Doncaster Rovers 0 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 13th August 2011
by Gordon Thrower

Three points on the road? You’ll be telling me that we’re the best test cricketing nation in the world next.

It was a pleasant drive North in which the Gnomemobile encountered an unusual meteorological phenomenon in that in a strange reversal of the usual state of affairs, the weather actually seemed to improve as the latitude increased. So much so that, whilst it wasn't exactly all blue skies, it was pleasantly warm by the time the usual suspects met up for pre-match cocktails.

A brisk walk to the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the town found the four-year old stadium plonked in the middle of "logistical distribution centres" (or warehouses as we used to call them) and a plumbers' merchants.

The team news was that Linda had not been considered for selection, the boss being of the opinion that he, like Carew, was not yet fit enough. The one change from the eleven that started v Cardiff came on the right side of midfield where Collison was preferred to Sears giving us a line-up of Green, O'Brien, Ilunga, Tomkins, Reid, Collison, Noble, Parker, Taylor, Nolan and Piquionne.

It was a decent start. At matches I receive numerous text messages asking for score updates from people who are unable to get near a TV or, more usually, from those fashion victims who find that sending texts is about the only thing their iPhones can handle. We scored exactly as one such text was received with five minutes or so played.

Tomkins found the Rovers midfield had all found something better to do than stop him bringing the ball out of defence. Tomkins laid the ball off to Collison on the right. Collison's deep angled cross had Piquionne and Nolan running in on parallel tracks. The ball was too high for Piquionne but Nolan was not put off and connected on the stretch, the ball hitting the roof of the net.

Nolan could have doubled the lead on 18 minutes. Piquionne played the ball to the left where Nolan spotted Woods perhaps slightly too far off his line than would be normally considered wise for a 'keeper. Nolan's first time effort had the 'keeper stretching and he appeared to get the slightest of touches on the ball. If that was the case the touch was probably decisive as Nolan's shot came back off the bar to safety.

Doncaster at this point had that "startled rabbit in headlights" look about them. The goal had hit their confidence and, although it was to their credit that they tried to pass it around, the inexperience caused by an injury list longer than the case list at a London Magistrates Court meant that every fifth pass or so tended to go astray.

Unfortunately we didn't really show many signs of wanting to push home the advantage. We forced a number of corners but these seemed to be played either to shallow or too deep, in the latter case Tomkins being the target struggling to keep the ball live or get an effort in on target.

Of course our failure to capitalize on periods of dominance is something that has cost us big time in the past. If it's a lesson that has been drummed into the players it's not one that appears to be sticking, particularly in the case of Herita Ilunga. This being the holiday season there may be some who missed the error that the left-back made to hand the three points to Cardiff last week. So, with 25 played, the Congolese defender thoughtfully recreated the moment for the travelling support, getting caught in possession once more. This time thankfully teammates were on hand to ensure that there was no repeat of the goal that gave Cardiff all three points, though the old-fashioned look that Reid gave Cheri spoke volumes.

Half Time: Doncaster Rovers 0 West Ham United 1

There's always an element of "time warp" about trips up north. This was heightened by the announcer's use of the Lightning Seeds' "Life Of Riley" as a bed for the half time scores, something that the even the BBC got fed up with years ago. The home support had been remarkably taciturn over the first 45 minutes, something that the announcer seemed to take as a personal affront. His exhortation to supporters up the volume levels went largely unacknowledged though.

The second half started with Nolan nearly getting on to a ball from the back only for the midfielder to be hauled to the ground by Naylor in one of those challenges that referees have unilaterally decided only constitute a foul if they occur outside the box. This point was underlined when Brown perpetrated an identical foul on Tomkins less than a minute later, the centre spot being deemed safe territory for the awarding of a free kick.

The second half was largely a patchy affair. Ilunga was by now giving extra cause for concern - for the bizarre reason that he seemed incapable of sending across a legal throw. Twice he committed the twin offences of overstepping the line and lifting his back foot. Twice he got away with it. As a third throw was awarded the ref decided to warn Cheri about the problem which rather begged the question: if the officials knew he was transgressing why not pull him up on it?

Doncaster were beginning to play with a little more confidence - as if someone had pointed out that a) it was West Ham they were playing rather than Barcelona, and b) that West Ham's away record is slightly less impressive than that of Barcelona. The defence was, by and large resolute. O'Brien was putting in a quiet but effective shift whilst Tomkins was looking assured.

Even Reid was displaying a degree of confidence that few who saw his performances in the Premier League would have though him capable of. Reid was the innocent party as the ref put pen to card for the first time. Brown came in late on the defender leaving him on the ground. It was the second such foul committed by Brown, a fact the ref reminded him of by pointing to the scene of the first offence before issuing the caution.

A few minutes later we should have had the first substitution. However the introduction of Cole for Piquionne was delayed for a few moments as Carlton made the tricky choice of shirts from the selection in front of him. There was a tricky moment whilst the coaching staff suggested that the shirt marked "Faye 15" wasn't really him. After a brief spot of confusion while they worked out whether they had a "Cole 9" in his size he eventually replaced Piquionne.

The introduction of Cole freshened things up a bit and he kept a wide Taylor header alive, his cross being headed wide for a corner. Taylor found Tomkins with the corner but headed straight at the 'keeper. O'Brien then got fouled in good territory. The resulting free kick was played in to Nolan who controlled well, turned superbly and played in a lob that Woods did well to turn over.

The home side were beginning to come into the game a bit more. Parker got caught in possession and for a bit it looked as if we might be outnumbered as Coppinger went forward. However, the player's cross eluded his team mates and although the ball fell eventually to Barnes his shot cleared the crossbar by a country mile.

Up the other end Reid's ball out from the back eluded the Rovers defence and Cole bore down on goal. However he was a little wide when he got the shot in and although the effort had power it lacked direction and the bulge in the side netting was from outside rather than within.

With 18 left Sears replaced Collison but the first action subsequent to the substitution was a chance for Rovers. Dumbuya got down the right and sent in a perfect cross for Coppinger whose glancing header was too close for comfort with Green stranded. Coppinger then crossed for Gillett who was allowed to turn and get a shot in, Green beating the ball round his near post to preserve the lead.

With four minutes of normal time left Stanislas replaced Ilunga, prompting Taylor to drop back into the back four. Doncaster pushed forward with intent over the closing period but the back four remained resolute and after three minutes of added time plus one for luck following treatment for Tomkins during stoppage the three points were in the bag, leaving me to venture even further North where a selection of real ales in the company of some old friends awaited me once the Gnomemobile had been parked up for the night.

Full time: Doncaster Rovers 0 West Ham United 1

Though "professional" this was not the greatest of performances, it has to be said. The home side appeared to lack confidence in the first half and I thought that we seemed strangely reluctant to take the game to them. Another goal in the first 45 would have made the Rovers half time team talk that much more difficult and the final result would have been much more comfortable as a result.

At the end we were, well not exactly hanging on, but we were one slip from coming away with a reduced return. Our opponents will need to get the dozen or so players they are missing back as soon as possible - and even then I fear that they may be in for a long winter. This would be a shame as they do at least try to play the game in the right way.

Still given our tendency to not so much win as lose when we are away from the Boleyn (a trait noted in the rather cruel "how **** must you be" chant directed at the home team), three points are not to be sniffed at and not holding on to a lead is one of the old ways I'm happy to see the end of. The real ales of Knaresborough were also of a marvellous quality you'll be pleased to know as a brief trip down memory lane provided me with the pleasing omen that the last time we played Doncaster away was in 1958 - we got promoted that year. Same again please.

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Not overly tested but equal to the job when called upon - one decent save required and made.

Joey O Brien
Already looks to be a shrewd addition. Got on with it and madesome telling interceptions when required.

Herita Ilunga
On the showing of the two matches so far he looks to be a weak link. Some occasional good defensive work is all too often undone by lapses of the sort we saw against Cardiff. Distribution also leaves much to be desired and the arrival of McCartney is likely to see future outings limited.

James Tomkins
An assured performance from one who now seems to have adopted the "senior partner" role in the centre of defence. Seems to be working well with Reid at the moment and a decent partnership in the back four is a must.

Winston Reid
Anyone who witnessed his accident-prone outings of last season could be forgiven for thinking that we have a completely different player on board. Dare I say it that the partnership with Tomkins has a spot of the 'Anton and Elliots' about it.

Mark Noble
A busy 90 for the midfielder in a performance much improved from last week.

Scott Parker
Understandably perhaps given the constant speculation over his future, his mind doesn't quite seem to be on the task in hand. Some spells of good work were undone by some wayward passing. The sooner his future gets sorted out one way or another the better for all concerned.

Kevin Nolan
After last week when he seemed to vanish in the second half this was a much better outing. Bossed midfield and was our biggest goal threat. MOTM.

Matthew Taylor
A few good touches but not nearly as influential as in the first match.

Jack Collison
Looked a little tired towards the end but had played well up to his replacement. Fine cross for the goal.

Frederic Piquionne
A few good touches but not nearly as influential as in the first match.


Carlton Cole
(Replaced Piquionne, 62 mins) Not convinced by him as a winger but he did show some pace, which was a different set of problems for Rovers midfield to think about.

Fred Sears
(Replaced Collison, 82 mins) Not convinced by him as a winger but he did show some pace, which was a different set of problems for Rovers midfield to think about.

Junior Stanislas
(Replaced Sears, 82 mins) Not convinced by him as a winger but he did show some pace, which was a different set of problems for Rovers midfield to think about.

Ruud Boffin
Did not play.

Abdoulaye Faye
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Joey O Brien, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Scott Parker, Kevin Nolan, Matthew Taylor, Jack Collison, Frederic Piquionne.

Goals: Kevin Nolan 5                  .

Booked: Carlton Cole 85          .

Sent off: None.

Doncaster Rovers: Gary Woods, Mustapha Dumbuya, Richard Naylor, George Friend, Tommy Spurr, James Coppinger, Simon Gillett, John Oster, Kyle Bennett, Chris Brown, Giles Barnes .

Subs not used: Neil Sullivan, Oscar Radford.

Goals: None.

Booked: Chris Brown (57).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Scott Mathieson.

Attendance: 11,344.

Man of the Match: Kevin Nolan.