Alas it seems I was wrong to call into question the communist media style prose of the unrelentingly positive Rovers official website. The goalless draw at Leicester in midweek was indeed the ideal platform for victory, as the fearless Doncaster team proved two much for their inferior opponents. Our glorious leader will smile down upon those who have so valiantly given their all for our collective cause and delivered the expected triumph over the lesser men who had travelled from the woods of Nottinghamshire.
Thats enough of that, before the official website offer me a job. I sensed Saturday’s game was going to be a good one for us when I took my seat earlier than normal and was treated to the sight of notorious moaning fan Geoff dancing to some 80s rock being played over the tannoy. Geoff’s usual pre-match routine involves asking if we went to the last away game and then telling us who played poorly in it. I might work these into some sort of proverb; “Geoff’s having a dance, Rovers have every chance” or “Geoff didn’t rate Chambers away, little chance of a win today”.
Its really hard to know what to make of Forest’s promotion challenge on what we have seen of them this season. They certainly have a squad at their disposal capable of promotion, and in their victory over Rovers at the City Ground they showed the clinical edge which distinguishes promoted sides from the rest of the Championship pack. However, on today’s showing it would be hard to say with any confidence that Forest can go up. Doncaster did not just match them, they outplayed them and out fought them and fully deserved an impressive victory.
Rovers were in control of this fixture from the out set and having rediscovered the fluidity that deserted them in large patches of recent matches, they took the game to the visitors. Billy Sharp was already looking determined and industrious up front when he had Rovers first telling effort on goal eight minutes in. Sharp firing in a well-hit strike from the edge of the area which had Lee Camp at full-stretch to prevent it going in at his left-hand post as he turned the ball away for a corner. A couple of minutes later and Sharp was in again onto a lofted through ball from James Hayter, but the Rovers forward’s attempt to lift the bouncing ball over Camp saw it drop harmlessly wide.
After quarter of an hour Rovers were forced into an unscheduled change, with Jason Shackell evidently back from injury too soon, as despite looking solid in partnership with Shelton Martis the defender gave way to Sam Hird. The new man Hird was to face early pressure too as though Dele Adebola got the better of him on their first encounter Hird managed to stand resolute to the Forest forward for a succession of corners, somewhat dubiously awarded to the visitors.
Still not quite midway through the first half and time for Mark Wilson to enter centre stage. A neat flowing move from right to left for Rovers found Wilson breaking onto the ball. Sadly for all his hard work in breaking up and restarting play in the centre of the midfield in a list of the starting players you’d most like to see in a one-on-one chance Wilson would probably just scrape your top ten, and though he struck it true enough it was straight at Camp who effectively beat it away. Within minutes Wilson found himself bearing down on the other goal as he and Chris Gunter chased a through ball for the latter with Sullivan coming the other way. Wilson and Sullivan slid, Gunter tumbled and though Forest went apoplectic in demanding a penalty the referee simply waved play on. Though even with a good perspective on the challenge I’m still not convinced it was a foul, it is still very easily chalked down as a lucky escape.
On the half hour mark Doncaster had another decent chance with Forest having given away a needless free-kick on the Rovers right. Brian Stock’s deep cross was nodded back across goal by Sharp, but Oster attacking the other post arrived just too late to turn the ball home. Within a minute though Sharp would accomplish that feat himself. A flick-on from Hayter was controlled by Sharp on the corner of the box and the forward layed it off to James Chambers before haring into the box, where he arrived at just the right moment to flick Chambers’ cross beyond Camp with a glancing header. One nil to Rovers and an emphatic chorus of “Billy Billy Sharp, Billy Billy Sharp” rang around the Keepmoat Stadium.
Forest had a great chance for an almost instant reply when a ball down the centre of the field split the Rovers defence and had Nathan Tyson bearing down on Neil Sullivan’s goal. Tyson, attempted to sneak the ball past Sullivan on his right side, but the Rovers keeper was equal to it, getting down to make an important stop, before Radoslaw Majewski failed to compose himself and lifted the loose ball wide. Another let-off perhaps, but a Forest equaliser would have been harsh on the Rovers’ first half endeavours.
As the heavens opened above the Keepmoat Stadium and the match swung from end to end it was clear that this was a derby game in all but locality. Out on the field this was best characterised by the fantastic contest within a contest involving the two respective number fives. Whenever the ball came their way Billy Sharp and Wes Morgan were undergoing such a battle that at times they were just a mat and some spandex away from Greco Roman Wrestling.
Half-time afforded a welcome rest from an enthralling fixture, and with both teams having regrouped the second half took a while to regain the pace of the first forty-five minutes. As with the first half it was Rovers who fashioned the early chances, having particular luck when attacking down the right hand-side. Twice they worked opportunities from this side, but on both occasions the resulting shots from the edge of the box, from Wilson and Hayter, ended off target. Ten minutes in came a great opportunity for Rovers as a chipped ball into the area looked to be falling perfectly for Stock to volley at goal, but he elected to square for Sharp rather than try his luck and his square ball was intercepted.
Though Rovers were pressing whilst the lead remained just a single goal there was always a danger that Forest may find a way back into the game and they were handed a chance just before the hour mark as Oster misread the situation on the halfway line and inadvertently played in Gareth McCleary. The Forest sub bore down on Sullivan’s goal, but eventually went a little to far left, before hitting a disappointing shot into the Forest fans behind the goal. Within a minute came an even clearer chance as a lifted diagonal ball into the box caught Rovers looking for an offside flag that never game, but from fifteen yards out Adebola wasted the chance by missing the target on the half-volley.
Whilst it would be difficult for me from my perch at the opposite end of the field to comment on the accuracy of that offside (or rather non-offside)decision, I can say that this had been an afternoon for odd refereeing calls. Regular readers will acknowledge that Viva Rovers rarely questions the officials, mainly because as a referee myself I appreciate how difficult a task it is, but at times today’s match officials had the entire Stadium perplexed. Having given a clear goal-kick as a corner to Forest in the first half the assistant referee on the dugout side went on to award three or four throw-ins in the wrong direction. And to compound matters, when the man with the flag finally got a decision right, the poor fella was over-ruled by the referee and left to face a bellowing shout of “Are you sure?” from Nick on the back row of the West Stand every subsequent time he raised his flag.
Anyway, back to the action, and a notable concern for Rovers as Shelton Martis sat prone in the Rovers penalty area with twenty minutes to go. The central defender was forced to leave the field and with Mustapha Dumbaya sent on in his place for a first real taste of professional football, the Rovers team were froced into an emergency planning meeting in the centre circle. James O’Connor moved into centre half, Dumbaya took over at right back and the midfield collectively shuffled back a few paces, whilst any break in play further up the field allowed Sullivan to come from his goal-line and coach Dumbaya.
As the game entered the final seven minutes the ball span free in midfield and Gareth McCleary and John Oster set-off for what looked set to be a bruising fifty-fifty. Instead, as McCleary flung himself in clumsily high with both feet and studs showing it panned out to be nearer to eighty-twenty. Some inevitable pushing and shoving on the halfway line followed with Chambers and Stock notably incensed by the challenge and McCleary received a deserving red card for decidedly dangerous play.
Despite being up against an inexperienced defence, once they were a man down Forest looked unlikely to profit from the remainder of the game, and there best chances late on came from lifted balls into the box which were either snuffed out by the Rovers defence or capably claimed by Sullivan. In the five minutes injury time it was Rovers who came closest to striking as Sharp made space for a shot which rolled just beyond the far post, but enough had been done by the home side to secure a resilient victory.
Man of the Match: There were some notable performances throughout the Rovers team today, and whilst James O’Connor got the official vote, his eventual central defensive partner in crime Sam Hird gets the nod from Viva Rovers. Hird has drifted down the centre-back pecking order this season following the arrival of Jason Shackell and Shelton Martis, but when the former left the field injured Hird more than filled his boots. Dele Adebola out-muscled Hird on their first interaction, but never got a look in after that as the Rovers centre-half effectively neutralised the visitors most sizable attacking threat with a succession of well-timed and well-executed interceptions.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Jason Shackell (Sam Hird), Shelton Martis (Mustapha Dumbaya), James Chambers; John Oster (Jordan Mutch), Brian Stock, Mark Wilson; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Ben Smith, John Spicer, Dean Shiels, Lewis Guy
booked: James Chambers (attempting to exert his own brand of justice on Gareth McCleary)
Nottingham Forest line-up (4-4-2); Lee Camp; Chris Gunter, Kelvin Wilson, Wes Morgan, James Perch; Chris Cohen, Radoslaw Majewksi (David McGoldrick), Paul McKenna, Lewis McGugan (Gareth McCleary); Nathan Tyson (Dexter Blackstock), Dele Adebola
subs not used: Paul Smith, Luke Chambers, Guy Moussi, Rob Earnshaw
booked: Radoslaw Majewksi (diving), Kelvin Wilson (a foul of some sort)
sent-off: Gareth McCleary (dangerous two-footed lunge in the vague direction of the ball)