The consensus before kick-off was quite clear, if Rovers are as hell-bent at staying in the Championship at any cost as the last month’s activity has inferred, then a home game against Coventry was the sort of fixture that had to be won. It wasn’t. And on the spectacle delivered by the two sides it is hard to envisage neither being involved in a relegation battle come the end of the season.
With John Oster ruled out with a neck injury Dean Saunders deployed full-back Herita Ilunga as a stop-gap holding midfielder, an interesting tactic, especially given the release of actual midfielder Mark Wilson on loan the day before the game. Wilson has his critics, but he has been effective squad player for Rovers over the past few seasons and provided able cover for absent midfielders. Ilunga, though not terrible, looked like a player adjusting to a new position, and its hard not to presume that the necessity of getting him in ‘the shop window’ overrode the deployment of Wilson in a familiar role.
Ilunga was the anchor ‘1’ in a 4-1-4-1 formation that gave width in Kyle Bennett and Giles Barnes on the flanks, but left James Hayter, filling in for Billy Sharp, looking incredibly isolated. The absence of Sharp from the squad, a day after being linked once again with Ipswich sent the Keepmoat rumour-mill into overdrive, but the forward’s absence has been explained as being down to family reasons and personal issues,so we can rest easy for now and simply hope they are resolved as soon as possible.
Chances, were at a premium, but it was Rovers who threatened first as Barnes whipped in a cross from the right and Bennett got his head to it only for goalkeeper Joe Murphy to save. Murphy was to have a peculiarly angry afternoon, berating the left hand side of the Coventry team throughout the first half like a drunk diva with an axe to grind. At the other end Neil Sullivan decided to give himself something to do by scuffing a clearance from the left edge of his penalty area straight to Lucas Jutkiewicz; the forward met it with a diving header toward the unguarded net, but Sullivan made it back to make the save.
Rovers were having the better of what action there was, and perhaps should have taken the lead from an excellent Brian Stock corner that glanced off Barnes head and fell wide. Just beyond the midpoint of the half Bennett threatened again with a low shot, but Murphy was down to save comfortably. Uncharacteristically Rovers were looking threatening from the dead-ball, and a corner routine straight out of the Dave Penney playbook brought another chance, as Stock crossed for Richard Naylor this time, but the defender’s header was held by Murphy.
Sullivan could well have been sat on the advertising boards reading the matchday programme for the opening half an hour, but just after the half hour mark he was called on to put his reading matter down and pick the ball out of the net as City took the lead with their first real effort on target. The ball rolled in from the right flank for Sammy Clingan who let fly with a great long-range strike into the far corner of the goal. It could have been 2-0 just moments later too as Coventry took a short corner on the left and Carl Baker hit a curling right foot strike that Sullivan did well to turn over the bar.
Just before half-time Barnes had been flattened by the brick wall that was Nathan Cameron, and so Jamie Coppinger was introduced at the start of the second half, and the midfielder would prove an arguably better outlet for Rovers going forward. Soon after his introduction he made his way to the byline with a neat run, his low near post cross getting caught between the feet of Hayter before Coventry eventually scrambled it clear.
Rovers were continuing to push forward for the equaliser and Bennett twice tried his luck from the edge of the area, but failed to find the target. On the hour mark though Rovers did draw level as Pascal Chimbonda fed Coppinger and his chipped cross from the right found Hayter all alone in the area to guide the ball past Murphy on the volley “and equalise the score” as the official club website delightfully puts it. Rovers were back in it, but the visitors remained a threat, Cyrus Christie getting forward to hit a low shot just wide of Sullivan’s goal.
For a five-minute period Rovers then seemed determined to allow Coventry to take the lead. Firstly City broke down the left through Keogh, with Naylor just managing to delay the forward’s progress, but he squared for the unmarked Jutkiewicz who hit a tame shot at Sullivan. Minutes later and Keogh broke again, this time down the right, ghosting past Ilunga with frightening ease before giving the ball to Cody McDonald whose shot was equally feeble and again saved by Sullivan.
So with Coventry seemingly not wanting to win the game Rovers made one last fist of doing so themselves. Some neat footwork from Mustapha Dumbuya looked to have played him in, only to be the next player to be flattened by Cameron, who was duly cautioned. Simon Gillett tried his luck from distance, but Murphy managed to get a hand to it and the clock ran down on a disappointing draw.
After the game Dean Saunders told those assembled for the post-match press conference that he felt Pascal Chimbonda had been the best player on the pitch. I suppose I would do too if I was banking on commission from the player’s next move. Cynical I know, but its hard to see why else Saunders would big up the performance of a player who, though certainly not having a bad game, failed to really stand out in any way, but for what appeared to be a clear disregard of instructions to stay back on set-pieces.
Man of the Match: Not Pascal Chimbonda, though you may have guessed that. Despite Dean Saunders’ words to the press Kyle Bennett got the official nod and though he was very impressive, for me Brian Stock was Rovers’ key man throughout. The most likely to deliver the key pass and the most likely to put in a challenge on his opposite numbers Stock was the most effective midfielder whether Doncaster had the ball or not.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-1-4-1): Neil Sullivan; Pascal Chimbonda, Richard Naylor, Shelton Martis, George Friend; Herita Ilunga; Simon Gillett, Brian Stock (Ryan Mason); Giles Barnes (Jamie Coppinger), Kyle Bennett (Mustapha Dumbuya); James Hayter
subs not used: Jonathan Maxted, James O’Connor
booked: Brian Stock (one slightly late challenge too many)
Coventry City line-up (4-4-2): Joe Murphy; Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Nathan Cameron, Chris Hussey (James McPake); Conor Thomas, Sammy Clingan, Carl Baker (David Bell), Gary McSheffrey (Gary Deegan); Cody McDonald, Lucas Jutkiewicz
subs not used: Chris Dunn, Clive Platt
booked: Nathan Cameron (flattening Mustapha Dumbuya)