If you head down to the Keepmoat on Wednesday morning, and peer in through gates in the corner of the Stadium then the chances are you’ll be able to see Groundsman Andy Thompson struggling to disentangle a kitchen sink from the goal-netting. Rovers tonight threw everything they had at Leeds United, controlled the game for long periods, had vastly more efforts on goal than their opponents and yet somehow ended the game as the losing side. The luck maybe out, but it is now thankfully being replaced by no end of positives.
Doncaster’s intent to take the game to Leeds was evident right from kick off as Giles Barnes drove straight at the visitors from the centre spot. He lost possession midway in the half, but when he had the ball in a similar position just over a minute later he certainly made it count. Barnes out on the right delivered a neat low ball into the box and James Hayter, made as instant an impact as you can on return from injury, sweeping the delivery beyond Paul Rabchubka into the net. A goal, a bloody goal. One nil to Rovers.
The goal was just the start of things for the opening twenty-five minutes would see Doncaster swarming forward, creating chance after chance. The most pleasing thing about this spell, was that it had been orchestrated by a revised 5-2-2-1 formation fielded by Sean O’Driscoll, the change allowing Mustapha Dumbuya and Tommy Spurr to exploit additional space on the flanks, and Leeds simply couldn’t cope with the waves of Rovers attacks. It was as effective a two fingers as could possibly be given to those posting guff on messageboards about O’Driscoll having no plan B, and his tactics being too negative.
Kyle Bennett was next to threaten, his effort from twenty-five yards flying just wide. Rovers pressure continued and both Barnes and Richard Naylor saw efforts blocked at the expense of corners. Leeds were struggling to get past Doncaster and just after the quarter of an hour mark Bennett robbed Jonathan Howson in the centre circle and drove forward, his effort well saved by Rabchubka. Within a minute Simon Gillett tried his luck as he hit an effort from the top of the box, but that too was beaten away by Rabchubka. Doncaster’s best chance would come after twenty minutes as they broke from a poor Leeds set-piece; Bennet completely in the clear in the Leeds’ half curled the ball beyond Rabchubka, only to see it strike the inside of the far post and rebound back in to the hands of the grateful ‘keeper.
Rovers would be made to rue that miss as Leeds began to get increased sightings of the home side’s half in the following minutes. “He’s a good player, I really like him,” I said to Matt as Ramon Nunez drifted over to our side of the field, “God knows what he’s doing at Leeds”. I’d get my answer twice before the night was out. It was twofold; scoring great goals and ruining my evening. On the half hour Nunez struck the first of his fine volleys, hitting a bouncing ball twenty-five yards from goal perfectly to see it fly up and over the despairing dive of Gary Woods and into the far corner. Out of not much at all Leeds were level, with their first shot on target of the night.
It was scant reward for a Rovers side which had performed well in all areas of the field throughout the first half, with the trickery of Bennett and Dumbuya particularly impressing. The Rovers full-back particularly seemed to relish the opportunity to get further forward, turning the Leeds left side inside out as a chant of “Dumbuya M’Lord” rang out in the South Stand. Before the break each side would have a further shot off target; Ross McCormack firing wide of Woods goal, whilst a marauding Sam Hird hit a long-range effort just over at the other end.
Rovers would begin the second half as brightly as they started the first. A free-kick won on the corner of the area was taken quickly, nudged to Dumbuya on the right whose cross into the middle was met by the head of the onrushing Bennett, but Rabchubka managed to just beat the ball away. Doncaster kept up the pressure with Hird seeing a shot blocked following a corner and Bennett hitting an effort from the edge of the area, after a jinking run in from the left, that flew just wide.
Leeds though were to be much more involved in this half than they had the first and both their forwards had efforts on Woods’ goal in the opening ten minutes; McCormack and Andy Keogh both shooting wide. After fifteen minutes Simon Grayson decided to up Leeds’ attacking threat taking off McCormack – “Rubbish!” yelled the bloke behind me as his name was announced – and bringing on Max Gradel – “Not rubbish!” yelled the same bloke. It was a move O’Driscoll countered though, replacing Richard Naylor with James O’Connor, to a great ovation from the home fans, to counter the pace of Gradel. Within five minutes of coming on the Leeds’ sub would drive forward and hit a shot over the bar, but it would be as much as he really threatened until injury time.
Rovers had reshaped again with twenty minutes to go; Dumbuya going over to the left-wing as the home side changed to more of a 4-2-3-1 with Mark Wilson introduced for Barnes. It would be Wilson who would threaten the visitors goal next too, hitting a firm low strike from distance which Rabchubka just about shovelled round his left hand post. That effort from Wilson was Doncaster’s ninth on target, within a few minutes Leeds would take the lead with their second. A cross from the United left was deflected, falling towards Nunez on the edge of the area and the Honduran connected with another fabulous volley, leaving Woods with no chance.
Rovers would continue to push for an equaliser right to the death, sending multiple bodies forward. A cross from the left fell loose in the Leeds area, but George Friend couldn’t quite make a telling enough contact and Rabchubka saved again. Two minutes later Bennett drove forward and hit another great strike from distance, which beat Rabchubka, but struck the outside of the far post. Neat play on the edge of the area, almost released Dumbuya in on goal, but the final pass from Hayter was just inches behind him.
In injury time Rovers were awarded a free-kick midway in the Leeds half and sent bodies forward, only for Bennett to strike it straight into the Leeds wall, and the visitors cleared to Gradel who was able to break forward into the Doncaster half alone with only Woods to beat. The Rovers’ keeper did excellently though, getting a telling hand on the ball as Gradel tried to round him to send him away from goal, and then as the Leeds man recovered the ball Woods was on hand again to block his secondary effort. It enabled Rovers to make one last push forward, but the long balls into the area couldn’t clear Patrick Kisnorbo and the referee’s whistle sounded soon after.
A fantastic performance by the Rovers which simply did not get the result it merited. The solid performance by the back-line, beaten only by two unstoppable volleys, was matched by a neat display in midfield and genuinely thrilling attacking play. That coupled with the returns of James Hayter, James O’Connor and Brian Stock who came on for the final five minutes, mean there are a large number of positives to take from this game, with the result the only down point. Hopefully the confidence gained will show when Rovers return to league action next weekend, but on tonight’s showing not only do I maintain that we will be fine this season in the long run, but also that sooner rather than later Rovers will give a side a real hiding.
Man of the Match: Kyle Bennett got the official nod, and its hard to disagree with that, the midfielder caused Leeds problems all night and but for a little luck could have had one if not more goals too. An additional nod to James Hayter too though, his first game back from injury and he did not stop working for the entire ninety minutes up front alone.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (5-2-2-1): Gary Woods; Mustapha Dumbuya, Sam Hird, Richard Naylor (James O’Connor), George Friend, Tommy Spurr; Simon Gillett (Brian Stock), John Oster; Kyle Bennett, Giles Barnes (Mark Wilson); James Hayter
subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Shelton Martis, Oscar Radford, James Baxendale
Leeds United line-up (4-4-2): Paul Rabchubka; Paul Connelly, Andy O’Brien (Patrick Kisnorbo), Darren O’Dea, Adrian White; Lloyd Sam, Jonathan Howson, Zac Thompson, Ramon Nunez; Andy Keogh (Charlie Taylor), Ross McCormack (Max Gradel)
subs not used: Andy Lonergren, Adam Clayton, Robert Snodgrass, Lewis Turner
booked: Adrian White (foul on Mustapha Dumbuya)