What a difference a few days and less reliance on 24 hour rolling sports news makes. On Tuesday afternoon this week Sean O’Driscoll was Burnley manager in all but name and actual facts, and the future for the Rovers was decidedly bleak. Now, on a Saturday night in South Yorkshire all is well with the world. Sean O’Driscoll remains the man giving stoic interviews in the Keepmoat Stadium tunnel, Brian Stock is back in red and white hoops, and Rovers have rediscovered their winning form. Turned out nice again.
Sean O’Driscoll was given a fairly rapturous reception as he took his place in the technical area for kick-off. Positive but not overwhelming, its probably what he would have wanted. Regardless of how the fans showed their appreciation it was the players who provided the most telling statement of intent for the manager, as after surviving an early attack from the visitors they put the pressure on Watford early on; Brian Stock pinged the ball out towards John Oster on the right and he nodded it into the path of Jamie Coppinger, who brought it forward before hitting a low drive from the edge of the box. Scott Loach had to get down well to his right to save it and was fortunate that his parry cannoned off the onrushing Billy Sharp and out for a goal-kick.
It was the first of many chances for Rovers as they controlled the opening half an hour. Dean Shiels cut in from the left to fire wide, whilst Sharp was also just off target with an ambitious effort from distance. Loach turned another Shiels ball in away for a corner, and both Brian Stock and Mark Wilson fired wayward shots from the edge of the area. Watford had been forced to settle for occasional counter-attacks until eventually seeing a site of goal on the half hour mark, as Don Cowie found space on the right and his effort brought a save from Neil Sullivan. Loach was by far the busier of the two keepers though and the Watford man was forced into action twice more before the break, first to turn away a curling Coppinger effort and then to parry a header from Sharp.
Despite looking much the better side in the first half Rovers had to wait until five minutes into the second half before finally breaking the deadlock. A high ball down the left channel was flicked on by Sharp to Coppinger, who drew his defender out wide before a neat back-heel right into the path of Dean Shiels who, despite being closed by three Watford defenders, neatly sidestepped the challenges to strike the opening goal low beyond Loach. Both Sharp and Coppinger, who was enjoying his best Rovers match for some time, came close toa dding to the score but the goal also finally sparked the visitors into life.
The visitors came close from a corner as Sock was called on to block a header goalwards, sparking a counter-attack for the Rovers which ended with Loach saving from Oster. The visitors pressed again though and defender Henri Lansbury chanced his arm with a well struck effort from distance which was brilliantly turned over the bar by Sullivan. Heidur Helguson tested the Rovers keeper with a header from the resulting corner, as did Hoskins moments later, but the Rovers keeper stood firm, showing the form that has ensured Doncaster have not conceded a goal in open play since November.
Having weathered this mini-storm Doncaster pushed again in the final quarter of an hour as Coppinger turned neatly in the centre of the field and fed Shiels in the left channel, the Northern Irishman again turned his man neatly before hitting a fierce effort goalwards which Loach had to be at full stretch to beat away. Just over five minutes later Rovers finally doubled their lead as Shiels played a left-wing corner to the edge of the box where Oster flicked it on into the path of Gareth Roberts. The full-back struck the bouncing ball first time from twenty yards, catching hit perfectly with an arching shot which found the top corner of the goal to double the Rovers lead and send Roberts haring to the touchline to hurl himself at Lee Butler in celebration.
Watford were not about to throw in the towel though and kept pushing til the end. There was however a brief scare as a whipped cross from the Watford right evaded its intended target, but still struck the cross bar after deflecting goalwards from the shins of Mark Wilson. The rebound caused a brief heart stopping mêlée in the Rovers goalmouth but Sullivan and Wilson did enough to stifle the threat and bundle the ball clear. And as the game moved into injury time there was still time for a contentious late penalty as Sam Hird climbed above Will Hoskins to head away a cross from the Watford right, but the referee decided he had more climbed on and awarded a penalty much to the surprise of all in attendance. Heidur Helguson tucked away the spot-kick to salvage some late hope for the dozen fancy dress hornets in the North Stand, but it was to prove too little too late as Rovers saw out a fifth win in six games to edge back into the top half of the Championship table.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Jason Shackell (Sam Hird), Gareth Roberts; Brian Stock (John Spicer), Mark Wilson, John Oster; Jamie Coppinger (Byron Webster), Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Ben Smith, Lewis Guy, James Hayter, Paul Heffernan
booked: Mark Wilson
Watford line-up (4-4-2): Scott Loach; Adrian Mariappa, Henri Lansbury, Jay DeMerit, Lloyd Doyley; Don Cowie (Michael Bryan), Tom Cleverley, John Eustace, Lee Hodson (Liam Henderson); Heidur Helguson, Danny Graham (Will Hoskins)
subs not used: Ross Jenkins, Jon Harley, Richard Lee, Dale Bennett
booked: Tom Cleverley, Henri Lansbury