What I like about the Doncaster and Barnsley rivalry is that despite the numerous similarities between the two towns, matches between them send both sets of fans spiralling into a parallel world Four Yorkshireman sketch. Tha’s got it so much worse than us tha knows. In the Away End toilets I overheard one Rovers fan mocking the intelligence of the locals; he did this whilst simultaneously pissing in the urinal and using both hands to send a text. Is Doncaster really that much more urbane than Barnsley? We get an airport, a lake and a H&M and suddenly we’re Stephen Fry. Can’t we all just get along… and laugh at the folk in the big city down the road instead?
Anyway, despite their scoffs at the local population close to 2,000 Rovers fans made the short trip for this potentially Championship status saving South Yorkshire derby. The Donny mob were in refreshingly good voice too; it’s a shame we must just copy the songs of other clubs, but if its done with the gusto and consistency as it was today then I’ve no strong complaints. The Rovers fans were rocking from start to finish and the energy in the stands was replicated on the field.
The home side were the first to threaten as Reuban Noble-Lazarus whipped in a low bouncing ball from the right flank which was fumbled by Gary Woods. Credit to the keeper though as he was alert enough to smother the follow-up and block a subsequent effort before Rovers’ back-line hacked it clear. We noted on the presence of Wayne Thomas in the Rovers’ defence after Friday’s match and captain for the day today he continued in similarly combative mode; a shouty point rock at the back, Thomas was also giving Barnsley headaches in their own box as an extra target for the dead-ball. With the centre-half looming two Rovers corners brought chances for the less significantly marked James Hayter, first as he headed a left-wing delivery at Luke Steele, and secondly as he hooked a cross from the opposite flank high into the home fans.
For a loan signing who has played in the top-flight and could therefore quite easily take or leave a Championship relegation scrap, Jason Euell’s commitment to the cause has been pleasantly noted. His efforts of Friday were rewarded with another start here today and throughout the first half you could see him pleading for the early ball. On one such occasion Thomas obliged him with a long pass from the back and Euell managed to nod it down for Hayter, but his shot was disappointingly off-target.
At the back Rovers have been much more assured since George Friend reverted to the middle, but occasional nerves still brought chances Barnsley’s way. One such mix-up bringing a chance for Jacob Meiles to break through, but his shot was off-target. Minutes later Noble-Lazarus also ran at the Rovers back-line before trying his luck, but his effort flew nearer to me half-way up the vast North Stand than it did Woods’ goal.
Going forward Rovers were beginning to find their feet and some neat play on the right enabled Jamie Coppinger to whip in a great cross which flew millimetres too far in front of the head of Euell. However, Barnsley were by no means on the back foot themselves and Nathan Doyle made space to hit a firm low shot from just outside the box which Woods did well to get down to his right and turn behind. Though the resulting corner was initially cleared to the far side, Barnsley got it back in the danger area as Kieron Trippier’s deep cross found Matt Hill unmarked at the far post but he volleyed wide. A concerningly close call.
Rovers would come the closest to breaking the deadlock before the interval though as they forced four successive corners. On Friday a bloke in the row in front of me took his kid to the toilet as Rovers won a corner, we remarked at the time that he was certainly an experienced fan and knew when he’d miss the least action, but despite Rovers’ historically woeful ability from corners, no-one was budging for this spell of pressure. As it was Sam Hird had the best opportunity, his firm effort on goal somehow beaten away by a brilliant Steele save to ensure parity at the break.
With news of favourable scores in at least two other games and Rovers now attacking their own fans, the noise level grew yet further from the Doncastrian support for the second half. The Barnsley fans were first to their feet though as they thought Andy Gray had given them the lead, but the forward had long been flagged offside. For the next fifteen to twenty minutes the game would be all Rovers; Hird delivering a great front-post cross which a desperate Reds defender just managed to prevent Hayter reaching. Then it was Doncaster’s turn to have a goal disallowed, with men pushed forward for a free-kick the ball broke free to Thomas who’s shot was saved, but as Hayter turned in the rebound the whistle went for a foul somewhere in the build-up.
Ryan Mason, who had the home side worried throughout when he ran with the ball, was then felled by Doyle right on the edge of the area. The visiting fans screamed for a penalty, as Mason had landed feet inside the area, but the actual position of the foul was hard to be certain of and referee Peter Walton elected to see it as being outside the box. The free-kick, unsurprisingly came to little, but the ball remained in the home side’s third. Eventually the breakthrough did come as Mason jinked inside from the left and drilled a low shot from the edge of the box; the midfielder’s shot was flying wide, but Coppinger managed to halt its progress and square for Euell to turn the ball home. Unabashed bedlam in the away end, a sea of flags, bare elbows and spittle as Rovers celebrated the lead.
Unabashed Rovers kept up the pressure and almost scored a second within a couple of minutes as Euell met a corner from the right, but his header was hacked off the line by Jacob Butterfield. The hope for Barnsley at this stage was to create chances on the break and that they nearly did as Noble-Lazarus beat Hird in the race for a long through-ball. Thankfully for Rovers Woods was off his line quick enough to smother the chance. The lead would last only a minute longer though as Barnsley forced a corner on their left flank. Steve Foster escaping his marker in the six-yard box to poke the dead-ball beyond Woods and into the corner for the equaliser.
The goal offered a pause, something of an eye in the storm, and then Rovers attacked again looking to re-establish their advantage. The lively Mason made space for a shot from the edge of the box, but it flew straight at Steele. Then on the right Mason, Coppinger and John Oster combined with the latter hitting a low strike from the edge of the area; Steele saved it, but couldn’t hold it and Euell stroked the loose ball into the net. Rovers back in front, and the light blue shirts streamed to Euell, whilst the reds went in the opposite direction in pursuit of the linesman for an offside flag that was never going to come.
Rather than sit-back on their lead Rovers pushed for more; Coppinger and Mason were causing problems on the right and at one point the former had Matt Hill so hypnotised with his feet and unwilling to attempt a tackle, he probably could have backed him into the net. Mason it was who had the best opportunity for a third goal though as he cut in from that flank and struck a fierce drive which Steele beat away. Things were going Rovers way, so much so Sean O’Driscoll even responded to the crowd’s request to “give us a wave”. The pressure continued with James O’Connor keeping possession for Rovers in the box by winning the race to a loose ball and poking it to Coppinger before hitting the deck, a move somehow deemed worthy of a caution for diving by Walton despite clear contact from the Barnsley man and not a single appeal for a penalty in the ground.
It was the first of two really mystifying decisions from Walton and the second would cost Rovers more dearly. Doyle attempted to carry the ball across the top of the box, but was closed out by the Rovers defence, however, Walton had spotted a foul that no-one else had seen and the result was a free-kick just short of thirty yards out. Trippier took it and curled in a fantastic strike beyond the reach of sub keeper Neil Sullivan. A fantastic strike, but why he had the opportunity to make it is hard to fathom. Walton’s grin to the away end as he left the field and that he had replaced Mark Halsey as the match official at late notice has been given messageboard conspiracy theorists wet dreams since.
Trippier’s wonder strike meant a game which Doncaster had really done enough to win ended as a stalemate, and a somewhat nervy cheer greeted the full-time whistle as the Rovers fans made a desperate grab for mobile phones to check the other scores. As it was the results at Glanford Park and Deepdale were favourable enough. It’s not quite over, but the end is in sight. One more point for Rovers, or one more point dropped by the Blades and Doncaster and Barnsley will be able to replicate this sneering peek over the neighbour’s wall twice more next season.
Man of the Match: Mustapha Dumbuya, yes, we know he wasn’t playing, but he did take up our invitation to sit with the away fans and duly excelled himself. It took Dumbuya a good ten minutes to climb the steps of Oakwell’s North Stand as he stopped to pose for every camera phone and shake hands with every child on the way. He subsequently spent half-time signing autographs and having yet more pictures taken. He’s been my favourite player since October, and today cemented his position as he turned the disappointment of injury into a positive to make the day of a large number of our club’s younger followers.
Barnsley line-up (4-4-2); Luke Steele; Jacob Butterfield, Steve Foster, Jason Shackell, Nathan Doyle; Jacob Meilles (Bobby Hassell), Reuban Noble-Lazarus (Jordan Clark), Matt Hill, Kieron Trippier; Danny Haynes, Andy Gray
subs not used: David Preece, Danny Rose, Jay McEveley, Jim O’Brien, Diego Arismendi
booked: Danny Haynes, Jacob Butterfield
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-3-1); Gary Woods (Neil Sullivan); Sam Hird, Wayne Thomas, George Friend, James O’Connor; Simon Gillett, John Oster; Jamie Coppinger, Ryan Mason (Mark Wilson), James Hayter; Jason Euell (Steve Brooker)
subs not used: Dennis Souza, Matt Kilgallon, Franck Moussa Dean Shiels
booked: James O’Connor (simulation/being brought down in the area – depends on your point of view)