Well, it would seem there is truth in the proverb; good things do come to he who waits. Presuming of course you are reading this as a Rovers fan. Having gone two weeks without a match owing to festive postponements Doncaster’s eventual return to action had been much-anticipated, and that’s before the additional unexpected fifty-five minute delay to kick-off. Thankfully the pain of an extra hour in the cold South Yorkshire air, was to be rewarded with the pleasure of a 3-0 derby win over Scunthorpe United.
So there we were catching up on Christmas’ past when Matt looked at his watch and pointed out it had gone three o’clock and there was no sign of the teams. Sean O’Driscoll came out of the tunnel on his phone and then went back inside. The stewards had a conflab. And then finally came an announcement that owing to “technical problems” the game would now be kicking off at 3:25pm. Only it didn’t.
At the back of the West Stand we’ve long wondered why we have to have a man on a mic. on the pitch instead of an avuncular Ken Avis type uncle locked away in a cupboard. Today that query was answered, it’s so everyone knows exactly who they should be abusing, booing and heckling when they choose to forgo information on why we’re not watching twenty-one footballers and Cliff Byrne run around, to instead plug the next home match. The ‘technical problem’ we were eventually told was the lack of an ambulance on site, prompting a chant of “Where’s your ambulance?” at the St Johns volunteers at the South Stand end. At just after 3:40pm a huge roar erupted at the Keepmoat Stadium. The ambulance was here. And fifteen minutes the good folk of Doncaster finally saw some festive football action.
Both teams began the game as if they’d spent an extra hour twiddling their thumbs in the changing room, the first eight minutes offered as much to write home about as a trip to, well, to Scunthorpe. It was the Iron who had the game’s first opportunity as they won a free-kick on the Rovers left in. Chris Dagnall looked offside as he stumbled into the delivery but with the linesman didn’t so much as flinch and the ball fell to Jonathan Forte’s feet, the ex-Rovers forward poking it goalwards from close range, only to be denied by a good Neil Sullivan save.
Scunthorpe had looked the better side in the first fifteen minutes, but their attempts to find a way through the Rovers back line had been swept up for the most part by Shelton Martis. Unfortunately for the Rovers Martis’ game would last only a couple of minutes before he was forced to limp off having taken a knock, to be replaced by Adam Lockwood. Just before Martis left the field Doncaster had their first sight of goal, a corner cleared to the feet of James O’Connor, but his attempted drive was blocked, with a large appeal from the East Stand suggesting the block was made by a hand.
Midway through the half Rovers broke the deadlock having forced a corner on the left hand side. Brian Stock’s set-piece delivered perfectly to the head of Billy Sharp and he, unchallenged, six yards out, against his old club, with his reputation, was hardly likely to miss. Cue inevitable celebration in front of the travelling fans and an inevitable booking. Not for Sharp, but for Scunthorpe ‘keeper Joe Murphy who did what most of the folk sat behind him would’ve liked to have done and wanged the ball at the celebrating Sharp.
His potentially inciting goal celebration was just one of a number of items on Sharp’s ‘Ways to be Really Annoying for the Opposition’ checklist, which he succeeded in ticking off over the course of this game. By the end of the first half alone he had crossed out ‘swinging his arms unnecessarily whilst marked’, ‘winding up the club captain’, and ‘hanging onto the ball whilst arguing with the linesman’. That said, he had opposition in the form of Scunthorpe striker Dagnall, who tried to appeal fervently for a penalty having performed a fosbury-flop after brushing hips with Adam Lockwood.
Going forward Rovers were starting to click and James Hayter was unlucky not to double the lead as he was put into space by Jamie Coppinger’s neat back-heel and his firm strike flew just wide. Hayter would find the net minutes later though as James O’Connor’s deep cross just evaded Sharp, only for Hayter to turn it home at the far post. Doncaster were now in firm control and in the minutes up to half-time Scunthorpe could barely get a touch of the ball. In the final minute before the break Rovers increased their lead further as John Oster’s excellent far-post cross was met by a well-executed Joseph Mills volley. Doncaster three goals to the good at the break then, with a good few Scunthorpe supporters probably contemplating a quick trip to sabotage an ambulance.
The second half turned out to be something of a footballing non-event as Rovers dropped down a couple of gears and despite their best efforts Scunthorpe couldn’t really get going moving. Rovers fashioned a couple of late chances, most notably as Coppinger and substitute Dean Shiels combined well working their way in from the right for the latter to get off a shot, though Murphy did well to beat it away. “What’s it like to save a shot?” taunted the South Stand.
Shiels had entered the game just over quarter of an hour into the second half to replace Stock after the Rovers skipper was fouled off the ball by Michael O’Connor. Just yards from the referee, O’Connor first gave Stock a nudge to the ribs before returning to stamp on his ankle. Frustratingly the incident went unseen by the match official Paul Tierney, a man who would go on to infuriate Rovers further with his odd interpretation of what was considered ‘advantage’. Twice he encouraged Rovers to continue with possession as they were heading away from goal and then brought play back for a free-kick when James O’Connor was advancing into the area.
With five minutes to play Rovers performance was given a disappointing blemish as Sam Hird picked up a deserved second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Matt Godden. With the crowd already on his back Mr Tierney did little to enhance his reputation by allowing Scunthorpe skipper Cliff Byrne to balk at him for twenty seconds before finally dismissing Hird. The decision was the right one, but the manner he executed it made it look as if he had allowed Byrne to call the shots.
As the game moved into injury time Rovers had a large shout for a penalty as Shiels had his feet taken from him on the edge of the box, but surprisingly the referee waved play on and the game closed out soon after. A good win for Rovers against a very poor Scunthorpe side. The Iron turned up with their game plan seemingly to rough Rovers up and then hit them on the break. Sadly they omitted the notion of defending from that game-plan and when Rovers took the lead Scunthorpe just fell apart. A terrible shame I’m sure you’ll agree.
Man of the Match: Joseph Mills; its amazing what a difference having a natural left-back in the side makes. No disrespect intended to those who have deputised for Mills in his absence, but the returning loanee gave the back-line a much more settled look from the start and his performance was solid throughout, capped with a well-taken first goal.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Shelton Martis (Adam Lockwood), Joseph Mills; Brian Stock (Dean Shiels), John Oster, Mark Wilson; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter (David Healy); Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, Dennis Souza, Simon Gillett, Waide Fairhurst
booked: James O’Connor (foul)
sent off: Sam Hird (two cautions, both for fouls)
Scunthorpe United line-up (4-4-1-1); Joe Murphy; Andrew Wright, Cliff Byrne, David Mirfin, Eddie Nolan; Martin Woolford, Sam Togwell, Michael O’Connor (Josh Wright), Michael Collins; Jonathan Forte (Matt Godden); Chris Dagnall (Garry Thompson)
subs not used: Michael Raynes, Trent McClena, Paris Cowan-Hall, Sam Slocombe
booked: Michael Collins (foul), Joe Murphy (dissent), Cliff Byrne (general and persistent annoyance)