Rovers 0-0 Gillingham: Small Steps Forward
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
It was a fine afternoon for both goalkeepers, as Ian Lawlor and counterpart Tomas Holy pulled off a number of fine saves to earn their first clean sheets of the campaign. In a fairly even first half, Lawlor sprung to make one of the best stops seen at the Keepmoat, keeping out a point-blank header from Gabriel Zakuani after Josh Parker had nodded a corner back across the face of goal. The Irishman also had to be alert to efforts from Scott Wagstaff and Lee Martin as the visiting Gills primarily threatened at set pieces, whilst the defence in front of him also performed admirably against very physical opposition. Andy Butler kept the man mountain Tom Eaves in check throughout, whilst Joe Wright passed his audition to replace the injured Mathieu Baudry for the foreseeable with flying colours.
At the other end, 6’9″ Czech keeper Tomas Holy put in a Man of the Match display against this creative Rovers side, rushing out quickly to stifle an effort from Matty Blair before diving full-stretch to tip debutant Danny Andrew’s low curling drive wide of the post in a first half that saw Rovers carve out numerous goal-scoring opportunities. Liam Mandeville did manage to beat Holy with an early dink, only for a covering defender to block it in the goalmouth. Holy kept up his form after the interval, making an excellent point-blank stop from Butler’s header when the club captain beat three Gillingham players to Andrew’s corner in the second half, and again he had his defenders to thank when Ben Whiteman, who had earlier seen a dipping long-range effort crash against the crossbar, let fly again only to see his late shot turned over the bar by Luke O’Neill.
Any worry that Darren Ferguson’s free-scoring Rovers of last season would not be able to carry on that offensive strategy in a higher league was swiftly dispelled here as the home side carved out chance after chance, but just couldn’t quite get the breaks in front of goal. Mandeville fired over from a long Lawlor kick, whilst Tommy Rowe had a penalty shout waved away and John Marquis, who was lively in possession all game, couldn’t quite make the right decision on a couple of occasions, notably when he tried to chip the gargantuan Holy when a square ball to Whiteman would probably have resulted in a goal. One of those days in front of goal for the Reds, but there was plenty to suggest that finding the back of the net will not be a problem throughout this season.
New Boys Impress
Three of our new signings made their Rovers debuts here, with Danny Andrew starting at left back and Ben Whiteman at the base of the diamond in midfield, whilst Thursday’s loan acquisition from Manchester City, Rodney Kongolo, was a second half substitute. Fergie stated he was pleased with his business in the window so far, and there was plenty of evidence that he is right to feel that way based on this showing. Andrew and Whiteman fit right in to our team, both playing a huge role both on and off the ball. With Alex Kiwomya out for the first two months of the season, and Issam Ben Khemis still awaiting international clearance, the performance of these pick-ups will offer encouragement that Rovers have made strong moves in the transfer market as we did last summer in building our promotion-winning squad.
Andrew, Grimsby’s Player of the Year for 2016/17, looked assured at the back and dangerous going forward, showing glimpses of his prowess with some good corners, a wicked long throw and the occasional cross from deep too. Whiteman turned in an excellent performance, breaking up play when he needed to, providing plenty of class and poise in possession and almost winning the game on two occasions with a long-distance stunners in the second half. This showing may just cause fans to re-evaluate whether or not a move to bring Jordan Houghton back to the club should be a priority, as on this game it seems he may have already been sufficiently replaced, especially as the manager has stated he may have to choose between signing Houghton and bringing in a centre half to add to the defensive ranks.
Whilst he only got 20 minutes or so, Rodney Kongolo also looked like a potentially great signing, acquitting himself well in his professional debut. Replacing Matty Blair on the right of the diamond, Kongolo didn’t waste a ball and linked up well with James Coppinger and Niall Mason on that flank. He also demonstrated his willingness to fight for the ball, chasing down what seemed to be a lost cause and knocking it out for a throw-in as the Gills defender attempted to marshal it out for a goal kick. Merely a cameo for the young Dutch midfielder, but one that gave a glimpse of what he may be able to bring to the side.
Good Day, Bad Day
Overall it was a strong performance from Rovers, with the only really disappointment being the failure to score and get a win that would have been very much deserved. John Marquis wasn’t at his best in front of goal, but did link-up superbly through the midfield, and Liam Mandeville faded after an excellent first half. It was also not the best day for Matty Blair, playing more central as opposed to on the flank where he usually threatens so much, but Blair should be commended for his effort in the wake of the tragic loss of his brother Ross earlier in the week, as no one would have begrudged him sitting this one out if he had felt he needed to.
As covered above, Ian Lawlor had a great game between the sticks, and all four defenders in front of him played very well too. Butler and Wright were formidable at the back, but the ITEN Man of the Match award went to Niall Mason for a complete display at right back, keeping Lee Martin fairly quiet and contributing to numerous attacks down the right wing. Mason shades the award from Ben Whiteman who took control of the game at times, showcasing his clear talent and ability to have a large influence on a match from the deep-lying midfield position.
#drfc XI FT Ratings: Lawlor 7, Mason 8, Wright 7, Butler 7, Andrew 7, Whiteman 8, Blair 6, Rowe 6, Coppinger 7, Marquis 7, Mandeville 6. — Into The Empty Net (@DRFC_ITEN) 5 August 2017
#drfc SUBS FT Ratings: Kongolo 7, May N/A. — Into The Empty Net (@DRFC_ITEN) 5 August 2017
So, a shame not to pick up the win on the opening day, but a strong performance that suggests Rovers will be able to cope with the demands of League One football this season. We are off the mark, which is better than could be said after the opening day last year, and should take confidence and belief into this week’s trip to Bradford in the EFL Cup, and to Ewood Park next Saturday when we take on relegated Blackburn Rovers.
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