We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Forget Leeds United, forget Sheffield United, as far as we’re concerned this is the derby game for Rovers in the Championship. So, there should be few more satisfying results for Rovers fans this season than today’s, winning by two clear goals in your local rivals’ own tin shed. And if it feels satisfying for you just imagine how it feels for Billy Sharp who today made it three goals in two visits to his old home ground of Glanford Park as a Rovers player.
The day didn’t quite follow this happy trajectory from the off though as Scunthorpe had arguably the better of the game’s opening exchanges. Martyn Woolford hit a speculative long-range effort over the bar two minutes in whilst former Rover Jonathan Forte came close after being released in the left channel minutes later. The home side’s pressure paid off twelve minutes in when the Iron took the lead. Eddie Nolan made space to whip in an excellent right footed cross from the Scunthorpe left and Woolford was on hand to meet it with a glancing header and find the bottom corner of Neil Sullivan’s net. A couple of minutes later Woolford had another chance, this time heading just wide of the opposite post, and the Rovers fans behind the goal would have been forgiven for thinking it was going to be another one of those days, particularly when George Friend was forced off less than twenty minutes in. The full-back had taken a knock early on and was replaced by Sam Hird with James O’Connor making the effortless switch to left-back.
It was round about this point that Rovers finally stubbed out their cigarettes and decided to get involved in the match themselves, beginning with Martin Woods having a go from distance though his effort was always more likely to trouble the home fans than Joe Murphy. The home ‘keeper would be decidedly more troubled in the next minute as Jamie Coppinger put in a cross from the right and Sharp met it with a firm header that Murphy had to get across to save.Rovers were looking decidedly better but the home side were still threatening and a corner on the half hour mark caused brief panic in the Rovers defence until it was eventually cleared. A minute later Rovers would be level. Coppinger and John Oster combined before the latter chipped a glorious pass into the path of Sharp, the forward controlled neatly and then fired the ball low into the corner of the net to level things up and spark wild celebrations at the opposite end of the ground.
Scunthorpe tried to hit back instantly as Forte had a try from distance but his shot came closer to affecting trains on the Cleethorpes to Doncaster line than it did the scoreline. As the first half came to a close Rovers pushed to try and nick a half-time lead, but were thwarted by a number of defensive blocks before Coppinger, spooned a shot over the bar from close range as he struggled to quite react quick enough to the bounce of the rebound. Scunthorpe had a late chance of their own as Chris Dagnall advanced into the Rovers area but Adam Lockwood managed to make a well-timed challenge to avert the danger and half-time came with the scores level.
Into the second half and Simon Gillett was first to get a sight of goal, firing wide from just outside the area as Rovers attacked the end housing their sell-out travelling support. A minute later and Scunthorpe really should have been ahead as the Rovers defence was caught out by a free-kick from Josh Wright on the left and the ball fell to Dagnall unmarked just over six yards out, but the striker hesitated and struck his attempted half volley into the ground with the ball bouncing up on to the bar and behind. Dagnall would be made to pay within five minutes as Sharp was released into the home penalty area only to be upended by a clumsy Rob Jones challenge. The referee pointed to the spot and Sharp it was who took the kick, firing it low into the bottom left corner to put Rovers in front and celebrate in front of the jubilant away fans.
At this point it was almost all Rovers with the combination of Mustapha Dumbuya and Coppinger on the right causing Scunthopre particular trouble. The chances started to come regularly as first Woods fired over and then Oster was just unable to get on the end of a cross from O’Connor on the left. Minutes later O’Connor would have a more productive forray forward. Coppinger on the right turned Nolan inside out before lifting a neat left foot cross into the area which was met emphatically by the head of O’Connor to find the top corner of the net and put Rovers 3-1 ahead. Doncaster continued to press and could have had another had Oster not seen his shot blocked, before Sharp following up, was denied by Murphy. Coppinger too came close late on, first as he drove forward from his own half only to be denied by Murphy and then as he struck the post from the resulting corner.
Despite the best efforts of Coppinger and others 3-1 is how it finished. A welcome and deserved win fuelled by an excellent attacking display particularly in the second half. The game also highlighted a number of positives, the increasing effectiveness of Dumbuya and Coppinger on the right for one, and the fantastic defensive versatility of James O’Connor who continues to excel wherever he’s put on the field. But of course all the headlines from this game will be taken by the man leading the line; Billy, Billy Sharp. Rovers are back in the top half of the table and looking hungrily ahead to the visit of Derby.
Scunthorpe United line-up (4-4-2); Joe Murphy; Cliff Byrne, David Mirfin, Rob Jones, Eddie Nolan; Martyn Woolford, Michael Collins (Bobby Grant), Josh Wright, Sam Togwell (Michael O’Connor); Jonathan Forte (Garry Thompson), Chris Dagnall
subs not used: Sam Slocombe, Michael Raynes, Trent McClenahan, Paris Cowan-Hall
booked: Rob Jones
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya, James O’Connor, Adam Lockwood, George Friend (Sam Hird); Simon Gillett (Mark Wilson), Martin Woods, John Oster (Brian Stock); Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, Byron Webster, Steve Brooker, Dean Shiels
booked: Adam Lockwood