Darren Moore is happy to see Doncaster Rovers grind out victory
Considering it was a game between two sides who like to get the ball down and play, Doncaster Rovers’ 1-0 win over Rochdale was far from the most entertaining you will ever see. For the manager of a young team, though, it was a delight to watch.
It was cold and the rain was unrelenting. Yet to replace departed captain Ben Whiteman in the transfer window, Doncaster were missing key players through injury and suspension, some are not long back from Covid-19, and they had Joe Wright come on for an injury-time firefighting role when Moore admitted he ought not to have played.
“It’s a little line I did cross,” he conceded.
A match ticked off rather than dominated, a game of grit rather than sparkle, it had all the hallmarks of a fabulous win. It is, as Moore quite rightly pointed out, something Doncaster may have to make a habit of in this slog of a season.
With 11 of their 18-man squad under the age of 23 and many on loan from top academies, Rovers are probably not supposed to be able to play this way, grinding out victory, but they took the lead through Jon Taylor after an uneventful first half-hour and made sure the last 60 minutes were not much to write home about either.
Rovers remain three points behind new League One leaders Hull City, with two games in hand.
“Tom Anderson and Butts (Andy Butler) are really singing their praises,” said Moore. “It epitomises the squad in terms of what they’ve done mentally.
“It’s not just all about putting your foot on the ball and playing.
“There’s more games like that to come. We’ve not really been able to play much on the training ground and with the medical restrictions so I really have to give the players credit. It had to be a together performance. We had to go and get it, it was never going to be given to us.”
When a mini-scuffle broke out in the 83rd minute, a foul by full league debutant Anthony Greaves resulting in a booking for Kwadwo Baah, it was good to see a little life in a game which had been far too sheepish.
It got better from there on, with Greaves and Tom Anderson heroically defending the clean sheet but Doncaster did enough, claiming three invaluable points.
Rochdale play a pleasing but too often inoffensive brand of football and in the opening stages Doncaster were lured into a very polite game, both sides happy to stand off whilst the team in possession stroked the ball around.
It was all a little too tepid until Smith, playing alongside Greaves as one of the midfield pivots, decided to go a bit direct, hitting a diagonal pass from the left-back position which right-back Brad Halliday headed back from the byline beyond the far post. Taylor latched onto it to open the scoring after 32 minutes.
Jason Lokilo surprisingly came on for Taylor after the hour but although he was able to add a bit of oomph, it amounted to little beyond one beautiful touch to bring down an Andy Butler ball and what was inches away from being a wonderful through-ball to Feijiri Okenabirhie.
Inevitably, Rochdale had some glimmers in the final quarter but the first was wasted, the last two strangled at birth.
When Halliday pulled Baah back in the 77th minute, Aaron Morley sent over a free-kick which deserved much more than Stephen Humphrys’ header way over the bar. An excellent run from Baah nine minutes later was ended in typical Anderson fashion, the new captain throwing himself in the way of the shot.
Greaves had made a very good impression in the centre of midfield with the hunger he went showed hunting for the ball as well as his quality on it but it was his undoing after a foul on the edge of the area three minutes into stoppage time. He redeemed himself with a last-ditch tackle as Humphrys’ shot hit the wall but broke through it.
The team generally and Greaves in particular will have learnt a lot.
“Sometimes you’re not going to get a free-flowing game even though both teams wanted to play football, so there is another way of winning games,” said Moore.
“AJ can feel really pleased with his performance.”
He added: “I was looking at taking him off.
“Matt Smith hadn’t played a lot of games (after recovering from Covid-19) and when we got to the 60-minute mark I thought goodness me but I got messages to him and he said he was okay.
“He was just starting to cramp up at the end.”
Doncaster Rovers: Balcombe; Halliday, Anderson, Butler, John; Smith, Greaves; Taylor (Lokilo 62), Richards (Williams 62), Simoes (Amos 89); Okenabirhie (Wright 90). Unused substitutes: Jones, Horton, Blythe.
Rochdale: Bazunu; McLaughlin, Roberts, Morley, Keohane; Dooley, Lund, Rathbone, Baah; Humphrys, Beesley (Newby 54). Unused substitutes: Lynch, Done, Tavares, Hopper, Brierley, Dunne.
Referee: S Stockbridge (Tyne and Wear).
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