Doncaster Rovers 2 Portsmouth 1 - Rookie boss enjoys winning start to new Rovers era

AFTER the dramatic events of St David’s Day which saw their manager leave on Monday, Doncaster Rovers had their own version of St Andrew’s Day a day later.

Doncaster's players celebrate Fejiri Okenabirhie's goal. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX LTD
Doncaster's players celebrate Fejiri Okenabirhie's goal. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX LTD

New Rovers chief Andy Butler has had some proud moments in his career in football and this will have been right up there.

Fellow supporters of his hometown club were sadly missing –although they would have been watching Butler back from their living rooms across Doncaster and willing on one of their own, entrusted with the reins for the rest of the season at least.

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Following a difficult start to the week, this was the development that everyone connected with the club will have been hankering for and will cherish.

Not many rookies are handed a job with their side sixth in the table, but that did not tell half the story for Butler and Rovers.

Heading into the game on a five-match run without a win – and with Darren Moore now gone – this represents a critical juncture in the season for Doncaster, who have got into an unwelcome habit of dropping points to a number of top-six rivals of late.

Here Rovers, Butler’s Rovers, provided an answer on a night when rivals lost.

The hosts exhibited style in the first half, headlined by a picture-book moment on 12 minutes from Reece James, whose seventh goal of the campaign owed plenty to a wonderful spotters’ badge of a pass from John Bostock, who was comfortably the best player on the field in the first period.

James produced another vital moment right at the death shortly after ex-Rovers striker John Marquis pulled a goal back with a heroic block preventing Pompey levelling with the last action of the game.

It will have been something duly noted by the centre-half in Butler, on a night when his players showed total commitment.

In the second half, Rovers were on the back foot more and had to dig in. Fortified by a blistering strike midway through the half from Fejiri Okenabirhie, which hurtled into the net from the narrowest of angles, the hosts made the most of that moment.

It’s importance was magnified by Marquis’s strike at the death.

Rovers, to quote a phrase, are in good hands with the only downer coming when winger Jon Taylor hobbled off midway through the first half after coming off second best in a challenge with Sean Raggett.

It was a big night for Balby lad Butler and also for his fellow Doncastrian Louis Jones, with the young goalkeeper – who hails from Thorne – handed a league debut at the expense of loanee Ellery Balcombe in the first bold call from his manager.

Aside from almost picking the ball out of the back of his net inside 20 seconds when Ronan Curtis saw his shot drift inches wide, Jones did not have a great deal to worry about in the first half and could probably admire some of the stuff in front of him.

It was a joy to watch at times in a half when Bostock conducted the orchestra for spells and set the tempo, with Coppinger being an able accomplice.

Making his first start since mid-December in another big selection call from Butler, Coppinger’s lovely chip picked out Brad Halliday early on with his cross-shot just a whisker away.

But it was Bostock whose gem of a pass led to the breakthrough.

Bostock’s vision to pick out James for Rovers’ goal was the sort of quality was the sort of delectable offering that you rarely see at League One level and fittingly, it was accompanied by a cool, nerveless finish from James.

Despite having a mini-spell of pressure ahead of the break, it was a half which Rovers controlled in a fluid show from the hosts between both boxes.

At the back, Jones was largely protected well, although Jack Whatmough ballooned one decent effort over when the hosts failed to clear their lines and Raggett glancing a header just wide before the break.

It was a warning to Rovers and there was further cause for attention after Marquis came on at the start of the second half in a double change from Pompey, who switched to a back four after employing a three-man backline with wing-backs at the start.

Tactically, it represented a first significant test for Butler and the changes perked up Pompey, who went close when Harvey White’s fierce strike flew narrowly over and Marquis just fired to convert Whatmough’s cross.

Butler mulled over changes with the visitors starting to dictate and was then forced into one with Sims making way and Bostock also sacrificed after tiring.

Okenabirhie provided some breathing space and despite a late scare, the hosts secured a big win in the context of their season.

Doncaster Rovers: Jones; Halliday, Wright, Anderson, James; Smith, Bostock (Robertson 64); Taylor (Okenabirhie 28), Coppinger (Richards 76), Sims (Lokilo 63); Bogle. Substitutes unused: Balcombe, John, Greaves.

Portsmouth: MacGillivray; Whatmough, Raggett, Nicolaisen; Mnoga (Marquis 45), Daniels (Brown 71), Naylor, White, Harness; Curtis (Cannon 45), Harrison (Hiwula 76). Substitutes unused: Ward, Williams, Byers.

Referee: R Joyce (Cleveland).

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