It’s been a tough few days in terms of results, made even more frustrating when you consider we have perhaps played better in the 180 minutes than we did in 90% of our matches last season.
By ‘played better’ I mean passing football, bettering the opposition in terms of possession and xG and generally pleasing fans who have paid to watch. However, Danny seems to believe that you only play well when you win, an angle it’s hard to disagree with. You can play all the nice football you want, but if you don’t win matches then it’s all for nothing. Ask Forest Green Rovers how their ‘nice football’ has worked out for them.
Before we get on to that, let’s look at today’s game as a one-off contest. I said before I felt it was a game that we could get something from and I stand by that. Oddly, we kept the same side as the one that lost at MK Dons. On that occasion we changed a winning side, on this occasion we didn’t change a losing side. That said, we were excellent against MK and perhaps could have (should have) taken something from the game.
In the early exchanges of this encounter, I felt we might be about to rectify the mistakes from Tuesday night. We certainly rectified one; we started well.
A bad start cost us the other night, but that wasn’t the case here. I sense a little dissatisfaction at Doncaster, certainly in those opening stages. One or two of their fans felt Kazaiah Sterling should have started, they felt the team wasn’t as strong as it could be. It might have worked to our advantage but it also underlines the depth you need at this level; how many of our subs could seriously stake a claim for a start? Two? Three at best?
That wasn’t a worry early on though, we maintained good possession against a team that were only beaten twice at home all last season. With just six minutes on the clock we had a definite penalty shout. I’m not going to spend my time bemoaning referees, but Jorge Grant was clearly fouled in the area and we got a free kick on the edge of it. Replays show, 100%, that the contact was in the area. We’re not victims, that’s what the manager says, but on that occasion we were. No doubt.
It cost us majorly because with their next attack, Doncaster scored. The goal came from nothing, no complaints from me about the defending. Okay, maybe someone could have done something better a some stage, but that’s football isn’t it? There wasn’t a mistake, not a clear error but the Wolves loanee Ennis just smashed a quality goal into the net. Josh was left standing and against the early run of play it was 1-0.
I know we didn’t play badly but for a while after that, I felt we looked to offer the opposition a bit of respect. They’ve got a decent squad but I didn’t think they looked a real threat and, pound for pound, I think our XI was better than theirs. We looked to create, we were more probing in possession but we lacked that killer edge. If anything, I thought we looked like Forest Green did at our place last season.
Some are blaming the formation, easy to hide behind ‘4-2-3-1 leaves the forward isolated’ when you’re losing, but it shouldn’t if those wide players get forward enough. Grant, in particular, was having a decent game though, so it’s not the ‘fault’ of anyone. Doncaster were actually marshalling Tyler well, sticking to him like faeces seems to stick to my Shih Tzu’s rear when I’ve been feeding him scraps my from plate. Scraps were all Tyler Walker had to feed on in that period too, but not for the want of trying.
Doncaster soaked up the pressure and looked a threat on the break; Ennis is clearly a boy with a decent future ahead of him and Alfie May, a player I wasn’t too concerned about, tested Vickers twice. As the half wore on though, we crept slowly back into the game. Afterwards, Danny said he felt we’d reacted badly to the goal and I have to agree; it was as if them scoring a lovely effort made us fear them.
By the time the whistle blew though it was all positive vibes for me. Jack Payne looked busy and the more Grant and Walker saw the ball, the more I felt we were in with a chance of getting level. There was a penalty shout on Walker before the break but, if I’m honest, I think he went down very easily. We’ve already had a couple of penalties this season but we saw last year, if you claim too many eventually referees get wise.
It sticks in my mind from Port Vale away when Huxtable waved away two strong penalty shouts, stonewall penalty shouts, which I feel is a direct reaction to us looking for too many. I’m not criticising Walker, not after another strong outing, but we must try to stay on our feet more.
I had no concerns at half time, I felt we had a goal in us. I was right.
After a tentative ten minutes in which neither side impressed, Tyler Walker created a goal for Jorge Grant. Walker is a double threat; he’s a scorer but he can create. His delicious cross was gobbled up by Grant, who I thought looked as good today as at any time I’ve seen him. At 1-1, just as with the MK game, I felt there had to be one winner.
That notion was reinforced the more we played. Joe Morrell, another who caught the eye today, was a driving force and not only won a free kick, but looped it into the hands of their stopper, Ian Lawlor. I thought a couple of our free kicks could have been better; Grant, Morrell and Payne all had a go and didn’t truly test the keeper. Neal Eardley must be eager to show the young lads how it’s done.
Jon Taylor came on for the hosts but he didn’t change the game immediately. We looked much more comfortable on the ball and much more likely to score, but without the number of chances we created at MK Dons. Doncaster had done their homework and when Big John came on to add a different dimension to the attack we still weren’t able to change our fortunes.
Going into the last ten minutes it felt as though we were at least going to get a credible draw. I’m sure Danny wouldn’t have been happy if we had, but it would have been no less than we deserved. Then, as Bruno Andrade weaved his way into the box, we were denied a third penalty of the season.
He jinxed past Cameron John, despite being fouled, then was brought to the ground inside the area. The ref blew for the original free kick, despite having played the advantage. I know Danny was unhappy and it certainly seems it should have been a penalty, but the referee does have a get out. Having checked on a popular football laws site, the ref can blow for the first foul if he deems it more serious than the second.
The site is quoted as saying: If the Referee allows advantage, and lets play continue – if a second offence is committed by a player of the offending team during the time the Referee is allowing for the development of the anticipated advantage, then the Referee must sanction the more serious of the two offences.
I still think it was a penalty.
Within minutes of us wasting the free kick, Doncaster won it. There is no doubting their quality and as Jack Payne lost possession in a dangerous area, Kazaiah Sterling, on as a sub, had an effort at goal saved, but then found Jon Taylor who poked home. Two subs on and contributing to the goal, an indication of the depth we require and, arguably, don’t have.
As in the game with MK we did have a late chance to snatch a point, a John Akinde header from close range went over after the fourth official held up the board, a chance that could have got us what we deserve. It wasn’t to be and for the second time in a week, we’ve come away from a game we’ve been the better in without a point.
I’ve seen a mixture of reaction, heard plenty too. Danny doesn’t want us to be victims and feels the squad is light. Some supporters think we played ok, others are unhappy that Walker looks isolated. Me? I just don’t like losing. I’d be unhappy if we had been beaten and not created chances, or if we’d been under the cosh for ninety minutes and dominated by a better side, but I can see the foundations of a strong, stable League One side being built. These players have had six matches together, winning four of them. They’re adjusting to a new style and a new level and are matching every one we play. It’s funny how perception is altered by a result; I’d say we played better today than we did at Rotherham, but a win made that a great away performance. A defeat makes this feel like a tough afternoon.
There isn’t an element of panic from me. We know what we need; depth and a little more substance to our side. Claiming we’ve lost because Cian Bolger wasn’t playing is utter madness, no matter how much I like Bolger. Suggesting we change the approach to become uglier is bizarre too; the same supporters were probably saying winning the league with a more robust setup wasn’t enough because we didn’t entertain.
No, the only negative from me today is that we lost. No overreaction, no statements believing I know better. In this day and age, everyone says something because they feel they have to; they pick fault because they can, point to what could change because social media demands it. That, in turn, highlights problems that just aren’t there. Sometimes, you lose football matches. Sometimes, you win football, matches. At the moment, I believe we’ll win more than we lose and if every five games brings two defeats and three wins, we’d end up in the top six.
I hate the saying ‘we go again’ but the truth is this; we go again. We correct what the manager thinks was wrong on the training ground and turn up in numbers, again, to support a strong League One side. There isn’t a reason to panic, no reason to be glum or looking for fault. This is a work in progress and nobody had the right to call the Sistine chapel ceiling shit after Michelangelo had only slapped on a bit of undercoat.