“When the biggest crowds at the Keepmoat Stadium this season have come from a One Direction charity match and Bonfire Night you know you have problems.”
A little harsh, but that was the tongue-in-cheek verdict of a Doncaster Rovers regular after watching his side slip to their second home defeat in five days against Bournemouth.
Harry Arter’s first-half strike was enough to secure three points for Eddie Howe’s resurgent Cherries, and came hot on the heels of Rovers’ 2-0 home defeat to Crewe in midweek.
The very fact that Dean Saunders’s team sit in the top 10 of League One owes little to their wretched home form at the Keepmoat this campaign – just three wins from eight games, and only seven goals scored.
Just 5,951 turned out to cheer on Rovers on Saturday, and the dwindling crowds has even hard-working chairman John Ryan voicing his disappointment.
Against Crewe last Tuesday night, it was even less, 5,411, with Ryan blaming the lure of Bonfire Night 24 hours earlier and the chance for armchair fans to stay in to watch Champions League action on TV.
“The attendance disappointed me on Tuesday night after what we had achieved in recent games,” commented Ryan in his match-day programme column.
Those who did turn up on Saturday were treated to an entertaining match as a patched-up Rovers side took the game to Bournemouth and deserved at least a point for their efforts.
The fact they were left empty-handed was due to their lack of cutting edge in front of goal, which left former England goalkeeper David James with little to do.
At the opposite end, Rovers goalkeeper Gary Woods was left to rue his solitary mistake, when Arter’s 38th-minute speculative low drive from outside the area hit the foot of his left-hand post and rolled into the goal.
Saunders probably realised his luck was out when substitute David Syers was pushed in the back late on by Charlie Daniels, sparking furious penalty shouts.
But referee Darren Bond waved away the appeals before Iain Hume spurned a glorious late chance.
“It was a blatant penalty on David Syers, he’s just about to put the ball in the net and the defender’s pushed him in the back,” said Saunders. “It’s a blatant penalty – I’ve seen it again.
“And then the ball comes out to Hume and I thought he was going to score.
“I thought we played really well at times, but a goalkeeping error has cost us the match and these things happen sometimes.
“After the first 10 minutes, we had all the game really. We were on top for long periods in the game, but they defended with a lot of resilience and we just didn’t get the breaks.
“I was pleased with the performance in view of the side we put out because we had half a team missing,” added Saunders, who had lost influential captain Rob Jones with the head injury he sustained against Crewe.
“I’m disappointed because we wanted to bounce back after losing the last match and it’s important now that we don’t go on a losing run after going seven matches unbeaten.”
The visitors came close to opening the scoring on 14 minutes, but Daniels’s 25-yard free-kick after a foul by Hume drifted wide of Woods’s left-hand post.
At the other end, returning winger David Cotterill showed trickery down the right but Billy Paynter was unable to keep his effort on target.
The best piece of football from Rovers in the first half saw Hume – drifting in the hole behind the front two of Paynter and Chris Brown after a switch of formation from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 – cross for Brown, but his downward header just evaded the galloping Cotterill.
Rovers started to get a grip as half-time approached, with Canadian international Hume dragging his low shot just wide of James’s left-hand post.
But the Keepmoat Stadium crowd were stunned when Cherries midfielder Arter fired in a speculative effort which looked to be heading wide only for it to strike the foot of the post and roll into the net with Woods left stunned.
It should have been 2-0 on 42 minutes. Lewis Grabban broke through a weak challenge from left-back James Husband but his low, inviting cross evaded everyone.
Rovers pushed for an equaliser at the start of the second half. Stand-in captain Tommy Spurr just failed to get on the end of Cotterill’s free-kick, former Leeds striker Paynter hammered a long-range effort over the bar and Hume headed over from eight yards out.
James Harper was then just inches from picking up Brown’s clever knockdown in front of goal, but the ball was not running kindly for Rovers.
A tiring Cotterill was replaced by Syers with 20 minutes remaining, but Rovers could not break down a resilient visiting defence. Hume tried his luck from 25 yards, but his shot was easy pickings for James in the Cherries goal.
At the other end, it needed a terrific header from Spurr to deny Wes Thomas, who moments later saw his low drive hit the side-netting.
Doncaster Rovers: G Woods, Griffin, Quinn, Spurr, Husband, Harper, Clingan, Cotterill (Syers 69), Hume, Paynter (Blake 78), Brown. Unused substitutes: Martin Woods, Michael Woods, Wakefield, Keegan, Sullivan.
Bournemouth: James, Cook, Daniels, Elphick, Addison, Pugh, Arter, MacDonald, McQuoid (Thomas 71), Grabban (Fletcher 90), Barnard (Fogden 79). Unused substitutes: Jalal, McDermott, O’Kane, Tubbs.
Referee: D Bond (Lancs).