Rovers faced Solihull Moors today in their third pre-season fixture and there was significant disappointment from the outset. Yep, that’s right, the infamous Solihull Moors Robot was nowhere to be seen. Either that or technology has advanced drastically since that YouTube clip was filmed and he was actually manning the tea-bar, manufactured to look like a genial brummy. No matter, there was still a decent enough day in the sunshine and a comfortable enough performance from the Rovers to take in.
There has been one set-back in Doncaster’s pre-season preparation though with Mark Wilson appearing pitchside on crutches. The injury though not as serious as the elaborate bandage suggested, just an injured, but not broken, big toe, though Wilson himself said it could keep him out for six weeks. Also not taking part in this game was James O’Connor, the right full-back having turned his ankle in training yesterday. Its amazing what you can find out when actually ask the players what’s up with them. John Oster too sat the game out, suffering from a particularly troublesome tattoo from what I could make out. We didn’t ask him.
Rovers began with new-signing George Friend and the on-trial Shaleum Logan occupying the two full-back positions, either side of Shelton Martis and Adam Lockwood. Both full-backs impressed, Friend in particular communicated well with those around him and was more than prepared to get forward and offer his support to the Rovers attack. In midfield Brian Stock and Martin Woods sat behind Robbie Clark and Waide Fairhurst with James Hayter supporting Billy Sharp up front. I’ve read a few comments on forums recently suggesting we could do without Stock going forward and that we should perhaps cash in on him. Just watching up close-up today you can see that he is mentally a cut above almost all those around him, and for all the form they showed in his absence last season, Rovers would be vastly poorer without him.
Stock had one of Rovers first opportunities though chances had been few and far between in the opening quarter of the game. The ball falling for the Rovers captain from a corner, but his shot went over the bar and over the small stand behind the goal too. From another corner came a chance for Shelton Martis, but he could only poke the ball wide. Rovers had on the whole calmly controlled the game from the back, but in the final quarter of an hour they forced some decent chances and were only prevented from going ahead by a number of fine saves from the Solihull keeper Singh.
Logan was first to test him, chesting down a long angled pass from Stock to get into the box, checking inside his man impressively before hitting a left foot shot that the keeper did well to save. Sharp was screaming for it in the middle, but having worked the opportunity well Logan could only have been expected to shoot. Sharp would have his chance a few minutes later, played in with a neat pass, but again the ‘keeper saved well and Sharp took out his frustration with a kick at the goalpost. petulant perhaps (he had already leathered a ball into the net, long after being given offside), but it is great to see someone in a Rovers shirt who just wants to score goals, whatever the game, whatever the ground. You get the feeling Sharp will celebrate goals on the training ground. Last chance of the half came to Hayter, but he too was denied by Singh, this the keeper’s best save of the lot, getting down to his left to save with one-hand.
Goalless at half-time then and chance for changes in the Rovers line-up. On came Gary Woods, Sam Hird, Mustapha Dumbaya, Jamie Coppinger, Simon Gillett, and trialist Joel Grandison. Rovers continued to control the game, but Gary Woods was called into action more than Neil Sullivan had been in the first half, the young keeper making a couple of good solid saves as Solihull caused the Rovers a few problems midway through the half. It was nothing more than a shaky few minutes in an otherwise solid Rovers performance. On the subject of shaky performances, it was interesting to see the transition that has undergone Theo Streete. From the marauding could-go-anywhere full-back who scored Belle Vue’s final goal to assured centre-half and captain at Solihull. Who’d have thought?
Doncaster had the ball in the net quarter of an hour in as Friend got forward down the left and attempted to drive the ball across goal only for it to deflect upwards. Friend attacked the rebound himself to bundle the ball into the net, but he was adjudged to have fouled Singh in the process. Rovers goal came not long after, and from good work from the other full-back. Dumbaya did well to chase the ball down on the right flank and beat the Solihull keeper to it, unselfishly squaring it for Sharp who placed it in the unguarded net.
Doncaster hit the bar not long after the goal as Grandison did really well to get between two Solihull defenders when it looked like he would be closed down, and managed to get off an outside of the boot shot that just clipped the bar and flew over. Rovers last real chance of a goal fell to an unlikely pair of feet, as Dumbaya, now on the left, jinked his way along the byline and squared for Richard O’Kelly, the assistant manager having come on for Brian Stock. When it seemed all he needed to do was turn the ball goalwards O’Kelly’s mature legs couldn’t move quick enough and the chance ended with him in a heap and the Rovers fans present, between laughter, calling for a penalty… or a substitution.
It finished 1-0 to the Rovers and will probably be filed under ‘solid workout’. Sean O’Driscoll will find faults, notably Rovers early tendency to look for the long ball, though they soon settled with it on the floor and eventually moved it well. Of the newboys Friend looked a good acquisition and seems to be slowly and effectively acclimatising to the Rovers way. Gillett looks like he’s never been away, and Dumbaya seems keen to play a further part this season. Robbie Clark’s performance also suggests that he’s keen to earn himself a longer contract too.
The trialists also impressed. Shalum Logan looked impressive enough at right-back. Quick, happy with the ball at his feet and not afraid to get forward. If we don’t pick him up then you can guarantee someone will. Grandison clearly has a lot of potential, and possesses a good touch on the ball and knows how to beat a man. Whether he could bring something to the squad and generally fit Rovers system though remains to be seen.
Two final points of note. Firstly acknowledgement for the referee, who had only one volume setting, flicking from mute straight to ‘bellowing’, like when you go to an ad-break after a particularly quiet scene in a tv movie. He also waved his arms around with such vigour there was a genuine fear that he may inadvertently bring in a plane heading for the nearby Birmingham International. Lastly a word on the sky blue away kit, given that this was the first time we have seen it up close. It is a very nice kit… but not one which it seems right to see Rovers playing in. We’re just not a sky-blue team.