Another game, another attacking option disappearing down the tunnel on a stretcher. With this match producing a relatively comfortable meander to victory for Doncaster Rovers’ the major talking point amongst support in its aftermath is the claiming of another victim by the club’s arch nemesis; injury. Ryan Mason, helped from the field late in the second half becoming the latest player to ask folk in the medical room to squeeze up a bit and make some space.
Thankfully, as disappointing a blow as Mason’s injury is, it was the only down spot in an enjoyable, effective and controlled performance from Doncaster. From the start Tranmere struggled to get to grips with their hosts and Rovers were handed the opportunity to take the lead just four minutes in. Jamie Coppinger was flattened clumsily in the box as he attempted to reach a Tommy Spurr cross and Chris Brown took the resulting spot-kick, slotting the ball into the bottom corner for a (return) debut goal.
Tranmere managed a bit of pressure on ten minutes as a low cross from the right was cut out by Sam Hird for a corner. From that corner the ball found its way through to Ian Goodison six yards out, but his scuff goalwards would be denied by Chris Brown, getting into the spirit of Doncastrian total football, with a telling block. From then on the home side were very much in control and Tranmere reliant on a performance from goalkeeper Owain Fon-Williams which merited a better kit than the day-glo yellow he’d been forced to wear.
Fon-Williams was first in action getting down to his left to save from Coppinger after the Rovers man jinked in from the right flank. From a corner minutes later the ‘keeper pulled off another good save, this time denying Brown as he turned the ball goalwards from close range. On the half hour mark though he was finally beaten as Mason and Brown combined neatly for the former to break toward the area, check back on his man on the edge of the box before sliding the ball inside the far post.
Fon-Williams continued to keep his side in the game up to the break, making two great full-length saves to prevent Mason from doubling his total, firstly from a firm header from a right wing corner, and secondly from a fierce drive from the edge of the box. At the other end there were a couple of rare glimpses of goal for Tranmere as Adam McGurk burst through into the area but his effort was smothered by Gary Woods, and then a corner dropped for Jon Welsh to hit goalwards but a deflection took the sting out of the shot and it landed safely in Woods; hands. Doncaster remained in complete control though showing some neat touches and great movement. Sam Hird nutmegged someone, and the referee sensibly blew for half-time before things got any sillier.
Rather than sit back Doncaster began the second half on the front foot, as a long ball into the channel was latched onto by Kyle Bennett, he tried to lift it over Fon-Williams, but the keeper stood up to the shot and collected relatively comfortably. Next to threaten was Simon Gillett, fed on the edge of the area by Coppinger, but his shot flew just wide.The diminutive fielder would threaten again ten minutes later as Bennett skilfully turned his man inside out by the corner flag before crossing, but Gillett’s header was saved by Fon-Williams. In between those two chances the visitors had arguably their clearest opportunity of the night as Zoumana Bakayogo got in behind the Rovers defence, but his touch was just too heavy and Woods took the ball off his feet.
On the hour mark Rovers added another goal and in fine style too; Bennett making space for himself twenty yards out, before curling a glorious effort inside Fon-Williams’ far post. Mason was next to have a go, cutting in from the right after exchanging passes with Coppinger and John Oster, but his shot went wide, and that would be Mason’s last positive action in the game as with fifteen minutes to go he was brought down by Welsh as he broke forward and after a couple minutes’ delay, duly stretchered off.
Giles Barnes, on by this point for Chris Brown, took the resulting free-kick and curled it just beyond the angle of post and bar. Barnes looked lively after coming on, but that would be as close as he would come to a goal, although he may have had another chance had he not been cynically scythed down by McGurk as he broke following a late corner for the visitors. Tranmere’s night could perhaps be summarised by the corner routine they played out in injury time; the ball pinged out to Weir on the edge of the area who met it first time before standing and watching his volley sail out the stadium.
Aside from the injury to Mason there was much encouragement to take for Rovers fans from the performances of the new boys. Naylor and Spurr looked assured at the back, although the former needs to shake out the instinct to look for the long ball before the short. Kyle Bennett took a while to get into the game, having been out-muscled a couple of times in the first half, but once he found his stride he was very effective and a neat foil for the established midfield. Chris Brown looked good as a target man, and seems as though he wants to prove there is more to his game than a sizable presence up front, showing some neat touches when dropping deeper. And young James Baxendale, though unlikely to feature too prominently this season showed when he came on exactly why he caught Sean O’Driscoll’s eye; a neat footballer and competent on the ball too. There are a lot of reasons to be confident in this Rovers side, so long as injury claims no more victims.
Man of the Match: A lot of contenders tonight, with the new recruits Chris Brown and Kyle Bennett particularly impressive, as too was Simon Gillett both in the middle and upon reverting to full-back. However, John Oster gets our nod for a fantastic assured display in midfield complemented by both short and long accurate passing.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Gary Woods; Sam Hird, Richard Naylor (Paul Keegan), George Friend, Tommy Spurr; Simon Gillett, John Oster, Ryan Mason (James Baxendale); Jamie Coppinger, Kyle Bennett; Chris Brown (Giles Barnes)
subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Oscar Radford, Jordan Ball, Eddie Wilding
Tranmere Rovers line-up (4-5-1); Owain Fon-Williams; Michael Kay, Ian Goodison, Mark McChrystal (David Davan), Zoumana Bakayogo; Martin Devaney (Lucas Atkin), Jon Welsh, Robbie Weir, Adam McGurk, Andy Robinson; Mustapha Tiryaki (Enoch Showumni)
subs not used: David Buchanan, Josh Labadie, Ash Taylor, Andy Coughlin
booked: John Welsh (poor challenge on Ryan Mason), Adam McGurk (cynical foul on Giles Barnes)