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Doncaster Rovers 2 Watford 1 (11/03/2014) 12/03/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- We’d expected a dull draw, I think.  There was a certain curiosity in assessing to what degree Blackpool had been that bad versus us being rather good, of course, and a feeling that perhaps our away form was overdue a bit of a boost and that bodies slowly returning to the ranks might provide it (albeit, as it turned out, bodies arrive at roughly the same rate as others were leaving it – Murray the latest absentee).  But as soon as a pre-match acquaintance took his leave with a “let’s go and enjoy another really dull draw, then” the pattern of the evening was clear.  I’ve been to a few aways this season, not enough for the inevitability of a draw away from home to be at the front of my mind but enough to recognise the eminent plausibility of the suggestion; the bubble of excitement provoked by any midweek away match was rapidly deflated.

So thunk 1 should really be “It wasn’t dull”, but you probably know that already, and in any case it took a while for things to get going.  Nonetheless, this perhaps most easily overlooked period of what was to be an eventful evening was instructive in itself.  Playing in the growing-on-everyone combo of home shirt with yellow shorts so as not to clash with Donny’s black we settled into a rhythm and whilst we hardly had the home side under the cosh we were increasingly in control of possession and comfortable.  Ranégie again looked a capable target man, providing a focal point at the far post that we really haven’t had for a very long time and Alex Merkel, whose hair seemed to have calmed down a bit, a lower-key yellow, was prominent in what was to be his best performance in yellow to date.  Gradually, the battlefront was edging towards Rovers’ goal.

And then, of course, everything changed.  There’s really very little to say about this… what looked a physical but rather innocuous tussle between Husband and Ranégie on the right wing ended with the Swede taking a swing of the boot at his opponent.  Video replay suggests that no contact was made but no matter… it was an act of idiocy from Ranégie, and changed the landscape of the game irretrievably – comparable to Samba Diakité’s red against Boro in that regard, if not in its recklessness.  Within eight minutes Rovers were ahead, an excellent deep cross from Coppinger not defended well enough, Chris Brown quicker to it with a diagonal run.  Suddenly a long evening stretched in front of us.

2- Donny had their first little spell attempting to put the game to bed and we were rocking on our heels.  It took us a while to reshape, eventually switching to four at the back with Lloyd at right back and Anya more advanced in a supporting role to Deeney, horribly isolated for five or ten minutes after Ranégie’s departure.  The greatest victim of this was Merkel, withdrawn into a more disciplined role after a sparky opening and subsequently the only plausible sacrifice in introducing Forestieri’s mischief.  Nonetheless, settle we did and were soon making light of our numerical disadvantage making inroads against a nervous (and, in-fairness, seriously patched up) Donny backline.  Troy’s flame was fully on…  if you’re restricted to playing with one out-and-out striker, make it someone who will charge things down, hold the ball up, batter people and shoot from twenty five yards with every expectation of testing the goalkeeper.  In the second half he would charge down first a tentative opponent, then a pressurised goalkeeper whose attempted clearance rattled against the onrushing number 9 and out for a goal kick.  Futile, in everything other than a statement of not-bloody-lying-down-for-you-pal intent, the small but noisy away crowd on their feet, waving fists.

Here, he chased down again forcing nervous backpass after nervous backpass, the last a hospital ball from Meité to keeper Johnstone. Deeney got his toe to that first and collided with the goalkeeper who, replays revealed, dragged him down unceremoniously.  Less clear at the time from the opposite end, reactions of players is the best guide and this left no doubt – nor, indeed, the reaction of the official who proceeded to give us a sequence of 50/50 decisions in innocuous areas of the pitch.  I’m a firm believer that, with a few exceptions – players with “reputations”, big home crowds pressuring decisions – the vagaries of refereeing errors are a random variable on a par with the weather and the mythical “rub of the green”.  No point bitching about it, in other words, you roll with the punches just as you would if a shot came off the inside of a post.  Naturally, this incident will stick in our minds longer than it will occupy the thoughts of the home fans, a sense of injustice will prevail to a greater extent than the roll of a die ought to. It was, though, a breathtaking bottle-job, a decision of outstanding incompetence and another one which, with Donny having an untried young keeper on the bench (we’ve been there…) worked significantly to the home side’s advantage.

Keeper Johnstone got the bird for the rest of the game, particularly in the second half when located in front of the away end.  A bit harsh this, however much an entertaining distraction – he’d committed a clumsy, instinctive foul that was neither malicious nor violent. There were more justifiable targets for ire, not least the official who looked nonplussed by a volley of Italian that lasted from the centre-circle as the half ended.  So too left-back James Husband, an objectionable little turd whose role in Ranégie’s sending off looks far less innocuous on replay.  Before the end of the half he collapsed clutching his face after precisely zero contact from Deeney, who dragged him to his feet, hands in armpits, with the weary air of a parent trying to drag a tantrumming infant around a supermarket; in the second he collapsed and rolled around in a futile attempt to extract another yellow card from an official who, whilst losing all semblance of control by this stage, clearly had at least one number accurately marked.

3- The third quarter of the game was ours, despite the numerical disadvantage.  An awful lot must have been taken out of those legs, and we probably benefitted through not having had a game at the weekend… but special mentions for Anya, Pudil and Battocchio in particular, none of whom stopped moving throughout their time on the pitch and all of whom made significant contributions.  Alex Merkel was the first to come close after Keegan had brought down the onrushing Kaiser Tözsér on the edge of the box… much to the Hungarian’s frustration.  Keegan, later booked, somehow escaped censure… Merkel took a magnificently evil, curling, snarling free kick around the wall and off the woodwork; Johnstone dived much too late and was stranded and fortunate when the rebound crashed into the onrushing Deeney and over, the goal gaping.  Forestieri was introduced to loud acclaim…  my brother had cited his persistent dog-with-a-bone threat as just what a nervous Donny defence didn’t need and was proved right in the 68th minute, a pass of breathaking vision and ingenuity dinked teasingly over Donny’s befuddled defence for the onrushing Anya to latch onto, open his body up and finish tidily, his goal celebration a round of applause for the away end.  The equaliser no more than the visitors deserved, and had we gotten a point it would have been worth far more than any of the nine we’ve gained from previous draws on the road this season.

4- We didn’t get it, you’ll have noticed.  Doncaster kitchen-sinked us for much of the remaining game, seemingly freed of the previously imminent threat of blowing their advantage against ten men by us actually grabbing the equaliser.  I’ve since read accounts that questioned our defensive organisation, that cited Donny’s winner as inevitable… I think that’s rather harsh.  Certainly Bond looked nervous coming out to claim balls but redeemed himself with a couple of terrific full-length stops as the home side turned the screw.  Daniel Pudil, arguably our man of the match, made another of his increasingly trademark perfectly timed bullet challenges to deny a clear Donny chance in the area.  Troy, of all people, made a goalline clearance.  Frankly, with legs visibly giving way, we had to weather a storm, but I thought we’d done so.  Until we hadn’t… the game had finished, this wasn’t the culmination of a wave of pressure, rather a last throw of the dice. Fair play to the home side, who kept plugging away.  They’re not about to pull up any trees but they were disciplined and tidy enough for the most part and looked a far more coherent, convincing unit than a Blackpool side similarly precariously positioned in the table.  On this evidence, you’d back them to cobble together enough points to stay up.

5- We’d arrived in Doncaster commenting on the warmth of the welcome in the gentle evening sunshine.  It wasn’t quite as friendly afterwards as Doncaster’s finest ran amok in the car park, breaking car windows and probably leaving a few wondering whether those experiments in cross-breeding humans with coatstands and UHT milk cartons were quite such a great idea.  The route home proved equally awkward, seeing as we’d failed to account for National Motorway Closure day, a quite extraordinary conspiracy that blocked off three alternative routes back to Bedfordshire and gave my brother a three hour jaunt back to Bradford.

Despite which grumpiness and sourness, it’s not all bad news on the face of it.  The scoreline doesn’t tell the story of the game that we would have won, perhaps handsomely, but for two moments of rare idiocy and should have gotten something out of anyway, and whilst the play-offs drift away into irrelevance the team finally looks to be putting together some consistent form that would yield away results sooner rather than later.  To what end, though?  One drawback, one unavoidable side-effect of what remains a hugely beneficial Pozzo model is that there’s kinda a slate-wiping exercise every summer, so what good a run of form now if some key cogs – for last year’s Vydra and Chalobah read perhaps Tözser? Merkel?  Deeney? Angella?  ….might not be around come August.  You’ve gotta enjoy the journey of course.  But it would be nice to know that the journey might be progressing us somewhere before next season.


1. Roger Smith - 12/03/2014

“So too left-back James Husband…whose role in Ranégie’s sending off looks far less innocuous on replay. Before the end of the half he collapsed clutching his face after precisely zero contact from Deeney…in the second he collapsed and rolled around in a futile attempt to extract another yellow card from an official who…clearly had at least one number accurately marked.”

Or maybe not, since he wasn’t even booked. With Johnstone, Husband and Keegan all sent off, a penalty and a rookie goalkeeper, Watford’s task would have been somewhat easier.

Matt Rowson - 12/03/2014

Indeed, although probably worth pointing out that any of those three distinct sets of incidents being penalised would probably have influenced the likelihood of the others happening at all. But as I stated above, from where I was sitting had Ranegie not lashed out, or had Johnstone subsequently been sent off with the implied penalty and rookie in goal, I think we’d have won comfortably.

Goldenboy60 - 12/03/2014

Matt, I agree with your comments on the end result. For me I felt that our performance was full of guts endeavour and a togetherness I have not witnessed this season. And some of the football they played with 10 men matched the play from last season. They really did give their all to the cause and fully deserved something out of the game. I have never seen such a blatant penalty as that not given, and can only think the referee was dreaming of being on a sunny beach in June, or at Cheltenham because he certainly wasn’t at the races last night.

The important thing now is they carry on with that display on Saturday. I also believe Merkel will turn into a top player. He is very young and showed signs last night of him coming to terms with the pace and competitiveness of the Championship.

2. Wimborne Hornet - 13/03/2014

Good summary, it always amazes me the cultural differences when travelling north, I got offered some hookey safety razors in a pub before the game!

So three near debutants and three red cards, the Swede’s possibly the most stupid and petulant of them all (and that’s saying something). We were knackered at the end after each player needed to up his shift due to the sending off and it was all very predicable.

Finally, how the ref bottled the penalty I will never know, I heard that even the Donny VT man said it was the most blatant pen he had ever seen!

Matt Rowson - 13/03/2014

Not sure, think Ranégie was provoked. Diakité still wears the crown of stupid for me.

Roger Smith - 13/03/2014

Defence knackered but only two subs used and a fresh Neill and Hoban on the bench. The nature of the game suggests that Neill would have been in his element!

Matt Rowson - 13/03/2014

Yes, the same thought had occurred to me although in fairness the defence probably suffered less from the lack of numbers. Pudil, playing LB, was getting up and down but seems to have limitless energy… for the rest, Donny really didn’t put us under a lot of pressure for three quarters of the game. It was in midfield where we were short of options and whilst McGugan was on the bench this really WASN’T his sort of thing.

3. Goldenboy60 - 13/03/2014

Yes Ranegie was absolutely provoked, though you cannot respond like he did. Ranegie was the young boy who reacts to provocation in the school play yard, but gets hauled into headmaster’s office whilst the perpetrator, Husband smiles with his mates and is patted on the head. He was at it all game and did his utmost to get as many booked and sent off as he could. Matt you are dead right. Glad we haven’t got a player like that. But Donnie were desperate for points and I can understand that.

The Donnie officials and non playing staff were bemused at the penalty not being given, all said with a wry grin. There says it all…

4. Goldenboy60 - 13/03/2014

Oh and by the way and just having had another look at the Husband incident, not only did he push Ranegie’s head when on the floor he was also in his face telling him to get off the pitch even before the so called referee produced the red card.

What a horrible little …. I hope they remember him when plays at the Vic next time.

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