Doncaster 2 Huddersfield 0: Defensive duo building platform for Doncaster’s survival struggle

Nahki Wells goes down in the box under Abdoulaye Meite's challange but appeals for a penalty were waved away
Nahki Wells goes down in the box under Abdoulaye Meite's challange but appeals for a penalty were waved away
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The last time Gabriel Tamas and Abdoulaye Meite played together in the Championship they ended up being promoted to the Premier League.

That was in 2010 with West Bromwich Albion, but four years later they are actually hoping to stay in the second tier of English football by steering Doncaster Rovers clear of relegation.

The central defensive partnership – only playing together due to captain Rob Jones and Bongani Khumalo being ruled out injured for the season – were the rock upon which Doncaster built this impressive derby win.

They snuffed out the threat of Huddersfield striker Nahki Wells, the former Bradford City forward who had ripped apart Barnsley a week earlier, to keep a welcome clean sheet for Rovers.

And by extending an unbeaten Keepmoat Stadium record which stretches back to Boxing Day, victory kept Paul Dickov’s side four points clear of the Championship relegation zone.

On a weekend when all the teams below Doncaster – apart from FA Cup quarter-finalists Charlton Athletic – won in the Championship, Saturday’s victory was crucial.

While Billy Sharp and David Cotterill bagged goals in each half, Dickov was keen to praise his new defensive partnership.

“I thought they were outstanding,” enthused Dickov. “They played together in a West Brom team a few years ago, a central defensive partnership that got promoted, and I think they showed that today.

“We watched the Huddersfield, Barnsley game a week ago, and although he didn’t score, Nahki Wells was a proper handful. But I thought our back four kept all their front players quiet.

“As fantastic as getting three points for the team was, defensively keeping a clean sheet was massive.

“They have come out second half and had to change their system to try and accommodate us, I think that’s credit to the players.”

A derby win was the perfect response for Rovers, who crashed to a 5-0 defeat at Bournemouth last time out.

“I expected a response after that and I knew I was going to get one,” said Dickov. “It shows we have a lot of character in the changing room. What we need to do now is keep our standards high. We owed the fans after Bournemouth where we let ourselves and them down and we played like we can do today.

“I said to the players before the game not to leave anything out there and when you have a team willing to run and put their bodies on the line then you are difficult to beat. We know we are capable of beating most teams when we play like that.”

And yet it was Huddersfield who had started the livelier, forcing three corners in as many minutes, with Wells prominent.

The striker then latched on to Oliver Norwood’s deflected long-range shot, but the angle was too tight to finish and at the other end, Mark Duffy went wide with his 20-yard effort.

That was the closest Rovers had come in the opening 20 minutes, but the hosts were starting to come into the contest.

Centre-forward Chris Brown tangled with Anthony Gerrard in the box, but stayed on his feet when he could have forced referee Mark Haywood into a tough penalty call had he gone down.

Sharp, back after a three-match suspension, eventually broke the deadlock.

Tamas headed goalwards from a Rovers corner, and up popped Sharp – lingering in front of Smithies making a nuisance of himself – to flick the ball in.

Dickov, something of a poacher in his playing days, loved the finish.

“Billy Sharp scored a great opener for us and that’s why we signed him,” said Dickov. “There wasn’t another player on the pitch today who could have nicked that goal.

“He has that fantastic habit of being in the right place at the right time. Once we scored that first goal we really settled down.”

Town pressed for an equaliser as Wells was denied by some great covering by Meite and Gerrard – involved in an ugly spat with Tamas as the two sides left the field at half-time – saw his goalbound header hacked away by Paul Keegan.

Mark Robins introduced Martin Paterson at half-time to give Wells some much-needed support up front and twice Rovers goalkeeper Sam Johnstone had to rescue his side, first getting down to thwart Wells and then tipping away Oliver Norwood’s curler.

The hosts, though, made Town pay for their spurned chances.

Mark Duffy picked out Cotterill, who side-footed into Smithies’s bottom corner. That sparked a bizarre goal celebration with Sharp and Cotterill doing press-ups on the pitch.

Town, who had looked second-best for large chunks of the game, had one final chance as Paterson broke clear late on, but he could only shoot tamely at Johnstone and Doncaster deservedly took the points.

Doncaster Rovers: Johnstone, Tamas, Quinn, Meite, Husband, Cotterill, Wellens, Keegan, Duffy, Brown, Sharp (Robinson 80). Unused substitutes: Furman, McCullough, Maxted, Wakefield, De Val, Bowery.

Huddersfield Town: Smithies, Woods, Gerrard, Wallace, Dixon, Hammill (Lolley 73), Southern, Norwood (Scannell 62), Clayton, Ward (Paterson 45), Wells. Unused substitutes: Bennett, Clarke, Gobern, Smith.

Referee: M Haywood (C Durham).