‘AFTER the Lord Mayor’s Show….’ has become an accepted part of football lexicon down the years, the words often being trotted out by a manager when warning his team not to let standards slip in the immediate wake of a glamour Cup tie.
On Sunday, Doncaster Rovers turned this much-used proverb on its head by supplying the contents for said dustcart before the week’s main attraction of a trip to Arsenal rather than after it.
Ahead of taking a 5,000 strong travelling army of fans to one of Europe’s great stadia on Wednesday night, Rovers slipped to a fourth defeat in five league outings via a largely listless display.
Lee Novak’s tenth minute header was enough to send Scunthorpe United back along the M18 in elated mood and Darren Ferguson’s men could have few complaints at being left empty-handed once again.
Okay, John Marquis did strike the post for Doncaster early in the second half. Andy Williams also fired narrowly over during what was comfortably the home side’s best spell of the game.
But the Iron, a much more polished outfit over the 90 minutes with Neal Bishop epitomising their composed efforts in midfield, were full value for the points on an afternoon when the Yorkshire club committed far too many basic errors.
Be it a misplaced pass or simply taking the wrong option when occupying an even remotely promising position, if it could go wrong for Rovers then it did go wrong.
It was no wonder the final whistle was greeted by jeers from some in the 9,227 crowd and there will have to be a big improvement on Wednesday night if the club’s first visit to Arsenal in a little under 20 years is not to end badly.
“A disappointing day for us and a disappointing day for the fans because no-one likes to lose derby matches,” said manager Ferguson. “The word I keep drumming into the players is ‘concentration’, be it when defending a set-piece or when trying to take clear, easy chances.
“It is what is costing us at the moment. We have to find a way of winning these games because fine lines are costing us.”
In a game put back 24 hours to avoid a clash with Doncaster’s famous St Leger, barring that brief spell just after the interval when Marquis and Williams went close the home side simply weren’t at the races.
Unlike a visiting side packed full of experience and knowhow, Rovers lacked cohesion with some in red and white even reduced to having a go at each other when a pass went astray or the simplest of tasks proved a step too far.
It didn’t make for pretty viewing. Nor, it should be said, did the defending that allowed Scunthorpe to claim what proved to be the only goal of the game.
Novak, the former Huddersfield Town striker, capitalised on some flat-footed defending from a Josh Morris corner to rise unchallenged and power a header beyond Ian Lawlor.
The best Rovers could muster in response during the first half was a jinking run from Tommy Rowe that left two defenders trailing in his wake.
His drilled cross, though, was not only too strong for Williams but also at an awkward height, meaning the striker could only divert the ball wide with his knee.
Rovers came out after the interval initially looking like a side determined to put right those lacklustre opening 45 minutes.
Marquis fired against a post, moments before Williams was played clear of the Iron defence only to shoot over.
Those two efforts proved to be the highpoint of the afternoon for Rovers, who continued to push for an equaliser but rarely looked like breaching a defence led superbly by Rory McArdle.
Matty Blair fired over and Rowe had another effort blocked but, in truth, if the game was to get a second goal then it always looked like going to Graham Alexander’s well-drilled outfit.
Murray Wallace came closest, his effort crashing against the crossbar, while Morris also had a free-kick touched over by Lawlor during those closing stages as Rovers put in a performance that was far from the ideal preparation for Wednesday’s Cup assignment in north London.
“I will be glad when the game is out of the way,” said Ferguson when asked about the trip to Arsenal. “From the moment we got the draw, we said, ‘That is a bonus and we can make the club a few quid’.
“We have had four games since the draw and obviously not won any. I don’t believe it (the Arsenal tie) has been affecting us but after eight games we have not collected enough points.
“It is as clear as day why, because in five of those games we haven’t scored.
“So, that is something we need to address. We need to show better quality in the last third of the pitch.”
Doncaster Rovers: Lawlor; Blair, Wright, Butler, Mason; Whiteman; Kongolo, Rowe; Coppinger; Marquis (Mandeville 75), Williams (May 59). Unused substitutes: Marosi, Alcock, Garratt, Toffolo, Ben Khemis.
Scunthorpe United: Gilks; Clarke, McArdle, Wallace, Townsend; Holmes (Mantom 70), Ojo (Burgess 90), Bishop, Morris; Novak, Madden (Hopper 75). Unused substitutes: Watson, van Veen, Adelakun, Sutton.