Last season, when Neil Warnock brought his Crystal Palace side to the Keepmoat I decided not to attend. I’d seen that bunch of thugs the previous season, as they put in an ungracious display in a defeat they thoroughly deserved morally if not statistically. My distaste for Warnock is well-known to any regular readers of Viva Rovers, and had his QPR side not topped the table I would probably have stayed away again. Only, I was intrigued. I was interested to see just what it takes to top a division, no-one else seems comfortable storming.
In the end, I learnt little that I did not already know. It takes three things to top this division, three clear attributes and yet Rangers seem to be the only side who have mastered this and delivered it. The first is resources, which could easily be bracketed as money. The strength in depth of the Rangers side is shown by their bench today. Players who would be (or indeed were) the first name on the team-sheet at other Championship sides have a fight on their hands to get into the starting XI owing to Rangers ability to fork out the necessary sum to effectively bring in who they like.
The second thing you need is talent, skill, genuine quality on the ball, which of course Rangers possess. Their main man Adel Taarabt may have been injured today, but his deputy Hogan Ephraim was still a significant threat in possession, as shown by the only goal of the game as Ephraim side-stepped Sam Hird all too easily just after the break. But a lot of teams have talented players, or a collective quality with the ball. Hell, we’re one of them when we’re at full strength (ie. not hindered by a lack of attribute number one). So, what else is it that Rangers have?
The third key attribute in a Championship winning side is resolve, perhaps more accurately labelled as size and strength, and even more distinctly, a lot of bloody big bastards. Rangers have that too, an ugly yet effective spine to their side populated by the brutes Warnock has collected on his whingy path through the Championship. Today, most things Rovers tried to do ended at Fitz Hall, at times it was as if the QPR defender was exerting a gravitational pull on the ball, so many times was it drawn towards his bonce.
The most disappointing aspect of this game was that Rovers, never really tested the visitors. They put together a decent spell before the break when they got the ball down and tried to work it forward, but inexplicably that approach died out the moment Rangers took an early second half lead. Then it was back to the unsuccessful stuff. The optimistic hoofs, the aerial approach that brings us as much success as it did the Hindenburg. Had Rovers played to their strengths, then this could have been a much more rewarding game.
The opening quarter of an hour though was all Rangers and they almost took a deserved lead from a protracted scramble in the Rovers area as Heidur Helgusson headed against the bar and then eventually, three crosses later Rovers managed to lever the ball clear. Tommy Smith also threatened for the visitors with a shot which Gary Woods did well to turn round his near post, but beyond that, as Rovers settled they had the better chances.
First to threaten for the home side was Franck Moussa, stretching to meet a low Jamie Coppinger cross, he coul only toe-end it against the near-post with Paddy Kenny already going the other way. The West Stand went wild ten minutes before half-time as Brian Stock appeared to find the net with a firm driven shot. He hadn’t. It had struck the rear stansion and 2,000 people sheepishly retook their seats. Before the break Shelton Martis would also come close with a header from a corner which Kenny did well to turn over the bar.
Things looked good for the second half then, for all of a minute or so. Ephriam received the ball on the left edge of the box, cut back inside and found the far corner of Woods’ goal. Despite a lot of huffing and puffing from the Rovers, and even more craning of necks to watch the ball arc forwards and back, the game was pretty much won at that point. Rovers tried to press, but genuine chances were notable by their absence. A wayward Moussa header from a Coppinger cross on the hour mark was disappointingly about as good as it got.
As I started with Warnock, I may as well offer some summation of his appearance in DN4 too. Midway through the first half a booming voice from the West Stand proclaimed “You’ve not changed have you Neil? Every bloody year. Still the same”. It wasn’t me, but I echo the sentiments. Every time a decision went against Rangers, Warnock ran through the same routine. Shake of the head. Look of disgust and incredulity. Debate with the fourth official. Further shake of the head. Word in the assistant referees ear. Drink bottle of water. Repeat until fade.
Man of the Match: Simon Gillett’s absence wasn’t talked of much during his injury trouble this season, but in his few games back he’s already proved his worth. An excellent holding midfield display, he broke up most things and willingly chased down everything else.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-3); Gary Woods; Sam Hird, Shelton Martis, George Friend, Joseph Mills; Brian Stock, Simon Gillett (Mustapha Dumbuya), John Oster (Ryan Mason); Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter (Jason Euell), Franck Moussa
subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Matt Kilgallon, Mark Wilson, Dean Shiels
Queens Park Rangers line-up (4-4-2); Paddy Kenny; Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Fitz Hall, Clint Hill; Wayne Routledge, Shaun Derry, Alejandro Faurlin, Hogan Ephraim (Akos Buszaky); Tommy Smith, Heidur Helgusson (Rob Hulse)
subs not used: Radek Cerny, Danny Shittu, Pascal Chimbonda, Peter Moen, Patrick Agyemang
booked: Kaspars Gorkss (foul)