You know things are going badly for your team when you start getting messages from fans of other teams offering their condolences for a score-line before a match has even finished. If that wasn’t enough of an indication as to how bad things are then consider this, Ipswich’s victory at the Keepmoat tonight was Rovers heaviest ever home league defeat. Even the sides fielded by Mark Weaver in 1997-98 fared better than this.
Of course it would be wrong to offer Rovers’ worst ever season as a comparison to how things are now. As a club, Doncaster are now stable second tier fare, and it would take a considerably bigger implosion than one hefty defeat to change the fact that for my generation (and the generation above for that matter) this is as good as things have ever been. In times of trouble on the field such as this, sensible perspective is vital. There will be folk on the forums suggesting that Sean O’Driscoll’s time as manager of Doncaster Rovers should cease now. And whilst everyone is entitled to their opinion, that opinion is plainly ridiculous.
Rovers have been hamstrung by injuries for weeks now, and on the morning of this fixture Sean O’Driscoll was dealt a killer blow. Injuries to Brian Stock and Billy Sharp meant that not only was he without his influential club captain, but the squad was without any recognised forwards. Jamie Coppinger and Dean Shiels would take on the role for the night, but whilst their talents are obvious, the strength required to be an out and out striker are not amongst those.
The Rovers starting line-up was notably weakened and the whole team would need to be at the top of their game if they were to take anything from the match. Unfortunately, that proved to be far from the case. Destabilised and dejected Rovers delivered a frankly awful performance that made victory for Ipswich a certainty – though Town’s ruthlessness obviously deserves credit.
That Rovers would contribute to their own downfall was evident in the opening goal of the game midway through the first half. Grant Leadbitter’s drive from distance took a deflection and looped high into the air. Sam Hird got his head on it before Gareth McAuley, but in doing so simply directed the ball high in the direction of his own goal and with Gary Woods stranded it dropped under the bar and in.
Just after the half hour mark and Ipswich doubled their lead as Hird got his head on a long ball downfield but could only divert it to the feet of Lee Martin on the right edge of the area. The midfielder cut the ball back across the top of the box where Colin Heeley was on hand to sweep it into the far corner. At 2-0 Rovers had a couple of sights on goal, chiefly through the threat of Coppinger, but they would ultimately come to nothing more than a speculative effort high and wide.
Before half-time Ipswich made it 3-0. John Oster was dispossessed all too easily in midfield by Healy who moved into space and struck a firm shot from distance. Woods was equal to the effort, diving full length to his left to save, but the ball dropped right at the feet of teenage Town striker Connor Wickham and he made no mistake as he slotted home the rebound. Three down at the interval and inevitable boos around the Keepmoat Stadium.
There would be no let up in the second half either as Ipswich continued to display a clinical edge. On the hour mark a run from Wickham down the left brought a corner for the visitors. The initial ball in to a crowded six yard box was palmed away by Woods, but only as far as Wickham, and from sixteen yards the forward fired it back through the crowd and into the net to make it 4-0.
Within minutes Ipswich’s lead had increased even further. A free-kick from out on the left was whipped into the middle where McAuley met it unmarked with a downward header. Woods got down and got a hand to it, but couldn’t stop the ball crossing the line. Rovers attempted forlornly to get something from the game, but it would be two minutes from time before they brought Martin Fulop into action; the Ipswich keeper saving from Paul Keegan.
Rovers fate was compounded further in the final minute as Wickham, edging into the penalty area from the left, was brought down by Hird. Wickham took the penalty himself, shooting low into bottom left corner to wrap up the match and complete his own hat-trick. A horrible night for the Rovers and with the treatment room not getting emptier and daunting away trips to promotion chasers Swansea and Norwich ahead, the near future looks particularly daunting.
Doncaster Rovers line-up; Gary Woods; James Chambers (Wayne Thomas), James O’Connor, Sam Hird, George Friend; Paul Keegan, Mark Wilson; John Oster, Joseph Mills (Dennis Souza); Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels (Ryan Burge)
subs not used: Neil Sulivan, Byron Webster, Matt Kilgallon, Bradley Grayson
Ipswich Town line-up; Martin Fulop; Carlos Edwards, Gareth McAuley, Damian Delaney, Mark Kennedy; Colin Healy (Jamie Peters), Grant Leadbitter, Jimmy Bullard, Lee Martin (Andy Drury); Connor Wickham, Jason Scotland (Tamas Priskin)
subs not used: Arran Lee-Barratt, Darren O’Dea, Tommy Smith