Dissecting Donny: Rovers 2-0 Stalybridge Celtic
Another home game, another 2-0 victory. A very different win than the previous week’s triumph over Colchester, mind, as Rovers comfortably saw off non-league opposition in the F.A. Cup.
Stalybridge Celtic were the vanquished underdogs in Round 1 this year, a team now plying their trade in the Vanarama North division, one that actually hold a surprisingly superior head-to-head record over the Rovers. That 2-0 historical record going into this weekend’s fixture came courtesy of a pair of 1-0 victories in the Conference 14 seasons ago, a couple of results that surely ‘busted the coupons’ as Rovers went on to finish in a more than respectable 4th place that year, whilst Stalybridge were relegated in 21st place after only one season at the top level of English non-league football.
I still remember being stood in the away end at Bower’s Fold in the rain to see our otherwise strong side overcome by strugglers, and still to this day point out Stalybridge among the smallest grounds I’ve trudged to in support of Doncaster Rovers in 16 years of fandom. Fortune has favoured us much more of course in the intervening decade odd since that day and it showed from the first minute on Saturday.
Nathan Tyson got the beating of big defender Matty Hughes from the off and in the 3rd minute scooted past him to the byline before pulling the ball back for Andy Williams to finish tidily into the corner and settle any early nerves Rovers might have had in their position as overwhelming favourites. Overwhelming might be a good word to use to describe the occasion for the visiting side, as Stalybridge struggled to ever really make this game feel like a “classic FA Cup tie”. Bohan Dixon, the lively and physical #7 who was probably Stalybridge’s best player on the day, did test Thorsten Stuckmann in the home net with a long range free kick in the first half, but that was as good as it got as the game meandered on to the interval.
Defender Jack Higgins wasted a golden opportunity to put the cat amongst the pigeons early on in the second half, finding himself with the chance to level from a header a few yards out when afforded acres of space by the Rovers defence, but his effort wasn’t up to scratch and was easily held.
That was as good as it got up front for Stalybridge, who spent the rest of the match trying in vain to keep up with the pace and passing accuracy of the boys in Red. Keshi Anderson made a welcome return from injury off the bench just before the hour, and he soon showed why we’ve missed his energy in front of goal by forcing a good stop out of goalkeeper Tony McMillan with a bullet header from a corner.
A few minutes later it was Anderson again who met a corner, this one resulting in the second goal after Oliver Crowley failed to make contact with the dropping ball, allowing Williams to double his tally for the afternoon and put the game to bed. Not a proud moment for Mr. Crowley, but in truth the game had already gotten away from Stalybridge.
Hughes did pull off perhaps the highlight of the game as far as the Vanarama North outfit were concerned, clearing off the line from an Anderson shot late on after a great passing move from Donny, but the full time whistle blew soon after and confirmed a place in Round 2 for a second successive year. There we will meet Cambridge United at the Abbey Stadium, a much stronger opponent but still one that Rovers will be hoping to overcome and take a place among the big boys in the 3rd Round.
The re-working of the defence continued on Saturday as Darren Ferguson handed a debut to unknown full back Felipe Mattioni on the right hand side of the 3-5-2. It must be said that it is difficult to properly judge the man on this performance as it came against such lowly opponents, but fans will nevertheless have been encouraged by what Felipe demonstrated in the game.
Clearly possessing plenty of the technical ability expected of a man who counts AC Milan and Espanyol among his former clubs, Mattioni looked comfortable in the right wing back position and seemed to link up well with James Coppinger and Nathan Tyson. A few elementary mistakes can be forgiven in his first game, especially with the pace that the game was played, but it will be a much tougher test against Blackpool next weekend and the first true look for Rovers at what he can bring to the team. So far, so good though and Felipe must be commended for settling in so well after only a week at a strange club in an unfamiliar country.
Ferguson has identified the defence as the real weak spot of the side and has looked to address this in a number of ways. First came the change in formation which has already seen positive changes to the performances of Andy Butler and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, now the arrival of Mattioni to the line-up has been followed by the loan signing of Craig Alcock earlier today from Sheffield United. Alcock is well known to the new boss having been signed previously for Peterborough by Ferguson, but he has fallen out of favour at Bramall Lane despite a decent campaign in their run to the play-offs last season. Of the little I do know about him, he is versatile and has plenty of experience at this level, so it looks like a shrewd and sensible move to bolster a back line that still needs to improve if Rovers are to make the strides up the League One table that they have targeted for this season.
A Day to Remember for Our Copps
Whilst this game may not live long in the memory for its’ footballing spectacle, it will be remembered for marking a historic day in the football club’s record books. James Coppinger made his 469th competitive appearance in a Doncaster Rovers shirt, breaking Colin Douglas’ record for most appearances for the club. That in itself is a tremendous achievement for anyone in the modern game, but for a skillful winger playing for a team who have become accustomed to changing division every couple of seasons in the past decade it is all the more remarkable.
Copps has been a near-constant presence in the successes and failures of the club since his arrival from Exeter City in 2004, and indeed the indelible mark he has left will be felt for decades to come just as the achievements of previous heroes like Alick Jeffrey and Peter Doherty have been.
While he was not always a personal favourite of mine in his first few seasons, his talent and willingness to go to the well for the cause of Doncaster Rovers has endeared him to pretty much the entire fanbase through the last 11 years. His pinnacle was a sublime hat-trick against Southend in the Play Offs in 2008, putting us on our way to a famous Wembley win over Leeds United, and he also played a crucial role in our League One title campaign in 2013 following an ill-fated loan spell at Nottingham Forest under former Rovers boss Sean O’Driscoll. Indeed his 95th minute strike at Brentford to send us up into the Championship as division champions is the inspiration for the name of this blog, and easily the single greatest moment of my life as a football supporter.
The next question is…what next? In my opinion, if Coppinger can continue his rejuvenation as captain under Darren Ferguson, then there is no stopping him on his way to increasing his newly earned club record. Becoming the first man to turn out 500 times for Doncaster Rovers is surely an attainable goal, and I’m sure another chance to celebrate his achievements will not be squandered by the fans in the event he does make the required 31 appearances needed to make that mark.