Rovers were booed off at the end of this match. If that reflects anything, its not the performance of the team, but the ridiculous expectations of some of their supporters. Yes a defeat at home to Plymouth was disappointing, and yes at times Rovers looked lethargic to a degree, perhaps complacent going on recent form, but to boo a team off after only a second defeat in nine matches, whilst they are on course for their highest league position in over a century is wholly unfair.
Earlier this week Viva Rovers was labelled ‘ungracious’ by a few fellow supporters for criticising the disproportionate amount of coverage on the official club website given over to the launch of John Ryan’s book Dare to Dream. On today’s post-match reaction it would seem there are a few hundred would be Statler & Waldorfs amongst our support who are more fitting of that label. Perhaps it’s the adopting of the ‘dare to dream’ catchphrase – a token prepared sound-bite delivered in commentary on James Hayter’s play-off final goal – which is giving rise to unrealistic aims. Many at the Keepmoat seem to Dare to Expect rather than dream.
Rovers could and probably should have won this fixture, they created enough chances but didn’t put them away. And the longer Rovers went without putting the game to bed, the increasingly alert and hard-working Plymouth side awoke to the chance that they could get something from the game. In short, as Matt to my right summarised late in the second half “They want this more than us”. He was right, Plymouth’s fight for survival was much more determined than Rovers push for the play-offs and that is what won them this game.
Of course Rovers were missing key men, the injury to Billy Sharp coupled with other additions to the treatment room meant that Doncaster were only able to name five substitutes. And despite these limited resources they were far from lacklustre and indeed created much more chances than the visitors. The first telling chance came after quarter of an hour as James Chambers, Jamie Coppinger and John Oster combined down the right to give space for Coppinger to let fly from the corner of the box but David Stockdale was able to turn the ball round his near post.
Rovers pressed again minutes later as a well flighted cross from Coppinger on the right was met by James Hayter, but he could only head the ball over the bar. Midway through the half a long diagonal ball from Shelton Martis was flicked on by a Plymouth defender, Shiels took a wild swing on the volley, but only hoisted the ball straight in the air. James Hayter underneath the ball was flattened by the challenge of Reda Johnson, but the referee waved play on and it fell for Oster who volleyed just over the bar.
I’ve always been impressed by Hayter’s determination when playing for Rovers, he will throw his head at anything and I have said before that he would throw his head at a brick wall for Rovers. Today I saw that come to fruition as time and again he went head first into the stoically solid Johnson. One player not standing as easily was Chambers as he looked to have been felled in the Plymouth area on the half hour mark as he darted in from the right but the referee was quick to quash the subsequent penalty appeal.
There was still chance for one more key Rovers chance before the break. Gareth Roberts cross was headed clear but only as far as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas on the edge of the box, he exchanged passes with Hayter, but on the return his touch was heavy and Plymouth were able to scramble the ball away. At the other end Neil Sullivan had been as involved in the play as much as me, but still we went into half-time goalless.
It took ten minutes of the second half for Rovers and particularly Emmanuel-Thomas to come to life. The Arsenal loanee had been barely in the game up to this point but he announced his presence with particular brilliance, receiving the ball on the right, he nutmegged Alan Judge and went past him with frightening ease to hit a fierce left foot strike from thirty yards wjhich Stockdale failed to hold. Hayter tried to get in on the rebound but at the second attempt Stockdale clawed the ball away, with Emmanuel-Thomas’ follow-up effort blocked.
Within a minute Emmanuel-Thomas threatened again with a header, that was admittedly comfortably held by Stockdale. Early in the half notorious whinging fan Geoff had labelled Coppinger a ‘greedy little bugger’ as he held onto the ball in the Argyle half. A cruel criticism and one which thankfully Geoff was made to eat on the hour mark as Rovers found the breakthrough. A lofted through ball from Shiels was neatly controlled by Hayter who squared for Coppinger advancing to his right. A despairing Plymouth challenge got a block on the ball but only succeeded in effectively flicking it up for Coppinger who volleyed home from ten yards to put Rovers ahead..
Plymouth though were not to be easily beaten and within a matter of minutes rthe visitors had equalised. Argyle were given space on the left to get in an angled cross to the edge of the area, though Rovers prevented the initial effort the ball ran free for Damien Johnson who struck it fiercely first time. Neil Sullivan diving to his left saved the strike, but couldn’t hold it and substitute Joe Mason poked in the rebound to level the scores with twenty minutes to play.
Argyle may have been back in the game but at this point it was still Rovers’ match to win or lose and they continued to create good chances. Coppinger’s excellent through ball into the channel found Hayter running behind the last defender, though Hayter looked to be isolated as he reached it by the byline he delivered a deft backheel into the path of Emmanuel-Thomas who’s first time shot was well saved by Stockdale, turning the ball over the bar.
The threat of a counter attack remained though and not for the first time Plymouth came close as Chris Clark got round the back of Rovers on the right flank and his driven cross was inches away from the connection with Chambers foot or Bradley Wright-Phillips head which would have meant a certain goal. Scare survived Rovers pushed again to force one more clear chance.
Inside the final ten minutes and James O’Connor, now at right back with Sam Hird having replaced James Chambers, drove forward towards the Plymouth area. On the edge of the box he knocked a short ball to Coppinger who with a neat back heel put it back in O’Connor’s path, the defender cut inside his man and the ball ran to Hayter, but from twelve yards out the forward could only rattle the crossbar with his shot.
Rovers were getting desperate and though at times their play had not shown urgency, there could be no doubting Sean O’Driscoll’s want to see the game won. Geoff had been demanding Rovers bring on a forward for some time, despite the fact that there were none on the bench, and with time running out he got his wish… sort of. Adam Lockwood came on as a forward to give Rovers more physical presence in the final third, but ultimately he barely saw the ball.
As the fourth official signalled four minutes of added time a clumsy challenge by Jordan Mutch on the Plymouth right gave Argyle a chance to get the ball in the Rovers danger area and they did just that. A good left foot delivery towards the far post saw two Plymouth men attacking the ball unmarked and of these Wright-Phillips met it with an excellent downward header to give Argyle a smash and grab win, but one on determination which they deserved.
Man of the Match: Shared honours from us for two Rovers players who worked tirelessly and effectively throughout. James O’Connor continues to look excellent at centre back and also showed what an effective full-back he is when switched to that position late on. Jamie Coppinger in midfield showed why he is increasingly becoming one of Rovers most important players and a member of the team who is much missed when not available.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-3-1); Neil Sullivan; James Chambers (Sam Hird), James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, Gareth Roberts (Adam Lockwood); Mark Wilson, John Oster; Jamie Coppinger, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Dean Shiels (Jordan Mutch); James Hayter
subs not used: Ben Smith, Sean McDaid
Plymouth Argyle line-up (4-4-2); David Stockdale; Karl Duguid, Bondz N’Gala, Reda Johnson, Onismor Bhaesra; Alan Judge (Kenny Cooper), Chris Clark, Damien Johnson, Yannick Bolasie (Joe Mason); Jamie Mackie, Bradley Wright-Phillips
subs not used: Roman Larrieu, Ryan Leoward, Chris Barker, Yoann Folly, Rory Fallon