2011-12, match reports

Doncaster Rovers 0-3 Leeds United

Abysmal, awful, terrible, shocking. Just four of the words used by friends, and myself, to describe Rovers showing in this fixture, and four of the kinder ones at that. Asked what positives he could take from the game Dean Saunders could only highlight the work rate of James Hayter, on as a 70th minute sub. In the build-up to the game I suggested that tonight would finally show us what Saunders’ plans for the side were. If that is what this was then we can be very worried about what lies ahead.

Rather than head to the Keepmoat I watched this match on television, and the introduction to S*y Sp**t’s coverage fixated on the notion that Dean Saunders’ arrival had made everyone smile. They showed a montage of him grinning to camera and celebrating goals backed by Morecambe& Wise singing Bring Me Sunshine, and reiterated over and over again how he had lifted spirits at the club. He’s got them laughing in training, he’s got them smiling again. The dark era of oppressive overlord O’Driscoll is no more they appeared to intone. We’ve changed manager and had a bit of luck, it’s hardly the glasnost Peter Beagrie would have us believe.

Tonight that luck would desert Rovers, albeit with help from a resolute Leeds team who did the simple things well in possession and worked hard to win the ball back when they lost it. But whilst Leeds were steady and effective Doncaster were, frankly, rubbish. And that despite making their best start to a match under Saunders thus far. Much of the early exchanges of this game were played out in the visitors’ half, but there was to be little in the way of end product, a Brian Stock free-kick smashed into the wall being as close as Rovers came. At the other end Leeds could have felt unlucky not to be awarded a penalty as Andy Keogh sent in a low cross from the right and Ross McCormack at the near post fired wide under challenge/assault from Richard Naylor.

Rovers continued to prod around the United area and a chipped ball in almost fell for Billy Sharp, whilst a free-kick sent in from the Rovers right had ‘Keeper Andy Lonergen just about clearing his lines under pressure. The absence of cutting edge would be further emphasised by the visitors as they took the lead on the twenty-minute mark with their first meaningful chance. George Friend was penalised for the merest of nudges in the back of McCormack in the corner and the resulting free-kick found Danny Pugh unmarked at the far-post to volley home unopposed. Replays would show the reason for the scorer’s freedom as poor communication in the back-line, Naylor inadvertently blocking off Pugh’s marker James O’Connor.

The rest of the half would offer little of note. Jamie Coppinger could count himself harshly done by to pick up a caution on the half hour mark as he matched the challenge of Adam Clayton in a fifty-fifty and was then kicked by the Leeds man and shoved by one of his team-mates. More disappointing was the fact that this was Coppinger’s only real meaningful contribution to the game. McCormack was the first to test new Rovers ‘keeper Chris Kirkland with a drilled low free-kick from distance, but he saw it all the way and smothered the ball well under pressure. Five minutes before the break came Rovers best chance of the half, and it would transpire, the match; O’Connor’s cross picking out Jon Parkin in the middle, but he failed to connect properly with his header and it fell harmlessly wide.

If the first half had brought a shortage of meaningful goalmouth action for Doncaster then the second would offer an out-and-out drought. It took Leeds just six minutes to add to their tally, working the ball across the edge of the area before it came toward McCormack, his first touch nudging the ball into the air, to allow for an impressive overhead kick with his second that sailed over Kirkland and in.

With Rovers struggling to muster anything approaching possession Saunders made a couple of changes on the hour mark as John Oster and Jamie Coppinger gave way to Ryan Mason and Kyle Bennett respectively, but the switches would add little. Just after the second goal I suggested on Twitter that a 2-0 defeat would be the best Rovers could hope to gain from the game. I was duly slammed for my negativity, but it would be only a matter of minutes before my tweet looked decidedly optimistic. Just after the hour Leeds increased their lead further. A corner from their left flank picking out Tom Lees who planted his header beyond Kirkland to make it 3-0.

Somehow despite prolonged periods of inactivity in front of him United ‘keeper Lonergen managed to injure himself, saving Rovers only real effort of the second half a close range strike from substitute Hayter with quarter of an hour to go. His replacement Paul Rachubka was to be as involved on the field in that closing fifteen minutes as he had been off it in the preceding 75 minutes. Seven minutes from time Leeds came close to adding a fourth goal as Keogh turned his man to get in on goal but his shot from just inside the area rattled back off the bar and away. The replays of the chance showing great swathes of empty seats at the other end of the stadium; what had been an impressive crowd already having decided their evening was better served elsewhere.

So where did it go wrong? The easy answer is everywhere. The presence of Jon Parkin up front of course lends itself to the occasional direct ball into the box, but Rovers looked to this option far too often, bypassing the midfield and negating their impact on the game. The arguments about this not being Saunders’ squad are immaterial, they are the players he has at his disposal, and so he has to be utilising their strengths more. We have an assembled squad of talented footballers who have always caused opponents problems with the ball on the floor, so that has to be incorporated into the style of play.

The reversion to a flat midfield four has also limited the midfield’s options on the ball. Where in previous systems, including those employed by Saunders in his first two games in charge, we have had a more staggered, pentagonal midfield shape which gives the man on the ball plenty of options, the flatness of the shape adopted on Friday limited the outlet ball. On the rare occasions Rovers did get it down and try to play their options were limited, resorting in Sharp coming out of the centre to look for the ball, and subsequently isolating Parkin when the ball did get cannoned into his vicinity. What was of great concern was that whilst Saunders changed personnel in the second half to try and counter what was happening, he did not offer any new instructions to the rest of the side, and so they continued to look long before looking short, a tactic unlikely to pay-off when employed with the diminutive targets of Sharp, Hayter and Bennett.

In his post-match interview Saunders told the BBC “Have we got the right players for what I want us to do? We’ve lots of nice pretty footballers, but we’ve not got many Roy Keane types.” Given that it was when with the ball that Rovers struggled, I would argue that he should be focussing on getting more from the strengths of his existing players rather than adding more members to his squad, particularly given that the transfer window is closed, and his budget is reportedly the same as O’Driscoll’s. These players have survived in the Championship for three seasons by keeping the ball from opponents, rather than kicking them off it.

Man of the Match: Donny Dog; solid throughout, held position well and wasn’t tempted into any ill-thought out and frankly creepy publicity shots. Much improved.

Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-4-2): Chris Kirkland; James O’Connor, George Friend, Richard Naylor, Herita Ilunga; James Coppinger (Kyle Bennett), Simon Gillett, Brian Stock, John Oster (Ryan Mason); John Parkin (James Hayter), Billy Sharp

subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Pascal Chimbonda

booked: Jamie Coppinger (challenge for a fifty-fifty ball)

Leeds United line-up (4-4-2): Andy Lonergan (Paul Rachubka); Paul Connolly, Tom Lees,  Darren O’Dea, Aidan White; Robert Snodgrass, Jonathan Howson, Adam Clayton (Mika Varyrynen), Danny Pugh; Andy Keogh, Ross McCormack (Luciano Becchio)

subs not used: Patrick Kisnorbo, Mikael Forssell,


About glen wilson

Former schoolboy, Glen Wilson writes on football and travel and has been editor of the award-winning popular STAND fanzine since before the award.


6 thoughts on “Doncaster Rovers 0-3 Leeds United

  1. A solid, balanced and incisive piece. A joy to read until it was wrecked and undermined by some inept spelling/grammar:
    “…about this not being Saunders’ squad are immaterial, there the players he has at his disposal…”

    Posted by Mr. Wilkinson | October 17, 2011, 9:50 pm
  2. Fair appraisal but you failed to take into account Oster out of position (best player on the night) Sharp backing off hoping for the ball to go over the heads of Leeds defence, every game we have lost Friend been in central defence put him back at left back. Copps didnt seem interested after the yellow card, stock was tardy, Parkin just doesnt cut it and jimmy seemed tired

    Posted by Rob | October 17, 2011, 10:40 pm
  3. I still think it’s a bit early to judge any real conclusions of Saunders, as he’s still finding his feet and learning about the squad – we’ve had the benefit of years to do this, whereas he’s been dropped in at the deep end.

    The truth, I thought, in the Leeds match (painful as it might be to admit) was that we were simply outclassed by a better team. I’ve always said there’s no shame in being outclassed – I remember the 5-1 thumping by Spurs a couple of years back but didn’t lose any sleep over that. Not that Leeds are in the same class as Spurs, but they were a highly efficient, well-organised unit that kept it simple and didn’t allow us to play. They’re certainly the best team we’ve had at the Keepmoat all season and I’d be surprised if they don’t go up this year.

    Granted, they were helped along by a poor all-round performance from us – midfield were particularly ineffective, and although we defended well at times, lapses in concentration were exploited far too easily. Up front, we didn’t capitalise on the chances we had – Parkin’s header before half time, the one time in the second half when Sharp broke away. We weren’t helped by another awful referee, but ultimately I think that made little difference overall.

    Can’t say I’m keen on the 4-4-2 with the flat midfield either, and Oster expressed his own frustration at playing wide left, but I think the telling factor will be in how and if Saunders changes things and learns from it all.

    Like you say, we do have a talented squad and I do believe we’re more than capable of doing well, but I’m not expecting magic straight away. O’Driscoll took a good while to settle into the manager’s role and instil his overall philosophy and I expect it will be the same with Saunders.

    But I’m not depressed by the result really. Ultimately this was one game out of 46. The players seem to recognise that they weren’t great, so here’s hoping we get a reaction at Bloomfield Road tomorrow night 🙂

    Posted by Lazarus | October 17, 2011, 10:45 pm
  4. Again we weren’t a million miles away from each other in our opinion of that one. I’m also getting some flack “not liking Saunders”. Some people are just so simplistic.

    I’m perfectly happy to write about the good things about Deano, but there are other aspects of his tenure thus far that can be questioned. Just because he’s only been around for 3 weeks or so, does this make it not allowed? If its true, how’s it unfair?

    Nice post again though and lets hope it’s a lot better tonight.

    Posted by FuzzyDuck | October 18, 2011, 4:50 am
  5. Good report Glen,

    Love your man of the match!

    Please, let’s not hide behind the Leeds were brilliant excuse. They were simply workmanlike and did the job that those who don’t wear rose tinted specs expected. Worksop Town would have caused us the same problems.

    Rovers lacked any kind of invention. It appeared they were given one team plan to follow – get it forward and do it quickly. When that didn’t work we changed to doing exactly the same but with smaller target men. Leeds barely broke sweat.

    It doesn’t matter who assembled the squad. On Friday evening we fielded the strongest 11 we’ve seen in Rovers shirts since last December. We had numerous key players back to full fitness bolstered by a couple of loan stars. More are set to return and more apparently coming in. Unfortunately that won’t make a dime of difference if we continue to play hoofball and the manager undermines his team’s confidence by saying we haven’t got this or that kind of player. A poor excuse!

    The only reason Saunders is here is because the board failed to invest sufficient money to hold on to players of the caliber of Green, Roberts, Shackell, Mills and Wellens. None have been adequately replaced because the budget has not been there to do so. How easy it was to lay all the blame at the manager’s door.

    How quickly the reality is hitting home to laughing boy.

    In saying that, the current squad is still littered with cultured players. Bought for peanuts and moulded around their strengths, not their weaknesses. Perhaps with just a handful of quality players we could have turned that into flowing, attacking, grass-based football but the money simply hasn’t been there in the past two seasons. We also lacked any kind of strength in depth – failing even to fill the subs bench on occasion.

    Asking the current players to chase high aimless balls is like asking a canary to sing underwater. You may as well offload Sharp, Coppinger, Stock and so on in January because they will never adapt to the hit it high and long tactics.

    But if we are going to become a hoofball team then I suggest DS should be scouring the Conference (after all he knows it well) for big athletic runners and bruisers rather than recruiting Premier League cast-offs and has-beens. To become a Wimbledon you need a Fashanu. To become a Leeds of the 70’s you need a Hunter, a Charlton and a Bremner.

    To become a League One team we just need to keep on doing what we did Friday night.

    Posted by Bob Roberts | October 18, 2011, 8:17 am

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