Doncaster’s penultimate pre-season friendly, and their first at home brought a win and undoubtedly a sense of renewed confidence amongst the squad following last week’s debacle in Devon. Rovers not only defeated their Premier League opponents, but did so showing the movement and footballing ability that we have come to love, and opposition sides have come to know about yet pleasingly still struggle to contain.
Rovers, perhaps thankful to be back on the flat expanses of the Keepmoat Stadium after five games at non-league grounds of varying quality, took their game to their opponents and duly controlled much of it. With the Premier League season starting a week later than the Championship, West Brom were admittedly a week behind Rovers in terms of preparation, but Roberto Di Matteo has said that he wanted to test his team against a side who retain the ball. In that respect, rather than in terms of result, the Albion manager got just what he was after.
Rovers began the game well and started on the attack with Dean Shiels heading over from a Jamie Coppinger cross and Coppinger himself going close from distance in the opening five minutes. Shiels had a further effort when fed by Billy Sharp quarter of an hour in, but he could only shoot wide. The Baggies on the other hand were winning corners, four of them in the opening half an hour, but they failed to convert these to meaningful chances. Indeed Albion’s only real strike in the opening thirty minutes was a long-range effort from Chris Brunt which Neil Sullivan saved.
Rovers engineered further chances before the break, but could not break the first half deadlock. Coppinger and Simon Gillett combined well on the right to create an opportunity for Sharp , but the striker’s left foot effort went just wide. Martin Woods too came close with a free-kick from the edge of the area which flicked off the head of Pablo Ibanez, but Dean Kiely did well to turn it away.
As with most friendly fixtures the flow of the second period would be routinely punctuated by substitutions, ten of them made during the half. West Brom created the first chance after the interval as a cross from the right picked out Chris Brunt arriving at the far post, but the forward headed wide when he arguably should have done better. On the hour mark the opening, and what would be the only goal, came the way of the Rovers. Gillet and Sharp combined to feed Shiels who cut inside from the left beating his man before curling the ball inside the far post for an excellently taken goal.
West Brom had a chance to draw level within ten minutes as Ishmael Miller managed to round Sullivan, but with too narrow an angle to shoot he pulled the ball back and watched on as a team-mate fired it over the bar. Rovers gradually introduced an army of trialists into the action and the inexperienced collective held their own against a fairly strong Albion side to see out the match. Of those coming on the most warmly received by the home crowd was undoubtedly Steve Brooker. Twenty months after his debut goal away at Watford, and eighteen after he signed permanently for the club Brooker finally took to the Keepmoat Stadium turf for the first time. A little off the pace perhaps, but that’s wholly understandable given the time he has spent on the sidelines, to just make it out onto a field again after all the forward has been through is certainly a significant achievement.
So, the only remaining question is who were those masked men on the bench? One of those on trial was undoubtedly centre-back Wayne Thomas, previously of Torquay, Stoke and Burnley and released by Southampton at the end of last season, the defender looked impressive with the general consensus amongst fans being that he should certainly be considered for more than just a trial. The other three represent something more of a mystery, listed as A. Smith, A. Jones, and AN. Other on the team-sheet, but its safe to say those were not their real names and we will see what the week brings in terms of speculated identity, and indeed whether any of them remain with us come Saturday’s game against Sheffield Wednesday.
Doncaster Rovers (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbaya (Sam Hird), Shelton Martis (Waide Fairhurst), Adam Lockwood (Wayne Thomas); Brian Stock (trialist), Simon Gillett (trialist), Martin Woods (trialist); Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels (Josh Payne); Billy Sharp (Steve Brooker)
subs not used: Gary Woods, Robbie Clark
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2); Dean Kiely; Gianni Zuiverloon, Joe Mattock, Yousouf Mulumbu (trialist), Pablo Ibanez (Jonas Olsson); Gabriel Tamas (trialist), James Morrison, Steven Reid, Giles Barnes; Ishmael Miller (trialist), Chris Brunt
subs not used: Scott Carson, Abdouliye Melte, Leon Barnet, Reuben Reid, Marcus Haber, George Thomas, Lateef Elford-Alliyu