newcastle began to create more; Marlon Harewood heading at Sullivan, and Andy Carroll heading wide. However, the best chance of an equaliser fell at the feet of Jona Gutierrez; Ryan Taylor’s deep cross saw Carroll’s initial shot blocked and the ball rolled free to Gutierrez, but with the goal gaping he fired over and it remained 1-0 at the break.
This is the point in which a professional match reporter would offer the phrase “Whatever Newcastle manager Chris Hughton said to his players at half-time it clearly had the desired effect”. In short Newcastle offered more of a threat after the break. Rovers were now pinned back in their own half with only a Simon Gillet shot on the break to release the pressure. In the opening twenty minutes of the second period Guthrie, Carroll and Tamas Kadar all struck efforts wide of the goal whilst Sullivan did well to turn away a Ryan Taylor free-kick and a succession of corners.
Eventually midway through the half the pressure told with what was a superbly taken goal from Carroll. Kevin Nolan chipped a perfectly weighted diagonal ball into the area and Carroll hit it first time on the volley with a left footed strike which skidded across Sullivan into the far corner of the net. Given the momentum of the second half so far it seemed inevitable that the next true goal threat would belong to the home side, but instead with fifteen minutes remaining it was Rovers who were literally handed a chance to go in front. The ball striking Taylor on the arm and Doncaster had a penalty. Woods stepped up to take it and elected for power, sadly he succeeded in power over accuracy as it flew past Harper’s right hand post and the game remained level.
With six minutes to go came a situation which would give fans of most clubs great optimism, but for Rovers it would have seemed to be the striking of the death knell. As Newcastle players jostled Billy Sharp for refusing to give up the ball for a free kick defender Zurab Khizanishvili decided to shake Sharp into submission by the throat and was duly dismissed. The home side down to ten men there could now only be one winner, yep, them. Rovers don’t fare well against ten men and so the events of the ninety-second minute had a touch of inevitability about them. Guthrie worked the ball in field from the right and layed it off for Nolan and from twenty-five yards the midfielder struck the winner as his shot went in off Sullivan’s right hand post.
Deep in injury time Rovers had one last chance with a corner but it was thrown away with a cheap foul, and so Newcastle survived a scare. If there is to be a compliment paid to Rovers amidst all the disappointment then it comes in the form of the joy untold in the home sections of St James Park. Our pub team had those lads worried. As my Newcastle supporting friend text me succinctly at half-time; “Bloody Doncaster Rovers… Surely not!”
Newcastle United line-up (4-4-2): Steve Harper; Ryan Taylor, Zurab Khizanishvili, Tamas Kadar, Jose Enrique; Danny Guthrie, Kevin Nolan, Nicky Butt, Jonas Gutierrez (Ben Tozer); Andy Carroll, Marlon Harewood (Nile Ranger)
subs not used: Tim Krul, Geremi, Wesley Ngo Baheng, Ryan Donaldson, Peter Lovenkrands
booked: Marlon Harewood, Kevin Nolan, Nicky Butt
sent-off: Zurab Khizanishvili (the old throat-shaker)
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Jason Shackell, James Chambers; Quinton Fortune, Simon Gillett (John Oster), Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger (James Hayter), Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp (Lewis Guy)
subs not used: Gary Woods, Mustapha Dumbaya, John Spicer, Paul Heffernan
booked: Dean Shiels (unsporting behaviour) James Chambers (foul), James O’Connor (foul), Billy Sharp (‘handbags’)