The Magic of the Cup, though often spoken of, has never truly been defined. As such I know not where pieces of silver sponsored by electricity companies sit upon the spectrum of the black arts. However, if pushed to estimate I would suggest a location with significantly greater allure than standing on a freezing mouse-ridden platform at Birmingham New Street being mocked by two pre-pubescent kids in replica shirts squeezed over the top of multiple tracksuits. Yet, at 11:00pm tonight, that is precisely where I found myself with Rovers having exited the Cup like an over-dunked Rich Tea biscuit; messily and without resolve.
It could have all been so different too. It could have been me humiliating the children. Just a couple of minutes into the game Billy Sharp was put through on goal by James Hayter, but when he seemed destined to score Sharp could only shoot straight at Marcus Hahnmeann and the ‘keeper saved with his legs. The miss would prove costly, not just to Rovers, but Sharp too as the forward sulked and seethed his way through the rest of the game, his self-anger rendering him frustratingly ineffectual. To compound the miss, within a minute the home side had skipped down the other end and taken the lead as Stephen Hunt found space to put in a cross and Steven Fletcher met it to head the ball past Neil Sullivan.
Wanderers’, suggesting Mick McCarthy had done his homework, were attacking predominantly down their left flank where they were up against James Chambers, making his first start of the season. Chambers was struggling to get to grips with his opposite number and minutes after the goal Sam Hird was forced to head over his own bar to clear a Ronald Zubar cross from that left-wing. A spell in possession settled Rovers and gradually they began to move the ball around neatly and create openings; Hayter coming close to an equaliser as he headed James Coppinger’s high hanging cross just over the bar. However, for Rovers improved endeavours, the ricochets and the breaks continued to fall the way of the home side and Doncastrian frustrations began to grow once more.
Midway through the half Wolves were back in control and Steven Mouyokolo went close as he curled a shot from the edge of the area just beyond Sullivan’s left-hand post. Wanderers had a better chance to extend their lead on the half hour mark as Kevin Doyle got to the by-line on the left, but his pull-back was blazed over the bar from twelve yards by Geoffrey Mujangi-Bia. Each side tried their luck from distance; Coppinger saw an effort comfortably fielded by Hahnemann, whilst Doyle fired wide. Just before the interval came a huge appeal for a Rovers penalty as Coppinger was flattened in the Wolves area, but referee Kevin Friend simply waved play on. The official’s disconsolate shrug was something Rovers would become accustomed to as over the course of the night; the last Conservative Government gave Doncaster more than Kevin Friend.
Half-time and Rovers, having put in a decent forty-five minute shift, could consider themselves a little unlucky to be behind. The match and indeed the performance of the players were certainly not meriting the criticisms they were receiving from sections of the Rovers support. The interval actually enabled me to do some reflective masks and I discovered that a ratio of 1:750 accurately depicts the number of reasonable criticisms of Mark Wilson in relation to unreasonable ones. And on a similar vein if John Oster could do even half the things the bloke in front of me expected of him then he wouldn’t be playing for Doncaster. In fact he’d have retired years ago and the only thing Oster would currently be attempting to mount would be some nubile blond on a yacht moored off a Caribbean beach rather than an FA Cup fight back.
Anyway, back to the action and Rovers came out of the traps quickly at the start of the second half with a neat bit of football bringing a chance for Hayter cutting in from the right, but his strike was blocked and his follow-up effort deflected wide for a corner. Within a minute Wolves poured forward on the break and were only denied a sight of goal when Oster, tackling back, managed to dispossess Doyle in the area (his inability to ‘find a man’ with his last-ditch challenge having been noted by my neighbour as I bit my tongue – very hard). On the hour mark though Wanderers did strike and doubled their lead. Rovers lost possession on half-way and despite the attempt of a prone Coppinger to tackle Karl Henry with his head, Wolves worked the ball to Doyle on the left; his delivery finding its way across the box to Mujangi-Bia whose strike was deflected beyond Sullivan.
From that point it was all Wolves as Rovers fell apart. Within five minutes it was 3-0 as Doyle got away in space down the left, and turned Hird inside-out on the edge of the box, before beating Sullivan with a low shot inside the keeper’s near post. Nothing says ‘this match is over as a contest’ as effectively as a Mexican Wave moving round the stadium, and that sight greeted our already weary eyes with twenty minutes still to play. Even the swathes of empty seats appeared to be joining in. With quarter of an hour to play Wolves made it 4-0 as David Jones’ through-ball picked out the run of Matt Jarvis and he neatly slotted the ball into the far bottom corner.
Sean O’Driscoll rang the changes after the goal, off went Chambers, Coppinger and Sharp presumably to save themselves for upcoming league action and in their place arrived Dennis Souza, George Friend and Steve Brooker. Perhaps owing to limited game time Friend continues to look lost on the field for Rovers, indeed I couldn’t help but wonder if the real George Friend was somewhere in the stand beneath us, bound and gagged in a broom cupboard whilst Rovers unwittingly helped a janitor fulfill his dream of professional football.
As the game moved into injury time Wolves decided that if the referee wasn’t going to blow for full-time they may as well add a fifth goal. Jones scored it sweeping in Jarvis’ corner, or so I was told. My view of the goal had been totally obscured by the members of West Mercia police who’d chosen a Wanderers corner as the opportune moment to traipse down the aisle en masse. I thanked them, and asked them to stay there for the remainder of time added on. They don’t do humour your West Mercia police. Soon after the match was over, as too was another all too brief Rovers FA Cup sojourn. A second half in which too many Rovers players under-performed resulting in a frustrating exit to a Wolves side they had more than matched in the initial tie.
To end on one positive I did during the second-half discover a satisfying new hobby to help tolerate the more logically-challenged members of Rovers support; namely, when folk around you make ridiculous points as rhetorical questions – answer them. “What’s he playing it backwards for?” Because he has identified a player who is not only of the same team, but also currently unmarked, and whilst the aim of the game may ultimately be to get the ball into the goal, one of the most effective strategies for achieving that end is the retention of possession, something which he has achieved by playing the ball in a backwards direction. “What’s he doing leaving Wilson on?” Having taken into consideration the performances of individual players thus far, and indeed the wider context of upcoming games Sean O’Driscoll feels others are more expendable at this stage. “Why do we bother coming for performances like that?” Firstly football is an unpredictable mistress, and secondly your life is otherwise empty. You should try it sometime. It gets you through nights like this.
Man of the Match: Mark Wilson. I feel for Mark Wilson, as for some unfounded reason people seem to watch him hoping and waiting for him to make a mistake. Over the course of this game he was criticised by those sitting round me for the following things; beating his man, making a successful pass, asking for a return ball, “trying that same bloody turn again” (even though it worked), and standing in space. What hope has the poor man got? Wilson is one of Rovers most professional, experienced and long-serving players and the level of criticism he gets is completely non-sensical. He doesn’t deserve this at all.
Wolverhampton Wanderers line-up (4-4-2); Marcus Hahnemann; Steven Mouyokolo, Richard Stearman, Jody Craddock, Ronald Zubar; Geoffrey Mujangi-Bia , Karl Henry, David Jones, Stephen Hunt (Matt Jarvis); Kevin Doyle (Sam Vokes), Steven Fletcher (Stephen Ward)
subs not used: Wayne Hennesey, Christophe Berra, David Davis, Nenad Milijas
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; James Chambers (George Friend), Sam Hird, Adam Lockwood, James O’Connor; Mark Wilson, John Oster, Dean Shiels; Jamie Coppinger (Dennis Souza), James Hayter; Billy Sharp (Steve Brooker)
subs not used: Gary Woods, Byron Webster, Waide Fairhurst