We don’t help ourselves do we? No, not the team, I’m talking about us lot, the fans. Here at Viva Towers we do our best to help Doncaster be taken more seriously as a forgotten cultural beacon, fashioning a website that’s been described as ‘high-brow’ and producing left leaning t-shirts, all in an attempt to prevent the town being seen as the Championship’s uncouth backwater. And then West Ham’s pint-sized owner drives into town in a frankly obscene Rolls Royce and within two minutes of parking up at the Keepmoat his ‘motor’ (as I’m sure he calls it) has become an impromptu tourist attraction. I stood for an hour flogging fanzines watching scores of Doncastrians pausing for pictures with the vehicle. Next time why don’t we all just line up on the edge of the lake and worship the ‘mysterious fireball in the sky’ for ten minutes before kick-off?
Of course it’s not just Northern stereotypes which were upheld yesterday, whilst at the same fanzine selling pitch I also heard two separate West Ham fans say “Do me a favour san”, so I suppose a kind of equilibrium had been reached before kick-off. Unfortunately, it would be a good twenty minutes before one was reached on the field. “Its going to be a long, hard season” said Matt in the seat next to me as Kevin Nolan’s fourth minute volley settled in the back of the South Stand net, and at that point it was very difficult to disagree. The visitors had been in firm control from kick-off to the moment the midfielder connected with Jack Collison’s excellent deep raking cross from the right. It was hard not to expect the worst.
The visitors, with a five man midfield packed with quality (not to mention international caps), continued to boss the opening quarter of the game, not only holding possession well themselves, but preventing Rovers from finding space to play their own game anywhere except at the top of their own penalty area. On the eighteenth minute the Hammers came close to scoring a second which would have buried the Rovers; Nolan spotting Woods off his line attempted to chip the ‘keeper, but the Doncaster man just got his fingertips to it and the face of the bar was thankfully the next thing the ball struck rather than netting.
Slowly though Rovers did begin to usher themselves into the game; Chris Brown taking the ball forward into a promising position, but his shot was scuffed apologetically towards goal. Minutes later Kyle Bennett calved open a similar opening, but the visitors’ defence managed to close out his effort. It would be as good as Rovers gave in front of goal, but they were at least starting to move the ball in the West Ham half of the field, and showing enough composure at the back to give some confidence ahead of the second forty-five minutes.
Doncaster began the second half with decidedly more conviction than the first, and put some early pressure on the Hammers with a couple of corners, although a wayward header from George Friend was as much as they managed from the spell. Rovers best chance (ultimately of the match) would come as West Ham pushed forward in search of a second, with Woods having tipped one Matt Taylor delivery over the bar the visitors sent men forward for the resulting corner only to be caught on the break. Jamie Coppinger racing onto the ball down the right and clean through on goal, but rather than take a shot himself as he advanced into the area he tried instead to pull the ball back for the onrushing Simon Gillett and the pass didn’t quite have enough on it, allowing Herita Ilunga to step in and clear.
A couple of minutes later West Ham would have a great opportunity of their own as James Tomkins put forward a long ball that caught the Rovers back-line flat allowing substitute Carlton Cole to latch onto it, the forward striking a fierce shot from inside the area, that flew into the side-netting. Mustapha Dumbuya was putting in an impressive shift at right back and he almost created an equaliser with a well flighted cross fifteen minutes from time, picking out Coppinger, but the midfielder’s glancing header dropped agonisingly wide of the far post. Two minutes later Gillett tried his luck, with an angled shot on the turn, but Green beat the ball away from his near post and behind.
With ten minutes to go Sean O’Driscoll sent on Sam Hird for Gillett and went three at the back to give Dumbuya and Tommy Spurr greater freedom on the flanks and the move proved effective, as Rovers enjoyed further possession in the Hammers’ half, but the clear-cut chances continued to elude them right up to the final whistle. West Ham, though they controlled the opening quarter did very little of note for the remainder of the game, and I know I am not the only person lamenting what might have been had Rovers been able to field a full strength side. Despite the result, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives for Rovers, not least through the manner in which they clawed their way back into the game with a clear belief in the system they were playing. No points on the board yet, but no panic either.
Man of the Match: John Oster again sprayed the ball effectively in midfield, but its hard to disagree with the sponsor’s choice of Mustapha Dumbuya, who continues to show a composure on the ball which far outweighs his actual experience. A very impressive performance, both defensively and pushing forward.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Gary Woods; Mustapha Dumbuya, Richard Naylor, George Friend, Tommy Spurr; John Oster, Simon Gillett (Sam Hird), Kyle Bennett (James Baxendale); Jamie Coppinger, Giles Barnes (Paul Keegan); Chris Brown
subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Oscar Radford
booked: Chris Brown (late challenge)
West Ham United line-up (4-5-1): Robert Green; Joey O’Brien, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Herita Ilunga (Junior Stanislas); Jack Collison (Freddie Sears), Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Matthew Taylor; Frederic Piquionne (Carlton Cole)
subs not used: Ruud Boffin, Abdoulaye Faye
booked: Mark Noble