By Gerry Prewett.
With a morale boosting victory at Swansea on Wednesday evening, Bristol Rovers will be hoping for three points when they entertain high riding Doncaster Rovers on Saturday. Donny currently sit just outside the Play Off spots with 32 points from their 20 games played.
The Yorkshire team have had some small runs of decent results but are yet to hit a good points haul. In fact after beating Rochdale on 13 October, they went on a run of 6 league games where they picked up just 5 points before winning at Blackpool on 27 November. At the moment it is 20 year old, Bristol born, Liverpool loanee Herbie Kane who is attracting lots of attention at the Keepmaot Stadium. Kane has been in red-hot form of late, scoring five goals in his last six games, whilst with 24 games played this season, he is receiving the first-team football Liverpool wanted.
Whilst Rovers were ‘enjoying’ a week-end off on Saturday, Donny were entertianed by Charlton at the Valley in an FA Cup Second Round tie. After dominating the first half but not being able to convert possession into gaol chances Rovers finally broke the deadlock on 67 minutes. Andy Butler met a Danny Andrew corner with a header with a bounce bemusing the Charlton defence and seeing the ball nestle in the back of the net.
Rovers quickly pushed for a second with substitute Mallik Wilks firing wide before Ali Crawford tested Phillips with a low effort. The second goal came 13 minutes from time. Butler headed a deep free kick back across goal and John Marquis made sure it crossed the line with a close range header.
Charlton almost pulled a goal back moments later but Ian Lawlor produced a stunning one-handed stop on his line to turn away a bullet header from substitute Brendon Sarpong-Wiredu.
Donny Boss Grant McCann was left with conflicting thoughts after the game, “I thought we were disappointing to be honest. I was disappointed with the first half. We weren’t at our usual standards today. A little bit better in the second half but I thought we were sloppy.”
“I said to the boys at half time and after the game that I will always be honest as long as I’m the manager of the football club. I didn’t think we reached our usual standards but we’ve won the game, we’re into the next round and that was the most important thing today.”
“The atmosphere in the stadium, it was almost like a friendly game in the first half. It was dead, from both teams. There was just no real tempo in the game. I don’t know whether it’s a mindset thing, whether we knew they’d made a lot of changes.”
“But I said to them that the boys who came into the Charlton team would want to try to impress their manager today. We knew it’d be difficult. “I didn’t think we had that spark about us today, that energy, that aggression in our play that we’ve had for most of the season. Even at 2-0 up, Charlton had opportunities to score a goal. That’s disappointing and frustrating from us because we should be managing the game better.”
There have been a total of 39 games between the two teams with Bristol Rovers winning 17 and Doncaster 16. There has only ever once been a 0-0 draw in these matches and that was at Eastville on 9 January 1960 in an FA Cup tie, the Gas won the replay 3 days later in Yorkshire.
The highest score between the teams was on 22 December 1956 when the home team won 6-1 at Eastville. Barrie Meyer (2), Dai Ward (3) and Geoff Bradford scoring for the home team and Geoff Walker for the visitors.
The 2007 JP Trophy Final, won 3-2 by Donny, has been described as probably the most exciting of the Finals ever played. There can be little doubt that the pain of that victory spurred the Gas to their heroic finish to that season culminating in the last minute Sammy Igoe goal that secured the 3-1 victory and promotion.
Prior to the two games last season the last time the two Rovers crossed paths was back in the 2007/08 and it was the Yorkshire team who took all the points on offer. When the Gas visited the Keepmoat Stadium on 9th February 2008 they were defending an impressive unbeaten record against the team in second spot. After conceding two penalties they came back empty handed, Brian Stock on 65 minutes and Paul Heffernan on 90 minutes, scoring.
Within a month Donny had returned from the Mem with all 3 points again and it was Heffernan who was on the scoresheet once more, this time after just 3 minutes.
Last season’s game at the Mem saw the South Yorkshire team take all three points with a 1-0 victory. The winner came in the 33rd minute when Tommy Rowe exchanged passes with Alfie Beestin and burst into the box only to be halted by Ryan Sweeney's clumsy challenge.
Referee Dean Whitestone pointed to the spot and Niall Mason blasted his penalty down the middle, finding the roof of the net as Adam Smith moved to his right.
Sweeney had the best first-half chance, but saw his close-range volley from Liam Sercombe's corner tipped over by Doncaster keeper Ian Lawlor.
The Gas almost equalised in the 86th minute when Lee Brown's free-kick was brilliantly saved at full stretch by Lawlor. They forced the ball home in the melee that followed, but a linesman had flagged that the ball had gone out of play and they had to make do with a corner.
Donny Central defender Andy Butler is enjoying the new method for defending set pieces. Boss Grant McCann opted for a change in approach after vulnerability at set pieces proved costly and helped contribute to Rovers' disappointing run of form through October and into November. Guided by goalkeeping coach Paul Gerrard, Rovers adopted a hybrid method of part man-marking and part zonal marking, which has helped give the side greater strength in recent weeks.
Butler believes that is due to the freedom it gives defenders to meet the ball as it is delivered into the box, "I think we've nailed on the set pieces at the moment with Gez. We all sat down together and discussed what we were going to do."
“Defensively I think we look a lot more solid, people know their roles and it allows freedom to those who want to head the ball to go and do it. You ask any centre half if you give them a free role to go and attack a header, they'll love it. Tom Anderson eats that for breakfast. If you have that one responsibility of this is your space and head the ball, I thrive on that."
It was at the opposite end of the pitch where Rovers shone from set pieces in Saturday's win over Charlton Athletic. Both goals in the 2-0 triumph came from dead ball deliveries, with Butler himself heading in his 50th career goal from a corner before powering a ball back across goal from a free kick to set up John Marquis for the second. "It takes me to 50 career goals that. It'd have been 51 if John hadn't taken it off me one inch off the line.”
"I'm happy for John to score, he works so hard and deserves a goal. Danny Andrew put two unbelievable balls in and it made it a lot easier for me to attack. Whoever scores goals for the team, I'm happy for them.”
"A goal and an assist is good, but it'd have been nice to have had two. Attacking wise we seem to have scored from either the first ball or the second ball which is pleasing because we do work on it."