Fear and Loathing at the Keepmoat: Doncaster 1-0 Imps

Credit Graham Burrell

I can’t help but think about a whole host of other things as I write this article. I know we lost a game of football and fans of the site will be expecting the usual analysis and dissection, but I’m finding it hard.

Thanks to the calamitous way in which the impending lockdown has been announced, I spent most of yesterday’s game with one eye on Twitter, wondering how it might affect us, as a club, and of course Fe, Charlie and I as a household. My Dad was due last night, could he come over? What about my trip to see my brother next week and give my nephew a gift for passing hid 11+? Can I do that? I had hoped to join the media team for Match Day Live at Sincil Bank over November as well, could that happen? With my birthday coming up as well, I hoped to go for a meal with five other members of my family, but I guess that’s up the swanny now as well.

You will all have your problems and worries around the lockdown. I heard a blog reader’s father is currently in hospital with the virus, and I wish him a speedy recovery. These are challenging times, for each and every one of us, but please remember this: someone’s always better off than you, and someone is always worse off. The time to be kind is now, the time to debate and be divisive is when the handling of this pandemic is analysed once it is over. One day, it will be over.

I guess the news of a 4 pm announcement (contempt for football fans again) really disrupted everything pre-match, then as it moved towards 7 pm it just dragged out the inevitable. It was hard to watch the game of football without other things on our mind. What made it even worse was seeing the video of the 617 boys during Match Day Live too. For the first time since March, I felt sick at what we were missing. This ‘life’ we have now, masks, restrictions, fear, it is pure George Orwell. Watching block 7, upper and lower, bouncing to their own rhythm, made me misty-eyed for the past. Hearing the entire Coop joining in, seeing just how good it was, I’ll be honesty (and you can call me what you want) I wanted to cry. I don’t do crying, not for much at all (unless I step on a plug or pull out a nose hair with roots like a tree), but as the VT ran yesterday, with the imminent spectre of restrictions hanging over us like the ghost of 2020 past, I could have cried. I didn’t though, I’m a pro.

Credit Graham Burrell

In the middle of all this was a football match against the best team I have seen us play this season. Pre-match, we heard from 18Dapper and he told us how losing the likes of Tulloch, Gomes and John-Jules to injury hadn’t been a reason for them not winning games. As I watched Okenabirhie fail to get on the end of at least two clear-cut chances early doors, I wondered if he might have been wrong. Look, I spend a lot of time talking about Lincoln but yesterday, I owe it to Doncaster to talk about them. In midweek, we blew Crewe away and David Artell suggested it was them being poor which made us look good. I know we didn’t help ourselves yesterday, but credit where it is due, Donny are a good side.

I may have underestimated Darren Moore on the podcast. His side were superbly organised and found a way to counteract our approach with a high press and fast-paced harassing. They balanced that by being steadier when they had possession, so their energy was spent chasing us and they seemed to conserve it on the ball. I know it led Michael and Thommo to mention they looked slow in the build-up, but it was part of the plan I think. We break quickly, but we were forced into making bad decisions. How many times did McGrandles, Edun, even Eyoma and Montsma, give the ball away? A fair few, because they were closed down in packs, twos and even threes, shutting off any option. It doesn’t matter if Harry Anderson is on for a thirty-yard switch pass if the view is restricted by some very talented midfielders.

Both sides had chances, theirs were perhaps better than ours. I thought it was an engrossing first half in which we defended well against their slow build-up, but they throttled our quicker approach, suffocating us on the ball. Dare I say, for the first time this season, their midfield was better than ours. Ben Whiteman is a hell of a player and his work ethics was undeniable. He had plenty of say in the first half, before the goal that ended up winning his side the game.

Credit Graham Burrell

For us, I might get shot down here, but I thought Tom Hopper was probably one of the better players in black and red. He worked really hard all game, dropping back to defend as well as running channels and dropping out wide. The only problem it caused was that vacuum up front, which became evident later in the game. He played the lone striker role well, apart from not popping up in the areas where you want to lone striker to be. That might sound like he didn’t do his job, but he did 95% of it. The 5% we might have needed, he couldn’t do, but to be fair given how choked the 18-yard area was whenever we did break, it isn’t a surprise. The big chance came from Brennan Johnson’s shot, palmed away by their keeper. It went behind Anderson, but Hopper hadn’t got himself into the area after getting back to defend. Five yards further forward and he sidefoots into the net, but instead it was cleared as he arrived late. I’m not pulling him down too much here, his work rate is unreal, but when Callum Morton is back I can see him being used as much as Hops in a ‘horses for courses’ scenario. Some games we need a target man, others we don’t.

Shout out to the Doncaster defenders too, former Imp Tom Anderson and Joe Wright. They were never isolated against Johnson’s pace or Anderson’s power, due to hunting in packs and hard-working midfield. Johnson clearly terrified them, but the Forest man was marshalled very well. In truth, this Doncaster side reminded me an awful lot of us. They were functional, organised, stuck to their plan and after they got their goal, happy to keep it tight at win 1-0.

What a goal it was though. I know they say things like ‘you don’t stop those’, and from Alex Palmer’s point of view, you don’t, but the midfielders might be disappointed not to have got in front of the shot. I’m not being critical here, it was a wonder strike, but there is always something you could do better. I don’t doubt Michael will look at it today and have some suggestions, developmental ones of course, ahead of Pompey. If you watch the replay, Jorge Grant might feel he should have blocked the shot. Again, that’s not me calling Grant out, but it is the sort of thing a dilligent manager might pick up on and discuss on Monday.

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