In recent weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that a large number of football supporters are idiots. I know writing that sentence brings an air of pretension to this blog, so let it be clear that I don’t perceive myself to be better than any other Rovers supporters, just a hell of a lot more reasoned than many. This was a poor result brought on by a poor Rovers performance, but it certainly doesn’t warrant morons in the away end yelling “sell him” when your captain miss-times a pass.
Even in the most disappointing of defeats there are positives to be taken. Despite a below par footballing display Doncaster still created more chances than their opponents and managed to look the better side for the first half. However, with chances not taken and passes not coming off the errors began to outweigh the successes and defeat looked increasingly inevitable the longer the second half and no matter how many forwards Sean O’Driscoll through on. By the end Rovers were playing a 3-1-2-4 formation, but struggling to offer a coherent threat. It was just one of those days.
As I have pointed out though Rovers did start this game well and the first real chance of the game was theirs. A chipped angled ball into the area from James Coppinger was just a little too far in front of James Hayter and the forward stretching could only divert a volley wide of the post. Rovers were having success down the right in particular with Coppinger, John Oster and James O’Connor linking well, and a cross from the latter brought a decent chance for Hayter who glanced a header just wide of the far post. As Paul Nelson in the seat next to me remarked “Hayter is enduring something of a goal drowt here, thats quarter of an hour gone and he’s not scored”.
Palace’s first telling effort came next, the first of a decent spell for the home side as Darren Ambrose struck a snap-shot on the half volley from twenty yards, but Neil Sullivan was always behind it and the Rovers keeper saved comfortably. Sullivan would be called into action further in the coming minutes, first collecting from a cross deflected goalwards off Wayne Thomas and then saving from Wilfried Zaha at the near post.
Sullivan’s finest moment would come midway through the half as Palace whipped in a cross from the right that was met by the right boot of Neil Danns on the bounce eight yards out only for the Rovers keeper to somehow get down to his right and turn the ball away. A truly brilliant save. Danger seemingly averted Rovers spent the next five minutes on the attack, but four successive corners failed to really test Julian Speroni in the home goal. David Healy would offer more danger from an unlikely situation just after the half hour mark. Controlling a right foot cross with his back to goal, he used is first touch to bring it under some control and his second to hook an overhead kick goalwards that Speroni had to turn over the bar.
With Rovers looking likely to break the deadlock sooner rather than later they were caught out by the home side advancing through the right channel. The defence were dragged apart and Pablo Counago was fed the ball, the forward breaking into the area and then drilling a low shot past Sullivan to put Palace ahead. Rovers would attempt to hit back and indeed Coppinger had the ball in the net from a narrow angle five minutes before the break but he was correctly ruled offside and the half ended with the home side a goal to the good.
Rovers started the second half brightly, but were struggling to make the final ball count. However, some neat play between Oster and Coppinger brought a chance for the latter, only for his shot to be saved by Speroni. With Rovers pressing Palace broke through on goal, Zaha timing his run perfectly to get in behind Doncaster’s defence only to be thwarted by Sullivan who came off his line smartly to block. Palace were gaining chances chiefly from Rovers mistakes or general slack play and on the hour they had another as Counago dispossessed Brian Stock, but his shot was well-saved by Sullivan. Zaha would come close again minutes later as he cut inf rom the right having taken the ball from O’Connor but his shot from close to the byline came back off the near post.
The remainder of the game’s chances would be Rovers’, but try as they might the could not find a way past Speroni, the goalkeeper on three occasions turning decent efforts over the bar. Hayter coming in round the back fired a fierce first-time effort that the keeper clawed out the top corner and then from the resulting corner Brian Stock’s drive from the edge of the box was similarly dealt with by the home ‘keeper. Healy was unlucky as he drove a shot across the face of goal whilst the introduction of Sharp produced little from the forward other than a driven shot off target.
One of the standout stats from this game was the number of corners won by Rovers; 15 in total. As a generally small side Rovers will often struggle from set-pieces so whilst the failure to really make any of these set-pieces count frustrates it’s arguably more irritating that Rovers ball into the box in general play was equally futile. Palace are side who are big at the back, and with most corners headed resolutely clear it was galling to see Rovers try to lift the ball into the area in general play when there was more opportunity to beat the defence with the ball on the floor. Perhaps it should have been Steve Brooker introduced first amongst the subs to give the towering home back-line something more to worry about? I don’t know, and I’m certainly not about to suggest I have more tactical nous than Sean O’Driscoll.
Hopefully this game can be written off as simply a bad day at the office with Rovers struggling to muster any fluidity to their play. Many more passes went a stray or were intercepted than any game of late and more players too were caught in possession. Palace did nothing of note tactically or formation wise to cause this and I don’t feel there is anything here to offer panic or deep concern. Just a bad day at the office, and one which should at least mean there will be no complacency going into next Saturday’s South Yorkshire derby.
Man of the Match: Shelton Martis. In all honesty no player really stood out in what was a poor overall performance, but its worth giving praise to Martis who has often been scape-goated by many Rovers fans since his arrival. The centre back had a very composed game and looked much more assured in possession than he has recently.
Crystal Palace line-up (4-5-1): Julian Speroni; Nathan Clyne, Anthony Gardner, Claude Davis, David Wright; Darren Ambrose (Alassane N’Diaye), Alex Marrow (Andy Dorman); Wilfried Zaha, James Vaughan (John Obika), Neil Danns; Pablo Counago
subs not used: Lewis Price, Adam Barrett, Kieran Djilali, Stuart O’Keefe
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, Wayne Thomas (Steve Brooker), Mustapha Dumbuya; Brian Stock, Mark Wilson (Billy Sharp), John Oster; (Dean Shiels) James Coppinger, James Hayter; David Healy
subs not used: Gary Woods, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, Dennis Sousa
booked: Brian Stock (trip), James O’Connor (trip)