Play Like Turkeys, Get Burnt: A Rovers Christmas Fable of Failure
We all do it. See the lovely big plate of food and full glass of sherry (or wine, or whatever your tipple is). We stuff our faces with all of it and go back for more, then keep going back for more through the rest of the day as we settle in for all of the evening’s substandard T.V. ‘specials’. The thing is, most of us do this because we have Boxing Day off, and the most taxing thing we’ll do that day is drag our now heavy selves down to the football to try and enjoy some festive cheer in the form of goals and three welcome points. Unfortunately, it seems the Doncaster Rovers players all also over-indulged on Friday because they failed to get going in a local derby game that had ‘Rovers win’ written all over it.
Seven straight wins against Scunthorpe, unbeaten in five games and coming off the back of a spirited draw away at the league leaders, surely this was the chance to position ourselves in the top half and primed for a play off push in the New Year. Sadly it was not to be as the wheels came off, the quality lacked and a fairly uninspiring yet stoic Scunthorpe side took three points and local bragging rights home to Lincolnshire with them. A game of few chances was decided in the first half, as Paddy Madden strolled away from marker Cedric Evina at the back post and tapped home after a cross had bobbled through everyone in the six yard box. Evina missed a couple of chances at the near post and Cameron Stewart hit the crossbar in the 91st minute, but all in all it was a poor showing with no cutting edge from the Rovers.
Young Guns Struggle
It was a day to forget our young side, with the rookies in the team failing to deal with the Derby Day pressure. Harry Middleton was hauled off at half time in place of the much more solid Paul Keegan, Middleton looking lost and overran in the middle of the park just as he had at Burton. A break from the starting line-up benefited him at the start of October, and I feel another break will help him here too. We cannot ask too much too soon of these young talents and if last weekend looked a game too far for Middleton, then this game proved a real breaking point for him.
Teenager Mitchell Lund also struggled in defence and was brought off before the hour mark, again just as he had been last Saturday. This weekend he lined up in the back three with Craig Alcock pushed further up as the wing back, but Lund still seemed to demonstrate more nous and skill going forward than he did at the back. This side of his game is clearly improving but his place in a less than stellar defensive trio is far from cemented. Cedric Evina also had his moments again here, but showed plenty of attacking verve and energy to warrant praise in his performance.
Our 3-5-2 line-up has not greatly worked the last few games, so perhaps Fergie needs to break from this formation and try something different when we visit Oldham tomorrow afternoon. Paul Keegan surely needs to be brought in to the midfield, which hopefully will aid Conor Grant as he had a real off day against Scunthorpe and didn’t get his creative juices flowing at Burton until a switch to 4-4-2. Giving Coppinger and Evina (or possibly Stewart if Evina is moved to left back) more licence to attack without needing to worry as much about defensive duties might give us more impetus to create clear-cut goalscoring opportunities as well. The strikers were feeding off scraps yesterday and can’t be expected to cover 50 yards of the pitch for 90 minutes, despite their best efforts.
Merry Christmas to Stuart Attwell, possibly the league’s most incompetent match official. I try to give referees the benefit of the doubt more often than not as I know how hard a job it is, but Mr. Attwell put on the worst refereeing display I have seen in 2015 here, and proved why people should not let him forget that he is the only man to ever award a goal when the ball passed four yards wide of the post (sorry to any unlikely Watford-supporting readers). He failed miserably to assert his authority on the game, allowing Scunthorpe to take the proverbial and waste time to a galling degree pretty much from the moment they scored in the 20th minute. Players were given a light finger-wagging before being allowed to continue the same antics, and more often than not given licence to manhandle Rovers with not a jot to be done by any of the men in black.
Ridiculously, every time a Scunthorpe substitution was called, Attwell was seen to be in casual conversation with one of the Iron’s players whilst the departing player made their sl0w-motion exit to jeers from around the ground. I spotted Attwell sorting out his evening dinner plans with Paddy Madden as Stephen Dawson took his leave immediately after finally being booked for his 23rd foul of the afternoon, and Attwell even allowed a three-man Scunthorpe wall to tell him where to spray his magic dust! There were also some serious questions over Madden’s winning goal, as he looked offside from many people’s viewpoints. Crucially, the viewpoints of those who mattered – Attwell and his West Stand linesman – were silent on the issue and determined a fair goal had been scored.
N’Guessing We Need a Forward
Don’t let this massively inept refereeing performance fool you though, as Rovers deserved to lose this match. Scunthorpe defended well throughout but clearly lacked a certain quality going forward, merely winning by virtue of creating one meaningful, on-target opportunity which they duly took. I forgot Thorsten Stuckmann was even playing in the second half as the Iron sat on their lead, but Rovers failed to really make anything of their possession and did not create enough proper chances to equalise. Stewart’s late shot aside, the forwards misfired and it is abundantly clear that we need another striking option from the bench. Nathan Tyson ran himself into fatigue once again and I counted Andy Williams having to drift to the touchline no less than six times in the second half to try and make things happen.
The last roll-of-the-dice from Fergie was to bring Dany N’Guessan on, a man who looked exactly like a man who had not been fit in over a month and shouldn’t have been used to try and grab a goal here. Harsh perhaps, but he was either unfit or just not up to the pace of the game, despite dragging one effort narrowly wide as time was running out. One particular moment summed it all up, as N’Guessan pulled off a sumptuous turn away from two Scunthorpe players in his own half only to then fall over passing the ball and taking about the time it takes to eat a large prawn cocktail to get to his feet again. As we went for one final gung-ho attack in the last minute of injury time, our big centre forward could be seen at a complete standstill out on the right wing, nowhere near any part of the field you would expect him to be. The manager has said he is looking at bringing a striker in when the transfer window opens next week and I believe it is a position we need to strengthen immediately.
T. Stuckmann: Had very little to do and can’t really be blamed for the Scunthorpe goal. 6/10
C. Alcock: Solid again, linked up well with Coppinger and defended well for the most part. 6/10
M. Lund: Didn’t quite get it done at the back but showed some bright moments going forward before going off. 5/10
A. Butler: Having to do too much on his own at the back, and leaves a lot to be desired in possession sometimes. 6/10
A. Taylor-Sinclair: Inconsistent. One week he looks very solid, the next he’s all over the place. I wasn’t impressed here but again he showed intelligence when having to take the ball over the halfway line. 5/10
C. Evina: Better than last week when he had a bit of an off-day, again at the back he was shaky at times and was at fault for the goal, but going forward I can’t fault him at all. One of the few who makes chances regularly. 6/10
H. Middleton: Never got going and couldn’t stamp his authority on proceedings. Rightly brought off at the break. 4/10
C. Grant: Probably his worst game in a Rovers shirt, but then he has set a very high standard up to now. Hopefully just a one off for the Everton loanee. 5/10
J. Coppinger: Some good work down the right and came closest to scoring with a delightful overhead volley. 7/10
A. Williams: Didn’t have the crispest of touches today and didn’t really make many chances. I felt he was too isolated up front really. 5/10
N. Tyson: Nobody works harder for the team than Tyson. A shame his mazy first half run didn’t end in a proper shot as he looked ready to score. 7/10
P. Keegan: Should be starting at Oldham. Broke up the play, good distribution. Surely due for another set piece screamer in the near future. 7/10
C. Stewart: Looked lively off the bench, I’d also be giving him a start in a different formation on Monday. Agonisingly close to another late equaliser, denied by the woodwork in injury time. 7/10
D. N’Guessan: Not fit enough from what I saw, unfair to give him a rating. He had more threat in his early appearances for us than he did in this forgettable cameo. N/A