Of all the Rovers games to travel to with a terrible hangover it would be just my luck that I’d inadvertently pick the one at which the club had been distributing mini-vuvuzelas to young supporters. To be honest with you I’d already achieved a lot by undertaking the train journey to South Yorkshire without vomiting, so I was looking at any point gained by Rovers as a bonus. Given how the game panned out a draw was probably about the right result, though once it was tied up at 1-1 it was Rovers who came closest to nicking the win.
After the brief embracing of five defenders against Coventry at the Ricoh Arena Rovers returned to a more recognisable 4-3-2-1 for this fixture, an approach which it seemed Forest had come prepared for. Playing five across the middle the visitors worked to press Rovers in possession from the front and as a result the game began with a cagey opening ten minutes in which Neil Sullivan probably had more touches in possession than Billy Sharp. It was ten minutes before the supporters had any real cause to get enthusiastic as Jamie Coppinger jinked forward and hit an effort from the edge of the area which was deflected wide.
It would be quarter of an hour before the first effort on target in the match; John Oster’s cross met by the head of James Hayter, but he could only nod it straight into the hands of Lee Camp. Midway through the half and Sullivan at the opposite end faced his first genuine test from a Forest corner. Rovers cleared the set-piece but only as far as Paul Anderson on the edge of the area who drove it straight back in through the crowd only to be denied by Rovers’ keeper who got down well to his right to make a brilliant save.
Sadly within a matter of minutes Forest would have better luck from another corner. The delivery wasn’t properly cleared and the ball fell to Dexter Blackstock in the six yard box who was able to control the ball and lash it into the back of the net to put the visitors ahead. The lead though would last no more than five minutes as Rovers won a free-kick on the corner of the area. John Oster took it and delivered an excellent cross towards the far post where Adam Lockwood arrived to stoop and glance a header inside the far post to make it 1-1.
Though Rovers were enjoying the better of possession in the opening forty-five minutes it was Forest who were having the better of the chances. The visitors would force Sullivan into action twice more before the break, starting with a low shot from Chris Cohen on the edge of the area that the keeper got down to comfortably. The second effort, a firm strike from Lewis McGugan was decidedly more of a threat but Sullivan was able to turn it behind and the resulting corner was headed wide to leave it all square at half-time.
The interval itself brought a slightly odd moment as I nipped down into the concourse. Here I found a large number of Rovers fans grouped under one of the tv screens, not watching the scores come in, but instead watching the Bond film Never Say Never Again. A lesser website would use that anecdote to lead into a pun about the crowd being shaken but not stirred by the match thus far, but not us.
Anyway back to the game, where most of the early second half action was taking place not at either end, but in the referee’s notebook. No real chances on goal but cautions for Chris Cohen and Ryan Bertrand. Just before the hour mark came the first genuine chance as Rovers attacked down the left and Oster fed Sharp on the left edge of the area. The forward held the ball up well, making enough space to chip a cross into the middle and find Hayter, but his flicked header went just over the angle of post and crossbar.
The longer the game went on the more it livened up so that by the midway point of the second half it had finally become the feisty angst fueled clash these fixtures have become recognisable for. Of course what always aids the noise levels is a spell of perplexing refereeing and Mr Salisbury duly obliged with a couple of missed handballs and missed cautions, most notably when David McGoldrick marked his arrival as substitute by hacking Martin Woods to the ground, to help raise the crowd and the tempo.
Lockwood was less fortunate and perhaps arguably more deserving of a yellow card as he became the first Rovers player cautioned. The centre half committed himself too keenly to a sliding challenge on Nathan Tyson and simply wiped out the forward though Forest would squander the free-kick. At the other end minutes later Sharp had an excellent chance as he controlled a cross from the right and edged past his man to make space for a shot. Though his effort evaded Camp, it did not beat Luke Chambers and the defender cleared from behind his goalkeeper.
When upright Woods himself was starting to cause problems and he was unlucky to be denied by two excellent blocks when he found himself in a shooting position. Hayter too was having an unfortunate time in front of goal with luck seemingly deserting him as he managed to get his head on a Woods free-kick. Hayter headed it down and seemed to have beaten Camp only for the goalkeeper to stick out a leg and somehow hook the effort over the bar. Substitute Brian Stock would also be thwarted by a defensive block as Coppinger and Mustapha Dumbuya combined well down the right and the latter beat his man with a neat drop of the shoulder to edge to the byline. Dumbuya pulled the ball back perfectly into the path of Stock, but his first time volley was smothered.
John Oster was having trouble making space for himself and Forest’s pressing game saw him caught in possession on more than one occasion, not to mention having gone in the book for preventing a breakaway before he eventually made way for Mark Wilson. The oncoming midfielder duly came closer than anyone to edging Rovers in front. A cross from the right was cleared only as far as Wilson and from the edge of the area he struck a dipping half-volley that came back off the crossbar with Camp beaten.
At the other end Forest were not without chances of their own as McGoldrick had an effort from distance saved by Sullivan and Chambers perhaps should have done better as he hurled himself at a free-kick but failed to divert it towards Sullivan’s goal. As time ticked down the game became increasingly stretched and at one point with Rovers having committed men forward for a set-piece a clearance from the Forest defence found the visitors breaking two on two, but luckily for Doncaster Sam Hird was alert enough to get back and clear the danger.
In the final minute of stoppage time Rovers had a chance to win the game as O’Connor made space to get the ball into the box. The defender’s cross from the right picked out Sharp at the far post and the forward’s header back across goal looked to be heading for the top corner, but with Camp stranded it flew instead just inches wide of the post and the final whistle sounded seconds later. A hard fought point for Rovers who reacted and adapted well against a team who knew how to stifle Doncaster’s creative play.
Man of the Match: James O’Connor got the nod from the match sponsors and in honesty its a choice which is hard to argue with. Back at centre-half where he finished Tuesday’s game O’Connor read the play well throughout and showed some impressive touches to bring the ball under control when those around him were swinging desperately at the ball.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya (Sam Hird, James O’Connor, Adam Lockwood, George Friend; John Oster (Mark Wilson), Simon Gillett (Brian Stock), Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, Byron Webster, Dean Shiels, Waide Fairhurst
booked: Adam Lockwood (clumsy foul), John Oster (more deliberate foul)
Nottingham Forest line-up (4-5-1); Lee Camp; Chris Gunter, Luke Chambers, Wes Morgan, Ryan Bertrand; Guy Moussi, Paul McKenna, Lewis McGugan (David McGoldrick), Chris Cohen (Nathan Tyson), Paul Anderson; Dexter Blackstock (Dele Adebola)
subs not used: Kelvin Wilson, Gareth McCleary, Radoslav Majewski, Karl Darlow
booked: Chris Cohen (foul on Simon Gillett), Ryan Bertrand (kicking the ball away), McGoldrick (foul on Billy Sharp)