Before this game there was the opportunity see the League trophy and meet the players at the Keepmoat Stadium. Given the significant turnover of playing staff in the past month much of the squad may have been wise to take up the offer themselves and get to know their team-mates. Three new faces arrived in Doncaster this week; Habib Beye, Herold Goulon and Marc-Antoine Fortune, and all three went straight into the starting line-up.
“Number 19 and captain; El Hadji Diouf” said the bloke on the tannoy ten minutes prior to kick-off; a factor of the team announcement that was met, generally, with laughter from those in my portion of the West Stand. Diouf’s commitment has been impressive in recent weeks, but the notion of making a player on a short-term contract captain only enforces the transient nature of Rovers current strategy and doesn’t send much encouragement the way of those here for the longer term; notably the two men in the starting line-up who’ve previously warn the armband; Brian Stock and James O’Connor.
Rovers kicked toward the South Stand to begin with (the captain having presumably lost his first toss) and generally had the better of the first half, looking particularly dangerous when Diouf was able to find space on the right hand side. Twice in the opening twenty minutes he whipped in decent balls from that side, the first just flying over the head of Sharp, the second taking a nick off a defender which sent it just beyond the stretching limbs of Sharp and Fortune. In between Diouf’s deliveries, Simon Gillett had found space in the same channel, and was able to get off a fierce shot, but it ricocheted wide via a timely block.
At the other end Watford had not been without chances themselves; Marvin Sordell had brought a save from Carl Ikeme inside the opening ten minutes, and it had taken an excellent Brian Stock block to prevent a close range Chris Iwelumo strike finding the target on the quarter-hour mark. The visitors’ best effort of the day came midway through the first half as a Mark Yeates struck a great dipping volley from the corner of the box, but Ikeme was alert again to make a great one-handed save. This was the first time I had watched Ikeme in the flesh and I can only be impressed, he appears a confident stopper and comfortably fielded an Iwelumo header a few minutes after Yeates’ effort.
Rovers looked in control territorially and would come close again just before the break as an effort from a corner was hooked off the line, but for all their play Donny continued to look susceptible on the break. Twice Watford broke into the space afforded behind the Rovers defence, but luckily for the home side they failed to capitalise; Michael Kightly drilling one shot across the face of goal and then just before the interval he was away again, squaring to Iwelumo this time, but the forward’s effort was off target.
Five minutes after the break Rovers came as close as either side would to breaking the deadlock as a big kick downfield from Ikeme was allowed to bounce and Sharp won the race to get onto it; lifting it over Scott Loach as the ‘keeper came off his line, but the ball dropped wide of his right-hand post. Just as the game seemed to be dying out, a brief unnecessary fracas brought it some much-needed life; Herita Ilunga went down after clashing with Iwelumo off the ball to cause all manner of petty pushes and pointing that footballers seem to excel in. Eventually the referee chose to restart play with a throw-in, and Watford’s decision to not throw it back to Rovers kept the temperatures raised for a short while longer, with Herold Goulon lucky not to connect with what appeared a cynical foot-up in midfield.
With handbags safely put away the match went back to whimpering to a conclusion; Fortune fired an effort wide and Kyle Bennett, on as sub, had a run at the Watford back-line before firing over, but that was effectively all the goal action conjured up by either side in the closing half hour. The deterioration in quality commencing round about the time the lively Diouf limped off injured. Without him Rovers struggled to retain possession, as players on the ball were given little support and Sharp looked increasingly isolated up front. Whilst the commitment can’t be faulted, for much of the last half hour Rovers played and moved the ball like a side that had only just met, an outcome which is perhaps not surprising really.
Man of the Match: El Hadji-Diouf continues to show that he is too good a player to be plying his trade at this level, whilst Habib Beye also looked solid. Our Man of the Match goes to Sam Hird though; solid throughout Sam has had much unnecessary criticism from some quarters, but today he reiterated why that is completely unmerited.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1): Carl Ikeme; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Habib Beye, Herita Ilunga; Herold Goulon (Kyle Bennett), Simon Gillett, Brian Stock (James Hayter); Marc-Antoine Fortune, El Hadji Diouf (Giles Barnes); Billy Sharp
subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Mustapha Dumbuya
booked: Habib Beye (foul just outside the Rovers box)
Watford line-up (4-4-2): Scott Loach; Lee Hodson, Adrian Mariappa, Nyron Nosworthy, Carl Dickinson; Mark Yeates, Prince Buaben, John Eustace, Michael Kightly; Marvin Sordell (Craig Beattie), Chris Iwelumo (Troy Deeney)
subs not used: Ross Jenkins, David Mirfin, Jack Bonham