Twelfth. Thats where Rovers finish the 2009-10 season. Sneaking onto the foot of the top half of the Championship table graphics, a small name noticeably out of place amongst more illustrious opponents. For all the play-off dreams of late March, if you’d have offered a Rovers fan this final league position in the summer months then, particularly after the sales of Matt Mills and Richie Wellens, they would not only have ripped your arm off they’d have taken most of your torso as well. Only twice have Doncaster finished higher than this. It really is about as good as it gets.
Of course the same cannot be said of Rovers opponents today. Swansea have occupied a play-off birth for much of the season, but ultimately there inability to score has caught up with them. As the afternoon panned out the home side just needed a single goal in order to reclaim a top-six footing. They failed, and their tenth goalless draw of the season meant the Swans missed out and will definitely remain at this level for another season. Six years ago I saw Swansea and Doncaster play out an epic basement division 1-1 draw in the Friday night Vetch Field mud. It seems a lifetime away.
For all that was seemingly at stake for Swansea in this tie they failed to attack the game with the cut and thrust of a side busting a gut to extend their season. They attacked yes, the created chances too, but for a side just a goal away from the play-offs it was all surprisingly laborious and when it did finally click and create, notoriously wasteful. The Swans had the game’s first chance, and it provided a sign of things to come, as Shefki Kuqi got in on goal only to fire high and wide from all of ten yards.
On the quarter of an hour mark the ground was jumping, but the ball was only in the middle of the field. Bristol City had taken the lead at Blackpool, opening the play-off door for Swansea, but instead of bolting for it the Welsh side just pottered around making sure they’d turned all the lights off. Kuqi wasted another chance. Gary Monk fired wide from distance. Mark Gower forced Ben Smith into a save and then Darren Pratley wasted a couple of chances inside two minutes, twice crosses found him via a Rovers defenders’ limb, twice the ball sailed off in the direction of the advertising hoardings.
Whilst Swansea were offering a digested version of their whole season Rovers were admittedly struggling to offer much of a first half attacking threat. Doncaster were retaining possession well but had generally failed to transform any of their midfield ball retention into chances. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas had gone relatively close with a free-kick, and that was about it, Goalless at half-time, but by no means uninteresting.
The second half was to yield more chances for the Rovers as the Swans began to push leaving themselves exposed to the break. The hosts had the early chances with Pratley again shooting off target and David Cotterill finding the side netting before Rovers began to threaten. Jamie Coppinger brought a save from Dorus de Vries with a strike from distance, with James Hayter shooting over from the edge of the box soon after. Dean Shiels was next to threaten, but he too saw his strike curl beyond the goal.
Time was staring to tick away from Swansea and Paulo Sousa began to lay his final hand. Shefki Kuqi was withdrawn, his final act having been to waste a golden chance by missing the ball when played in by Angel Rangel, as on came Craig Beattie and soon after Lee Trundle.
Rovers were still creating chances of their own, with strikes off-target from Jordan Mutch and Shiels book-ending a great opportunity for Beattie, who looked set to pull the trigger only to be denied by a great saving challenge from James O’Connor. Cotterill was next to threaten for the Swans, again shooting from distance and again missing the target. Then came the game’s clearest chance and it came the way of the Rovers on the break; Coppinger’s cross found Paul Heffernan alone in the area, but the forward mis-cued and blazed over from twelve yards.
Into the final minute then and two last calls for Swansea fans to be on their feet. Firstly as Craig Beattie and Sam Hird tangled in the box going after a diagonal ball. The home fans and players screamed penalty, but the referee was unmoved, leaving Beattie to beat the floor in frustration. Late in injury time and finally the Swans had the ball in the net as Lee Trundle controlled and finished, but it ws not to be, his initial ball control having been performed with his left arm and the goal was ruled out. Free-kick to Rovers, and the end of Swansea’s hopes and season.
Swansea City line-up (4-4-2); Dorus De Vries; Angel Rangel, Ashley Williams, Garry Monk, David Edgar; Leon Britton(Lee Trundle), Mark Gower (Gorka Pintado), Darren Pratley, Nathan Dyer; David Cotterill, Shefki Kuqi (Craig Beattie)
subs not used: David Cornell, Andrea Orlandi, Cedric van der Gunn, Albert Serran
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-3-1); Ben Smith; James O’Connor, Shelton Martis (Adam Lockwood), Sam Hird, Gareth Roberts; Mark Wilson, Jordan Mutch; Jamie Coppinger, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (Paul Heffernan), Dean Shiels (Mustapha Dumbaya); James Hayter
subs not used: Gary Woods, Sean McDaid, Robbie Clark, Waide Fairhurst
booked: Jordan Mutch, Dean Shiels