Saturday, 6 February 2016

Keepmoat Stadium

2nd February 2016

Doncaster Rovers 1-2 Walsall

As I generally tend to do upon taking my seat at a ground in the lower (and hence less well-publicised) layers of the pyramid, my first port of call this evening was the match programme to scan for any familiar names and faces.  And within Doncaster Rovers’ publication, wittily titled RAW (for Red And White), I was delighted to encounter a host of old friends.

First up was Rob Jones, now player/coach at Doncaster, whom I recall from his really rather successful spell at Hibernian where he led the club to the 2008 Scottish League Cup.  Now 36 years of age, I am guessing he is more coach than player these days.

Another familiar name was Nathan Tyson, whom I had first encountered as a gangly teenager turning out for Cheltenham at Brunton Park, Carlisle back in 2002.  A youngster brimming with promise, his career since had been blighted by injury after injury.  Perhaps the high point in his journey came with a spell at Nottingham Forest, although his subsequent two year stint at Derby County had been less fun.  He, perhaps inevitably, had handed in another sick-note for this evening.

And of course there was defender Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, whom I knew from his time with Partick Thistle.  It was heart-warming to see him rebuilding his career following his progress-stalling move to Wigan in 2014.  One wonders just how out-of-form any player had to be, not be deemed worthy of at least a modest run out in that dreadful Wigan side

There were more Scots in the home dugout in the shapes of Manager Darren Ferguson, and his assistant Gavin Strachan – one assumes the pair get on a whole lot better than their respective fathers did back in the day.

And the old faces did not stop there for, rather wonderfully, in the centre of tonight’s programme had been re-printed a facsimile of a match programme from yore – a Doncaster v Walsall league match from 1982 (Match Sponsor: Mr Tony For Hair).  And there, in a full page Manager’s Notes article, could be found one of my boyhood heroes: Billy Bremner, who had enjoyed a couple of spells as manager with Doncaster Rovers, even leading the club to promotion more than once during his tenures.  But what I had never realised was that the former Scotland captain had persuaded his ex-Leeds United teammate Terry Cooper to don his boots for that 1981/82 season.

Other names I recognised from the 1982 squad list were brothers Ian and Glynn Snodin – one of whom (I cannot remember which), had predated Rob Jones’ journey to the Scottish Capital by signing for Hearts.

Further flicking through the programme led me to the current League One table, which reinforced the generally held belief that this current Walsall FC side are a tidy lot; going into this match sitting handily in third place, having experienced just 4 defeats in 27 league matches.

Doncaster's Harry Middleton (29) and Paul Keegan 
prepare to get second-half underway.

Andy Williams - Doncaster Rovers

Walsall's James O'Connor & Lynden Gooch (No 10)

Two goals down, and out come the flags.

Anthony Forde challenges Harry Middleton

Not totally sure who the Motor Hog is here.  Sam Mantom? 

Gavin & Darren

Cameron Stewart on the ball

Doncaster v Walsall - 2016

Rico Henry (14) Vs Liam Mandeville (21)

Walsall's Craig MacGillivray

The Big Flag waver and the rest of the Black Bank attempt to will in an equaliser.

One of Doncaster's last attacks come to naught

Time up

Panorama of Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster

Panorama of Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster

Panorama of Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster.

Well the visitors kept their collective head down for much of the first 45 minutes, seemingly content to keep their hosts at bay.  After the break, they peeked over the ramparts, saw nothing threatening, and within twenty minutes had rattled the Rovers’ crossbar before scoring twice in quick succession, through Sam MANTOM and then Andy TAYLOR.

Mantom’s was a sweet left foot strike from 20-yards, which I felt Chris Neal could perhaps have done better with.   The ‘keeper, making his debut, had no chance however with Taylor’s deflected second - although the goal did arrive after Walsall’s Milan Lalkovic and Anthony Forde had made a monkey out of Harry Middleton at a short corner.

Rather than down-heartening the noisy rabble behind the Polypipe Stand goal, going two down appeared simply to spur the resident drummer into redoubling his tribal tub-thumping, whilst simultaneously heralding the arrival directly behind the goal of half-a-dozen or so Big Flag wavers.  

Darren Ferguson’s rather more prosaic response to the double setback was to replace James Copping with teenager Liam Mandeville; “He should have been on from the start” growled the chap behind me.

And perhaps he should have, for 10 minutes from time, MANDEVILLE it was who pulled one back for Doncaster.  And, although the home lot certainly upped the tempo considerably after this success, in all fairness they rarely looked like burgling what would have a larcenous equaliser.

Part of Rovers’ problem appeared to be that everything had to go down their right.  For, out on the left could be found former Arsenal signing Cedric Evian - a chap who appeared strangely reluctant to move forward and cross, even when the opportunity presented itself.  He, for whatever reason, much preferring to cut inside and crab the ball sideways.  It made me wonder if in fact he was a full-back being coerced forward out of his comfort zone.   

Late in the match a wayward cross unexpectedly found its way to Evian unmarked in the Walsall penalty box, which he met with an embarrassing fresh-air swipe.  Somehow retaining possession, his subsequent cross almost landed in the East Stand.  Yep – definitely an out-of-position defender.

Exterior of Polypipe (South) Stand

Exterior of (West) Stand

Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster

The Keepmoat, as I had expected was just one of your fair-to-middling featureless new builds, although I did rather like the big screens.  And no open corners ensured the racket made by the Polypipe Stand inhabitants stayed within the ground.  This bunch, who go under the title of Black Bank, I believe, were generally a credit to their club and unstinting in their encouragement – although I did at one point see a brace of stewards marching into their midst to sort someone out.  

But they really deserved a whole lot more from their team than just that frantic last 10 minute spell.

I had spent the night after the match at the nearby Travelodge, where I awoke to be met by this stunning vista.
All football grounds should have one of these nearby - The Keepmoat may be glimpsed to the left of the pic.

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