Rovers Win Plaudits, But Bow Out of FA Cup
It was a match that had all the makings of an FA Cup classic and it delivered on that expectation as Rovers bowed out of the FA Cup on Saturday with a 2-1 defeat at home to Stoke. Our visitors are enjoying a great season in the Premier League, boasting recent victories over Manchester City, Everton and Manchester United, and demonstrated their top flight class despite making several changes to the team on their visit to South Yorkshire.
That being said, our “pub team having a laugh” gave every bit as good as they got and put in a display that all Rovers supporters should be proud of. We were well worthy of our place high up on the running order for Match of the Day and justified the attention afforded to our fixture by the BBC before, during and after the match. In an enthralling and tight contest, the Premier League Potters edged it thanks to two moments of real quality, Joselu beating Aaron Taylor-Sinclair all ends up before putting in the perfect cross for veteran striker Peter Crouch to direct home, and Ireland international Jon Walters thumping a 25-yard screamer into the corner to win it after Rovers have fought valiantly to come back into the game. A strike hardly likely to go down as Walters’ most important of the season, especially as it was his goals that sent his country to Euro 2016 a couple of months ago, but it was easily one of his best and Rovers made sure that it would take a moment of such high quality to see them off.
Stoke far from had things all their own way despite capitalising on a nervy start from Rovers to take a 1-0 lead after quarter of an hour. From then on we settled into the game and began to carve out chances, deservedly equalising later in the half when Luke McCullough, back in the team after a spell out of favour, went on an uncharacteristic surging run forward, beating most of the Stoke team before squaring in the box for Nathan Tyson. Tyson is finding the back of the net with ease at present, and despite a terrific one-handed save from opposition keeper Jacob Haugaard, Tyson showed his rottweiler-like capabilities to beat Phil Bardsley to the rebound and put the ball away to make it 1-1. The goal and performance thereafter epitomised Rovers’ tenacious and gutsy display, refusing to be intimidated by the throng of international talents facing them.
In the second half, chances came again for both sides, and Crouch really should have doubled his tally for the afternoon when a Mame Diouf header was parried to his feet, yards from goal. Instead the big man scooped his chance over the bar, surpassing an almost equally easy chance squandered by Diouf himself prior to half time. Minutes later however, the resistance was broken as Walters was afforded too much space 25 yards from goal, unleashing an unstoppable effort that Stuckmann could only try in vain to keep out. It proved the winner, but as a tasty tie rumbled on, Rovers kept on coming forward and were extremely unlucky not to force a replay at the very least. Andy Butler had two big chances, the first a looping header which thundered back off the crossbar, and then right at the death another header, this time right in front of goal, sailed over the bar. Tyson also missed a good chance in-between Butler’s efforts, making space in the six yard box only to lift his first time shot over as well. In the end it wasn’t to be, but a 13,000-strong crowd witnessed a performance to remember, a huge improvement on our meek defeat to Scunthorpe on Boxing Day, and used national attention to remind everyone that the plucky underdog of South Yorkshire still barks loud and proud.
Stroud City Football Club?
The most disappointing aspect of an otherwise great day, bar the final score, was the inept officiating once again plaguing the professional game. Not to be outdone by Stuart Attwell’s blundering performance in the derby with Scunthorpe, “Poison Dwarf” Keith Stroud made sure everyone was talking about him throughout the 90 minutes. Stroud has form, turning in a diabolical performance in a 2-2 draw at Scunthorpe back in 2009 where he sent off two Rovers players, one for an incident he did not even see, and contrived to give a dubious last minute penalty to the home side that cost us three precious points.
Here, Stroud failed miserably to control the game as Stoke put their Premier League pedigree to work by implementing expert gamesmanship, committing foul after foul with barely a sniff of notice from the small man in the middle. German defender Philipp Wollscheid was lucky to stay on the pitch after a push and a couple of other unpleasant skirmishes with Rovers players, perhaps only saved by the apparent blindness of the official and the calm head of his defensive partner Ryan Shawcross, who at one stage had to employ almost WWE-like tactics to keep Wollscheid from getting himself into further bother. Satisfying at least then to see him sauntering along with not a care in the world as McCullough bombed past him on his way to assisting our goal. Stroud also managed to miss what most deemed a certain penalty for Rovers in the second half when Craig Alcock was brought down in the box as he headed for goal. Let’s hope we actually have somebody competent at this job for our next game, but I won’t hold my breath.
Paul Keegan is flourishing under the new manager since his return from injury and, in the absence of James Coppinger, took on the responsibility of captaining the side for this crucial fixture and handled it very well. Copps’ absence meant a slightly different look to the midfield trio, and Keegan was the heart of why it worked as he mopped up time and time again, winning possession and distributing the ball forward to team-mates expertly. He was also astute in his reading of the game to get back and help out the defence when Rovers were on the back foot and out of possession. Add all of these qualities to his recently acquired ability to score brilliant long range goals, and it looks like we have an important component to our Play Off push coming into top form at the right time.
Rating the Rovers
T. Stuckmann: Made one or two top saves again, but did slice a clearance that eventually led to the winning goal. His shot-stopping keeps us in games week after week, and there was little he could do about the actual finishes for both of Stoke’s goals. 7/10
C. Alcock: Marked his permanent signing by turning in a top class performance at wing back, whistling a shot just past the post and also unlucky not to win a penalty too. 8/10
L. McCullough: Solid enough at the back even if he was beaten to the ball by Crouch for the opener. His run to create the Rovers equaliser was brilliant. 7/10
A. Butler: Marshalled the back line well and got into goalscoring positions late on, but squandered two great chances to be the home town hero. 7/10
A. Taylor-Sinclair: Panicked a few times defensively and was beaten too easily by Joselu for the opening goal. Looked out of his depth for the first 25 minutes but calmed down and improved thereafter. 6/10
C. Evina: Just shaded into second place for Man of the Match in my opinion, was a constant threat down the left flank and is never afraid to go forward. 9/10
H. Middleton: Is maturing splendidly in the middle of the park, young Middleton didn’t look out of place once against high calibre opposition. Assurance and poise his main assets again. 7/10
P. Keegan: Distribution superb, tackling and marking excellent and his ability to read the game second to none in red & white. A magnificent display. 10/10
C. Grant: Looks to be over a Christmas blip and is staying til the end of the season, something we should all be grateful of. His ability to find space when in possession helped create numerous chances. 7/10
N. Tyson: Scored the goal, refusing to give up and despite letting a good chance go begging late on, deserves high praise for his work rate and ability as part of the team as usual. 8/10
A. Williams: Put in a shift and carved out some great openings mainly from the left hand side. Not the stand-out player for once but still a good display from League One’s Player of the Month. 7/10
C. Main: Returned well from an injury lay-off, now sporting a shaved head which seems to have brought some confidence back in him. Put in a good shift for the last 15 minutes and put in a couple of very dangerous crosses that could’ve led to the equaliser. 7/10
R. Chaplow: Also created one of the best goalscoring chances for Rovers late on, he slotted in well to the midfield. 6/10
G. Mackenzie: Came on for injury time and thankfully had nothing to do defensively. N/A