My first half an hour in Nottingham should have indicated that it was to be a day of contrasts. In that time I had drunk a cup of Gluehwein surround by Nottinghamshire emos, seen a man in Graduation robes ice-skating, contemplated buying an Ostrich Burger and inadvertently wandered into the middle of a book-signing by TV weatherman John Kettley. All of these unexpected juxtapositions of subject and surroundings were trumped later that afternoon when the eleven men in Doncaster Rovers shirts put in a terrible performance at the City ground. From total football to total disappointment in the space of eight days.
If ever there was a game which merited the description ‘the first half wasn’t much to write home about’ then this was probably it as the opening fifteen minutes carried as many incidents of note as an episode of Heartbeat. Quarter of an hour in though and the game livened up as Chris Gunter made a meal of a challenge by Dean Shiels to win a free-kick on the edge of the area. Rovers dealt with this but perhaps should have been awarded a free-kick of their own as Simon Gillet was hurled out the way by Dexter Blackstock. Instead the dead-ball went Forest’s way and this corner brought the opening goal. The initial low ball in ricocheted around and was turned away by a good stop by Sullivan but as Majewksi fed it back into the box the prone Gareth Roberts couldn’t get out of it’s path and it went into the net via the full-back’s chest.
As Forest celebrated the Rovers bench vented their rage at the linesman on the Main Stand side, with Richard O’Kelly’s protests causing him to be banished to the stands by the match referee. Minutes later Sean O’Driscoll looked in danger of following him as he too was incensed by the assistant referee’s failure to award a throw-in. Presumably O’Driscoll was saved by the fact that he is only audible to dogs. With Rovers rattled Forest continued to press but as much as half an hour into the game they had managed as many shots on target as Rovers had. None.
Steadily Rovers began to edge their way into the game and moved the ball well around the Forest half of the field, but the concern, as ever was of a lack of end product. In the final ten minutes the half finally came to life though as Rovers began to force chances. Both Jamie Coppinger and Dean Shiels saw efforts heroically blocked by some desperate Forest defending as did James O’Connor minutes later. Shiels also struck just wide after running at the Forest defence and suddenly the home crowd were getting restless. With Rovers pushing forward space emerged for Forest to counter and Rob Earnshaw became the first player to test either keeper five minutes before the break, turning and striking a fierce shot which Sullivan palmed round the post.
Had Rovers managed a goal from this spell then the whole outcome of the afternoon may have been different. Throughout the first half they had matched the home side in terms of possession and the final ten minutes had been played mostly in the home half with the City Ground crowd growing audibly concerned, but the half-time whistle sounded with the score still 1-0 and the break gave Forest the chance to regroup. They did so effectively, and from the start of the second half worked to put Rovers under pressure in their own half of the field. The approach worked suddenly Rovers looked nervy in possession of the ball. Passes began to go long and astray, and the pattern of play looked lost in panic.
As such it was perhaps no surprise when it was Forest who struck next as Wes Morgan rose to head home a corner from the home side’s left. At 2-0 down Rovers finally began to threaten a way back into the game with a trio of chances in a good six or seven minute spell. Shiels turned well to flash an effort across goal and inches past the post; Sharp headed just wide from a John Oster cross and then Oster himself came onto a square ball on the edge of the box only to slip at the crucial moment and send his effort into the Rovers fans. Chances not taken Rovers lost their momentum and again began to panic in possession.
So disjointed was Rovers play at this point that it was enough to send the guy in the seat behind me into a fit of hypothetical questions. “Why is he playing it there? What good is that? Why is he looking long? What was that? Why play it now? Why go short? Who’s that for? What are they playing at?” Thankfully he was brought back to normality by Forest’s third goal two neat passes on the edge of the Rovers area and Earnshaw’s shot into the far corner left Sullivan stranded. At this point, with Forest having introduced Dele Adebola, we were debating Rovers lack of a big physical presence to throw up front at this stage of a game. I suggested that we could stick Sullivan up there, and so seconds later we were a little concerned to spot Ben Smith getting ready to join the action and Coppinger looking sheepishly to the bench.
Alas it seemed O’Driscoll did not share our radical approach as it was Sullivan who made way for the substitute ‘keeper. Smith was in the thick of the action inside two minutes as his first involvement was to claw desperately in the direction of an emphatically struck shot from Lewis McGugan which flew across the area and into the far corner of the net to round off Forest’s scoring in impressive style. Cue Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis… again. I hadn’t heard this much of their music since I saw them live at the Birmingham Academy in 2006.
There was still ten minutes to play and in fact much of this rolled past with Rovers in possession, but holding onto the ball had not been Doncaster’s problem this afternoon, the key issue was producing something effective with it. Last week’s fluidity and confidence had been lost and a token consolation was all that Rovers managed as a corner from the right flank was nodded home by Billy Sharp. No Chelsea Dagger this time, but no matter we were familiar enough with the tune by now to sing it ourselves.
There is no doubt about the fact that Rovers deserved nothing from this game, the all-round performance was frankly too poor to merit anything other than a defeat. But it must also be said that a 4-1 victory flattered a Forest side who created few chances beyond those they scored. Still if Rovers are to turn around their away form then these are not the times to dwell on what might have been. You can only be unlucky for so long; without a league win away from home since April Rovers need to address the factors which are preventing them from building on encouraging home performances.
Nottingham Forest line-up (4-4-2): Lee Camp; Chris Gunter, Kelvin Wilson, Wes Morgan, Nicky Shorey; Paul Anderson, Radoslaw Majewski (Lewis McGugan), Paul McKenna, Gareth McCleary; Rob Earnshaw (David McGoldrick), Dexter Blackstoc k (Dele Adebola)
subs not used: Paul Smith, James Perch, Luke Chambers, Joe Garner
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Neil Sullivan (Ben Smith); James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts; John Oster (James Hayter), Simon Gillett, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels (Lewis Guy); Billy Sharp
subs not used: Byron Webster, Adam Lockwood, Mark Wilson, John Spicer