Generally in the Championship if you succeed in racking up more points than you have played matches then you remain in the division to fight another year. The statistics show that only one club has been unfortunate enough to be relegated from this level with more than 46 points in the past five seasons. As I personally see Rovers aim for this season to be simply to remain in the Championship then I take this as my indicator as to how things are going, and so whilst I remain entirely optimistic about Rovers future and current state, this defeat did cause a couple of faint clouds of doubt to drift across my horizon. After sixteen games of the season Rovers boast just two wins, and fifteen points.
Of course every cloud has a silver lining. At this point last season things looked a hell of a lot worse, and it all turned out rosy enough. Rovers were bottom of the table with just nine points a year ago and that was without the injury and suspension problems which have beset Sean O’Driscoll’s squad this time round. Rovers have had to readjust significantly after losing their conductor Brian Stock to an ankle injury two months ago and that is bound to hurt any side. Add the suspensions which took any remaining ‘experience’ from the midfield for three matches, and the current dearth of central defenders and suddenly 20th spot, three points of 14th doesn’t sound too bad.
Plymouth Argyle away is always a daunting trip, and it became more so as news surfaced that Jason Shackell was ruled out with an ankle injury making Sam Hird the last centre half standing at the club. However, a 3-0 win here in April, never mind that Donny have not won away in the league since, brought confidence to those who made the trek South West. And that seemed to rub off on the players with Rovers having the opening ten minutes’ only genuine chances as captain Martin Woods fired over from a Billy Sharp pass and then into the side-netting from a free-kick.
A couple of corners brought the home side to life ten minutes in but the next genuine chance went Rovers way again. Jamie Coppinger’s lifted through ball finding Sharp who turned on the corner of the box to hit a low shot which Plymouth keeper Roman Larrieu did well to get down to. Now Plymouth stirred and forced Neil Sullivan into action. A lifted ball forward from halfway was controlled by Jamie Mackie who weaved past Hird and James O’Connor but Sullivan was out well to block his effort on goal. Alan Judge was next to threaten as the ball came to him on the right after neat interplay between Rory Fallon and Mackie, but the midfielder hit the side-netting.
Within a matter of minutes though Judge had managed to go one better and find the right side of the net. Poor passing from Rovers in midfield allowed Alan Gow to break into space down the left and his cross was turned in by the onrushing Judge from six yards out. Plymouth led, but not for long. Within a couple of minutes it was all square again following a Woods free-kick on Rovers’ left wing. His cross was headed into the path of Dean Shiels who’s initial effort was blocked, but the Northern Ireland international was quickest to react to the rebound and he steered his follow-up effort between three Plymouth bodies and into the corner of the net to make it 1-1.
Both sides could have struck again before half-time; Plymouth feeling they should have had a penalty when a prone O’Connor appeared to handle and Rovers as John Oster’s low cross flew across goal when just a touch could have steered it goalwards. It remained at 1-1, but there was to be a significant turn five minutes into the second half as Martin Woods stretched clumsily for the ball and brought down Karl Arnason. It was Woods’ second yellow, and though it took the referee some time to remember the first one, Rovers were down to ten men for the remaining forty minutes. Down, but not out as they came close to edging ahead as Sharp found Coppinger and he forced Larrieu into turning the ball behind.
The game remained open as Oster and Sharp both came close for Rovers whilst at the other end Mackie brought a good save from Sullivan and Karl Duguid headed another good chance wide. With just under twenty minutes to go though Plymouth took the lead again. A shot from the edge of the area was blocked by O’Connor causing something of a scramble as Mackie won the ball twice from the horizontal O’Connor only for Sullivan to block, but unfortunately Fallon was on hand to turn in the rebound and put the home side 2-1 ahead. Argyle could have doubled their lead from a corner soon after as Fallon lofted the ball back across goal for Gary Sawyer but he somehow headed wide with the goal gaping.
Sean O’Driscoll went for something resembling 3-3-3 formation wise in the final fifteen minutes but it was not to bring Rovers any more fortune as Plymouth saw out the remaining time to secure a 2-1 win which puts them level on points with Rovers. A disappointing return from a match against a team in a similar position to ourselves and a result that, no matter how half full your Rovers mug is, can’t help but leave you wondering where are the other points going to come from?
Plymouth Argyle line-up (4-4-2): Roman Larrieu; Karl Arnason, David Gray, Shane Lowry, Gary Sawyer; Karl Duguid, Jamie Mackie, Yoann Folly, Alan Judge (Chris Clark); Rory Fallon (Ashley Barnes), Alan Gow (Craig Noone)
subs not used: Kyle Letheren, Jim Patterson, Cillian Sheridan, Krisztian Timar
booked: Jamie Mackie (foul) David Gray (his poor follow-up album ‘A Day After Midnight’)
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Gareth Roberts (Paul Heffernan); John Oster, Simon Gillett (John Spicer), Martin Woods; Dean Shiels (Lewis Guy), Jamie Coppinger; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, Mustapha Dumbaya, Quinton Fortune, James Hayter
sent off: Martin Woods (two cautions)