The Championship is an odd division. Whilst Rovers were being thumped by Ipswich and Swansea they somehow remained 16th in the table, but since the club have begun picking up points again they have slid to 19th. Whilst the league position may have worsened, and the injury crisis hardly lessened, the atmosphere around the club is thankfully much better. A point in the face of adversity at Norwich and some timely rallying words from John Ryan in the week and an air of solidarity has returned. It’ll all be OK… won’t it?
Despite the Chairman beating the drum at the back of the South Stand the opening exchanges of this match were tentative to say the least. There was not a shot on goal, but we did learn things; Sam Hird, though competent at right back, won’t bomb forward as much as his team-mates would perhaps like him to. A large percentage of Rovers fans prefer George Friend the centre-back to George Friend the left-back. And the first porn film Matt watched had a kazoo based soundtrack. It was a quiet opening quarter of an hour.
Thankfully a first Rovers chance meant we were unable to dwell on that point. Sharp gave the ball to Jason Euell and ran on for the return pass, before firing a shot just wide of the goal with Watford ‘keeper Scott Loach beaten. Within a couple of minutes Watford had their first effort too as Danny Graham picked up the ball in space on the edge of the centre circle; the forward drove forward before hitting a shot from 30 yards which flew just past Gary Woods’ right post.
Though Rovers had probably enjoyed the better of possession and territory it was Watford who took the lead midway through the first half. A deep cross from the Hornets’ right was headed back across goal by Andy Weimann and Graham was on hand to nod it past Woods into the bottom corner. Rovers pushed for an immediate reply, but nearly ended up further behind as Watford broke two on one from a Doncaster corner; Steve McGinn firing over from the edge of the area when he could have either advanced further or squared for a team-mate.
Just after the half-hour mark Watford were forced into an early substitution as two of their players inadvertently came together by the near touchline; McGinn coming off the worst to be forced off for a substitution. During the stoppage Sharp took the opportunity to wander 60 yards out of his way to berate the linesman on the far-side of the field about some minor indiscretion that had taken place. Unsurprisingly, he was duly cautioned for dissent. Rovers were continuing to push forward though with Sharp giving Watford as much concern as he was the match officials. The forward fired just wide again five minutes before the break as Franck Moussa laid the ball off for him on the edge of the box.
As we’re often told by managers, just before the interval is the perfect time to score; at the back of the West Stand we discovered that scoring on the stroke of half-time can also offer fantastic comic timing. Notorious moaner Geoff had whinged at Oster for laying it off to Keegan, then harangued Keegan for playing the ball backwards to Hird. And Geoff was in the midst of berating Hird for “a bloody pointless long ball for’ard” as Jason Euell controlled the defender’s pass on the chest and slotted it past Loach and in off the post. Perfect football karma… a deserved equalizer and Geoff deservingly made to look daft.
The goal was deserved reward for Euell who has steadily impressed since joining just over a week ago. Having served as target man at Carrow Road on Tuesday, today he sat deeper and linked well with both Sharp and the midfield. The absence of James Hayter and his tireless front to back work-rate has been one of the most sorely missed factors of this current injury crisis, today Euell took on that role better than anyone else has managed and Rovers were better for it. Geoff too was on fine form come to mention it; during the second half he managed to simultaneously bollock and applaud a Rovers player without any notion of self-awareness. A true pro.
There was still time for further drama in added time before the break as John Eustace decided the best route to the ball was through Euell. The Watford skipper could perhaps count himself lucky to only get a caution for his mini bookable offence-athon as he followed up his challenge with a two handed shove in the chest of Euell and then all manner of dissent to the official. Good to see a club captain leading by example with the Respect campaign… he would get his just desserts later on though.
The second half would be livelier than the first, with the visitors, boosted by the addition of Marvin Sordell from the bench, having the better of the early chances. Matty Whichelow hit an effort from the edge of the box which deflected up and over and the Sordell himself threatened from the corner of the area. The sub’s first curling effort was blocked, and his follow-up effort just wide. At the other end Euell had a great chance to put Rovers ahead as he was released by Woods long kick down field. Loach came off his line to block Euell’s first effort and as the forward tried to lift the ball over the ‘keeper on the follow-up Loach managed to get a hand to it to turn it wide.
In the final ten minutes Rovers had greater opportunity to push for a winner as Eustace was dismissed for a second yellow-card; the captain handling the ball as Mark Wilson tried to lift it over him. Joseph Mills took the resulting free-kick and hit a firm effort on goal which Loach spilled, but he managed to grab the loose ball before Euell could poke it home. From that point on it was all Rovers, but they couldn’t quite make their one man advantage count.
The excellent Paul Keegan came close than most as he hooked a loose ball from a left-wing cross goal-wards, but via a deflection it went just inches past the post. Euell too had a chance in stoppage time, but couldn’t turn it on target as Watford did their best to eat up the clock. Loach was deservedly cautioned for trying to take the momentum out of one Rovers spell too many, but the referee was arguably more guilty of stifling Rovers. As Rovers took a throw-in deep in the Watford half late on in the game a stray ball bounced on to the field and rather than usher for the throw to be taken again the referee instead allowed Watford to contest a drop-ball.
Despite the home pressure, the added physical presence of Wayne Thomas pushed up front and a man with a tan and great teeth whacking a drum behind the South Stand goal, the winner sadly never came and Watford held on for a point. With the injury list still in double figures we should of course be grateful for points where we can get them, but this is a game that ultimately could and perhaps should have won given Rovers late rally.
Man of the Match: Paul Keegan, the central midfielder not only offered a bit of much-needed bite in the centre of the pitch but managed to keep his pass completion rate up when all about him were losing theres. Simple but effective ball retention which offered Rovers a platform to work from in an at times scrappy match.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-4-1-1); Gary Woods; Sam Hird, Wayne Thomas, George Friend, Joseph Mills; John Oster, Paul Keegan, Franck Moussa (Mark Wilson), Brian Stock; Jason Euell; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Jordan Bradshaw, Byron Webster, Dennis Souza, Matt Kilgallon, Simon Gillett, Dean Shiels
booked: Billy Sharp (going sixty yards out of his way to give dissent to the linesman)
Watford line-up (4-1-4-1); Scott Loach; Adam Thompson, Martin Taylor, Adrian Mariappa, Lee Hodson; John Eustace; Steve McGinn (Danny Drinkwater)(Ross Jenkins), Matty Whichelow, Don Cowie, Andy Weiman (Marvin Sordell); Danny Graham
subs not used: Troy Deeney, Will Buckley, Rene Gilmartin, Dale Bennett
booked: Scott Loach (very obvious delaying of the game)
sent-off: John Eustace (two cautions, one for the combined effort of going through Jason Euell, shoving Euell in the chest and giving the official a volley of dissent… a second for handball)