There were two types of Rovers fans evident at this fixture today. Those who went to Preston last weekend, and those whose only taste of football thus far was Tuesday’s lacklustre defeat to Accrington Stanley. The latter group were largely notable by their impatience and sense of impending doom which took hold from the moment Rovers went behind. Yes Doncaster have struggled to find their best form at home yet this season, but hoofing it forward has not been part of our gameplan for years, and is not likely to bring results. As those who went to Deepdale will attest, Rovers can play football, so show the faith that his due in a Doncaster side currently top of Yorkshire’s footballing ladder.
Rovers got the game underway, albeit in the unfamiliar first half direction of the South Stand, and had the game’s first effort on target too. Just like last week’s game at Deepdale it came from the boot of Simon Gillett and just like last week, it was a low driven strike from outside of the area comfortably fielded by the ‘keeper. The similarities to the opening game of the season would not end their as Rovers went on to control the first half, but look noticeably nervy after the break. It’s a trait that is as likely to keep winning points as it is cause a relaxed atmosphere amongst supporters and its something Rovers need to iron out as soon as possible.
Doncaster were firmly in control in the game’s opening quarter though and Billy Sharp was next to threaten as Dean Shiels got down the left and put in a cross toward the penalty spot. The delivery was behind Sharp, but he managed to swing a boot at it, acrobatically volleying over the bar. Sharp threatened again just after the quarter hour mark, looking to curl a right foot shot from the corner of the area that took a deflection and looped up and just beyond David James’ far post.
The resultant corner was the first of three in quick succession as Rovers looked to make this first quarter pressure count. The final one was delivered in low to the near post, but made it all the way through to the far where George Friend looked to have bundled the ball just over the line before James beat it out. The stadium looked collectively to the assistant referee but he stood firm and play went on. It was a marginal call, which even from high up in the West Stand was hard to call; I thought it was in, Matt to my right thought it wasn’t.
Midway through the half and City finally mustered a reasonable spell which brought them within sight of Neil Sullivan’s goal. Albert Adomah was first to test the Rovers ‘keeper with a low effort, but it was comfortably saved. City had a fine opportunity minutes later though as a weak Shelton Martis pass was picked off in the final third and City found themselves three on two. Adomah laid the ball off for David Clarkson overlapping on his left and despite being in acres of space Clarkson had foolishly strayed offside and the chance was gone and the forward compounded his misery by pulling the ball wide as he tried to lash it into the net in frustration.
Having been let off in their own area, Rovers began to push for a goal of their own in the quarter of an hour before the break. Ryan Mason was looking impressive on the ball on his debut and was unlucky to see his curled effort fly just wide of James’ right-hand post. Mason then showed neat footwork to get away from Jamie McAllister before feeding Shiels, but likewise Shiels effort from the edge of the box was also just off-target, as too was a Brian Stock strike a minute later. The captain was given space to shoot from thirty yards out and his strike was just inches over the bar. That spell was an effective summary of Rovers’ first half performance as though they had controlled the game they had failed to really bring a save from James.
The second half though would begin with a goal, perhaps best described as ‘soft’. It came from a free-kick on the Rovers left as Marvin Elliott and Friend collided with the latter judged to have impeded the former. After a lengthy delay as the pair received treatment the softly conceded free-kick was then softly converted. McAllister swung the ball to the far post and Rovers’ backline stood still hoping for an offside decision that would not come as Damion Stewart headed the ball past Sullivan at the far post.
A goal down the frustrations of the Keepmoat crowd were evident as Rovers struggled to get their game flowing, leading to infamous moany fan Geoff remarking that Doncaster were “running around like headless corpses” in the quarter of an hour after going behind. Rovers were perhaps guilty of trying to play the ball too much in the wrong areas as Friend was dispossessed just outside the area leading to a chance for Adomah, but his low shot was well saved by Sullivan.
With twenty minutes to go Sean O’Driscoll shuffled his pack as Jamie Coppinger came on for Brian Stock and Rovers began to look a tad more mobile in the final third, and had a sight of goal with quarter of an hour to go as the ball bobbled around the City area before Friend swung a boot at it, but his effort went over the bar. Rovers had been looking shaky at the back for much of the second half, and whilst I consider myself a fan of Martis I have to confess to a tinge of relief when he was replaced by Wayne Thomas fifteen minutes from time. Martis is a good defender and a notable attribute to Rovers, but he is certainly a confidence player and one who looks a little short of that at present.
In the closing ten minutes a corner from the Rovers right brought a significant appeal for a penalty as the City defender leaned into the ball and it struck him somewhere around the chest/upper arm area, but an appeal is all it was. A second corner followed and from this it was City who broke down the right with substitute Gavin Williams seemingly in on goal only to try and take on one defender too many and in doing so allow James O’onnor to get back and make a telling block.Just before the resulting corner there was a puzzling moment as the referee sent Martin Woods up the other end of the field to retrieve a lost shin-pad and then ordered him off the field to put it back in his sock. Williams too was sent from the field as Adam Lockwood pointed out that the midfielder had not been wearing any since entering the field. All very odd.
With time running out it seemed as though another chance would desert Rovers, particularly with City looking to run the clock down at every opportunity. However, as the game moved into the eighty-ninth minute Coppinger picked up the ball on the right and after shaping to cross first time instead broke into the area and was felled by McAllister at the byline and this time Rovers did have their penalty. Billy Sharp stepped up to take it and duly scored it too to draw the game level and celebrate in front of the City fans who had been chanting his name unceremoniously in the second half. The visitors’ frustration was probably summed up by James who booted the ball out the stadium in annoyance.
Five minutes of injury-time followed and they almost brought a winner to Rovers too as O’Connor managed to get in behind the City defence onto a cross from the left. He looked to have been hauled back by a visiting defender, but whilst another unsuccessful penalty appeal sounded round the ground he still got his shot off, but off-balance from a tight angle could only hook the ball into the North Stand. A draw is how it ends, and a point for the Rovers was about fair given that they had not troubled James enough to merit victory yet certainly did not deserve to be beaten.
As the players came off the field and as the BBC’s Clem scurried onto it the City fans chose to serenade Sharp with a less than flattering chant to which he responded by jogging toward them blowing kisses. When you’re short on striking options you really could do with your key forward not edging himself toward unnecessary disciplinary actions. A foolish move, though thankfully we can be certain it’s not the sort of thing to be encouraged by O’Driscoll. The result means Rovers remain unbeaten and in fifth place in the Championship. Let us not get complacent though as this is a position that has been achieved by a side yet to show its full potential. To do so in Cardiff next week and avenge last season’s undeserved defeat in the Welsh capital would be most welcome.
Man of the Match: Ryan Mason gets this accolade from Viva Rovers for an impressive debut. We’ve often seen players take a long time to settle into Sean O’Driscoll’s style of play yet Mason looked at home just twenty-four hours after signing and showed some great touches and willingness to receive and retain the ball.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Shelton Martis (Wayne Thomas), Adam Lockwood, George Friend; Brian Stock (Jamie Coppinger), Simon Gillett, Martin Woods; Ryan Mason (Steve Brooker), Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, Mustapha Dumbaya, Sam Hird, Waide Fairhurst
Bristol City line-up (4-4-2); David James; Nicky Hunt, Damion Stewart, Liam Fontaine, Jamie McAllister; Ivan Sproule (Gavin Williams), Cole Skuse, Marvin Elliott, Jamal Campbell-Ryce; Albert Adomah (John Akinde), David Clarkson
subs not used: Dean Gerken, Louis Carey, Lee Johnson, Martin Jackson, Tom Williams
booked: Ivan Sproule (time-wasting), Gavin Williams (deliberate handball)