Free football… sunshine… free flags… what more could you want? Well, a goal would have been nice, but the end result of a point apiece does more for Rovers’ survival hopes than it does those of Crystal Palace. As a relegation clash the game lived up to its billing, nervy, disjointed and two sides – with three further games to come – keener to avoid putting a foot wrong than take the kamikaze all-or-nothing approach to tier two survival.
In front of a refreshingly full Keepmoat Stadium it was Palace who controlled the game’s opening fifteen minutes. The visitors had Rovers penned back in their own half, but struggled to convert territory into opportunity. Instead the first chance of note came from the feet of John Oster; the midfielder trying his luck from distance with a low shot that went inches past Julian Speroni’s post. Before his shot had even rattled the advertising hoardings Oster was over to the touchline to change his boots, although its arguable it was the act of shooting that was more uncomfortable for him than the footwear.
Rovers were clearly under instruction to mic their approach play and look for the long ball as much as the short. The midfield pushing away from the back four to force the diagonal ball from the back. When it as on the deck though Rovers looked more comfortable; Jamie Coppinger fed James O’Connor breaking inside him and though he managed to nudge the ball beyond Speroni, he couldn’t get a meaningful enough contact to threaten the goal.
Jason Euell was prefered as target man, and he began to settle into the role as the game went on, he forced a chance for himself breaking into the left channel, but could only divert his shot into the side-netting. Minutes later Oster drove another fierce shot from distance which struck a Palace player in the area; huge appeals from the South Stand and the players for a penalty, but a corner was all the referee saw fit to give. From the dead-ball Wayne Thomas got his head onto the ball in, but Speroni saved comfortably and the half duly ended goalless.
After the break Palace, encouraged on by a very vocal travelling support would be involved more and had an early sight of goal from a free-kick delivered deep but Paddy McCarthy headed off target. Rovers first meaningful attack was orchestrated by Mustapha Dumbuya as the full-back cut inside and forwards from left-back, before feeding Simon Gillett in the area. The midfielder squared back towards Dumbuya, but the ball reached Euell who hit a shot on the turn just beyond Speroni’s far-post.
It was Euell who would have Rovers next chance too, receiving a long ball into the area from George Friend he managed to keep control under close attention from three Palace defenders and get in an overhead kick which Speroni did well to keep hold of. On the hour mark Palace came closest of either side to breaking the deadlock, as Pablo Counago got in behind Rovers’ defence on the left; the forward stood up a cross for Darren Ambrose, but his downward header was brilliantly saved by Gary Woods getting down to his left.
The atmosphere had been building in the Keepmoat during the second half and as three sides of the ground clapped along to “Sean O’Driscoll’s Barmy Army” Rovers had another opportunity, again for Euell. This time the forward shooting from the right side of the area drilled his shot across the face of Speroni’s goal. With fifteen minutes to go Palace would have two good chances in quick succession; firstly as Neil Danns exchanged passes with sub Stefan Iversen to get in behind the Rovers defence but his low drive was just, and critically, tipped onto the base of the far post by Woods. Then a couple of minutes later Nathaniel Clyne broke into the box, and cut-back for Iversen from the by-line but the forward lifted his sho high over the bar.
Goalless is how it finished, and though the game offered something in terms of excitement and atmosphere (despite what the cynics will tell you) the chances of getting the floating fans back in when the prices go up remains unlikely. It is not the product, but the price. But to keep offering the product Rovers must not believe the job has now been done. Three points from three games will do it; then they can think again about the price.
Man of the Match: Wayne Thomas; his partner in crime George Friend was excellent throughout and got the official nod, but today Thomas, into the side ahead of Shelton Martis, proved to be the big powerful imposing centre-half we’ve lacked for so long and it made a notable difference.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Gary Woods; James O’Connor, Wayne Thomas, George Friend, Mustaoha Dumbuya (Shelton Martis); Brian Stock, Simon Gillett, John Oster; Jamie Coppinger (Dean Shiels), Franck Moussa (James Hayter); Jason Euell
subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Matt Kilgallon, Mark Wilson, Ryan Mason
booked: Brian Stock
Crystal Palace line-up (4-4-2); Julian Speroni; Nathaniel Clyne, Paddy McCarthey, Anthony Gardner, Dean Moxey; Darren Ambrose, Kemy Agustien, Kagisho Dikgocoa, Wilfred Zaha(Kieron Cadogan); Neil Danns, Paulo Counago (Stefan Iversen)
subs not used: Lewis Price, Claude Davies, Owen Garvan, David Wright, Jermaine Easter
booked: Anthony Gardner