Sunday, 25 September 2022

Doncaster Rovers 4-1 Crawley Town

Doncaster Rovers 4-1 Crawley Town
Sky Bet League Two
Saturday 24th September 2022

There’s been a whole heap of needless negativity surrounding Doncaster Rovers over the past week so this emphatic win over Crawley Town - the biggest in Gary McSheffrey’s managerial reign to date - ought to silence a few critics.

Booed off after losing 1-0 to Swindon Town last week, there’s been plenty of squawking for McSheffrey to be sacked, despite the fact Rovers still went into this game in the top half of the table having played most of the teams above them so far (thus harder games) and having had several injuries.

It was ultimately a comfortable win and a switch to a 4-4-2 formation certainly worked wonders.

Rovers had more possession and territory during a first half in which they were mostly on top albeit without threatening the imposing Crawley ‘keeper, whereas the Sussex side were happy to soak up pressure, play long diagonal balls and attack the full-backs in their bid to get some points to hoist themselves away from the danger zone.

Level after 40 minutes, Joseph Olowu’s header put Rovers ahead (cue goal music by The Kungs) only for it to be very quickly wiped out two minutes later as James Tilley was allowed time and space to drill home an equaliser from the edge of the box.

The second half saw DRFC fully crank up the pressure and after a Crawley defender was correctly penalised for handball, George Miller bagged the first of his two goals with a well-placed spot-kick which was far enough into the corner to beat Corey Addai who dived the right way.

The decisive period which every game has then unfolded as Crawley missed a sitter to make it 2-2 only for Rovers to go down the other end and score in flukey fashion as Miller initially got in the way of Kieran Agard’s shot, yet in doing so he inadvertently flicked the ball through for himself to smash it home for 3-1.

And those unlucky moments always seem to go against you when you’re down at the bottom!

Kyle Hurst then underlined his quality with a goal that everyone will remember for years to come as he picked up the ball inside his own half and beat one, two and then three players - including Crawley’s No.5 who looked like a dead donkey as he was easily beaten for pace, before slotting home. Hurst was blowing himself afterwards as he ran towards his family and friends to celebrate but it was a good goal, a likely goal of the season winner, and everyone appreciated it. As a player that’s the kind of memories you want to create for people and it’s a far cry from the start of this year when he was playing non-league football for Alvechurch and probably quite worried about the direction of where his career might be going. 

Right now, it’s certainly on the up!

Crawley’s directors looked very glum at the full-time whistle and they now languish in 22nd position in League Two - above only Rochdale and Hartlepool who, ironically, are Rovers’ next two opponents. 

It’s still not a crisis because we’re only in September (and the Red Devils actually showed some decent intentions in this game so hope isn’t completely lost) but in the panic-ridden world of professional football, it wouldn’t surprise me whatsoever if their owners dispense with Kevin Betsy as boss in the next few weeks.

Nevertheless, McSheffrey’s critics (of which there’s quite a few if we’re being honest) will no doubt spout ‘Why can’t we play like this every week’ or ‘Why haven’t we played this formation previously?’ after this victory. They’re entitled to their opinion but, ultimately, inconsistency is half to be expected because you’re not always going to win when fixtures are predominantly against top half teams - and that’s not to mention the recent injuries..

You have to be able to ride the rough with the smooth in football and the honest time to judge both McSheffrey and Rovers’ chances of promotion this year is at the halfway point of the campaign. By then, people will have a fair idea of where things are going, games against ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teams will have balanced out and a clearer picture will be available.

The owners at DRFC have stated they want promotion this season but have also long-spouted their intention to be 'self-sufficient' - and as a result of that philosophy, actually achieving a Play-Off spot would, in actual fact, be over-achieving. Those fans who have the bizarre belief that Rovers have a divine right to beat anyone and everyone at this level probably don’t want to let that fact get in the way of their persistent moaning though.

On the whole, even if Rovers just ‘tread water’ and finish mid-table without any threat of relegation, it would represent a step in the right direction and consolidation after the traumatic shambles that unfolded last season.

Realism and perspective is needed - irrespective of whatever happens in the next two games where people will now thoroughly expect two wins.

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Doncaster Rovers (U18s) 3-1 Scunthorpe United (U18s)

Doncaster Rovers (U18s) 3-1 Scunthorpe United (U18s)
EFL Youth Alliance
Saturday 24th September 2022

Two substitutions changed the course of this game as Doncaster Rovers scored three goals in the last quarter-of-an-hour to beat a decent Scunthorpe United outfit at Cantley Park.

Despite of the scoreline, it wasn't actually a great performance by DRFC.

Scunny were the better side for the first 75 minutes; they won the midfield battle and were difficult to break down - although they didn't muster up too much infront of goal either as Rovers' backline (who still haven't conceded a goal from open play this term) once again defended in an organised manner.

A stalemate looked inevitable until Max Adamson broke the deadlock when he latched onto a through ball, shrugged off a defender and finished in emphatic style.

Charlie Petch's glancing header from Will Green's set-piece soon made it 2-0, but any hopes that the visitors would just throw the towel in were unfounded and Harrison Poulter reduced arrears from the penalty spot to set up a tense final eight minutes.

However, Rovers settled things once and for all in the 86th minute; Jack Goodman tapping home from close-range to ensure three points which moves the lads back to the top of the North-East Youth Alliance table on goal difference ahead of Grimsby (who drew with Bradford) and Lincoln (who beat Huddersfield).

Also, by extending their unbeaten run to a sixth game, the result means this is the best start to a season by a Rovers U18s team since 2012/13 when the crop that included Harry Middleton, Mitchell Lund, Josh Meade and Lewis Ferguson, etc, went 10 games unbeaten from August until November.

Match Report

After last week’s win at Burton Albion which sent them top of the table for 24 hours, Rovers were full of confidence going into this game against opponents they did the 'double' over last year. 

Two changes to the starting line-up as Owen Scattergood was handed his first start of the season; preferred to Max Adamson in attack, whilst first-year Freddie Allen replaced Tom Parkinson at left-wing-back. Scunthorpe, meanwhile, were without first-year pro Harry Lewis who was red carded in last week's 5-1 hammering of Rotherham.

Wearing their all yellow away kit and after an evenly-contested and very uneventful first 15 minutes, it was the visitors who slowly began to play more searching balls and establish a stronger foothold.

Harrison Poulter, who spent time at DRFC in his academy days, looked eager and determined to prove a point - and he was involved in the game’s first big chance on 16 minutes when he cleverly dropped back just inside his own half and flicked the ball on for Tyrell Sellars-Fleming to run onto. His technique was equally as good as Poulter's as he weaved his way behind Jak Whiting and advanced into the box where he flashed a low effort across goal and wide of Rovers ‘keeper Jake Oram’s far post.

In their 4-4-2 formation, Scunthorpe continued to look brighter as the first half progressed.

Harry Elliott-Bell and Charley Strouther were good at full-back whilst Harvey Cribb and Josh Robertson complimented each other really well in midfield and won plenty of second balls. When they didn’t have possession, the Iron were happy to show some steel (easy pun to use) by maintaining their shape and just being difficult to break down. 

Rovers’ ball retention was loose at times anyway, and when they did have it, too often it was infront of Scunny or in their own half - making it really easy for the visitors to defend against. There wasn't that much which was either piercing or penetrative.

Just past the half-hour mark, Poulter forced a routine save out of Oram when he span away from Whiting on the edge of the box and hit a low drive goalwards and Strouther was also foiled when he tried his luck with a 25-yard free-kick which was on target albeit easy to save.

You couldn’t fault the Iron for their work-rate and they seemed to be the team who ‘wanted it’ more but they did look susceptible when Rovers could get the ball down and run at them. Allen showed good attacking intent on the left-hand side to twice beat his man with neat and tidy runs, and an opening was almost carved out down the right flank when Alex Fletcher brilliantly broke forward and worked his way into the box, only to see his intended cut-back from the byline intercepted.

Will Flint almost struck a pigeon in one of the trees with a speculative shot five minutes before half-time and, it sort of summed things up that as the first period drew to a close, Rovers still hadn’t forced a save from Iron ‘keeper Ewan Oxborough.

So it remained 0-0.

Scunny would have undoubtedly been much the happier team at this point and, for a large chunk of time after the re-start, there was a similar pattern to the game although Rovers looked even sturdier defensively which meant a 0-0 was starting to look quite possible.

It took until 64 minutes for another opening as Sellars-Fleming connected in acrobatic style to a cross although his attempt drifted harmlessly wide. Three minutes later, Elliott-Bell got a header on target following an excellent run and deep back-post cross by Robertson although Oram gathered the ball quite comfortably.

Rovers had started to play a few longer balls to see if they could find an opening, but each time they did, Finn Abraham and others in the Iron backline dealt with the danger efficiently. Abraham won all his headers and the Iron skipper (I think it was him; if not I've made him sound good) also produced a well-timed last-ditch challenge inside his own box to thwart Jack Goodman, just as he was about to unleash a shot, after Faris Khan worked the ball to him following a throw.

It was clear something needed to change and it was the substitutes who made the decisive impact.

Will Green replaced Allen at the same time Harry Wood came on for Jack Raper, then Max Adamson replaced Scattergood three minutes later, and it was Adamson who soon enhanced his reputation as he got the opener on 75 minutes.

In a goal not too dissimilar to his match-winner against Blackpool in the Youth Alliance Cup a month ago, Adamson latched onto Jack Goodman's flick on from a ball forward and in a one-on-one with a defender, used his strength to break away and get clean through. He maintained his composure and slammed his shot beyond the advancing ‘keeper and straight into the bottom corner. 1-0.

Scunthorpe looked deflated at this point because the goal was against the run of play. They had been the better team and, licking their wounds at having gone behind, they quickly conceded a corner from which they conceded again.

This time, another pinpoint set-piece by Green caused all the problems. His vicious in-swinger beyond the back-post area was knocked back across the six-yard box by Flint and Charlie Petch connected with the deftest of headers from just a couple of yards out to make it 2-0.

You might have thought at this point that the game was done and dusted but Scunny had other ideas.

Grayson Giles was hacked down by Harry Wood in a second ball challenge right on the edge of the box after a Scunny corner, and although Adamson bravely headed away Nat Wallace’s subsequent free-kick, Elliott-Bell managed to recycle play with a dangerous back-post ball where Fletcher clumsily collided with a stretching Robertson.

The referee pointed straight to the spot (and it was a penalty inmy opinion) and, despite a few appeals and protests, Poulter stepped up and hammered a left-footed attempt powerfully past Oram. 2-1.

With momentum now very much favouring the team in yellow, it looked as if a grandstand finish was on the cards. Rovers seemed happy to waste a few seconds whenever they could but with four minutes to go, Goodman restored the two-goal cushion.

In a move which went from back to front in seemingly no time whatsoever, Oram’s kick forward found Adamson on the right and he used his acceleration to weave his way inside. A dangerous ball was then played across the six-yard box and Wood helped it on for Goodman who was lurking in the right place at the right time for the simplest of finishes. 3-1.

Green and Oram both received yellow cards for minor bits of time-wasting in the dying few minutes and Rovers could have even scored again deep into injury-time when a low shot by Goodman clipped the post on its way wide.

The scoreline was harsh on Scunthorpe. They played well whereas Rovers (by their own standards) didn’t, yet the impact which the substitutes had was undeniable - and the three points means DRFC are now back at the top of the table.

Overall Thoughts

From a Rovers perspective, there were two things which I particularly liked.

Firstly, speaking to a few lads afterwards, they were happy to have got three points but they themselves weren’t thrilled by their overall performance. That’s an indirect sign of a good mentality because it smacks of high standards, striving to get even better and make the most of their ability.

I can think of a few other teams who might have just celebrated this result as a ‘win’ and then dined out on the result alone (forgetting the performance) but there’s not a chance of that happening with this crop!

Secondly, something which I liked even more, was the aggressive ‘shit-house’ edge which was very much apparent during the closing stages. At both 2-0 and 3-1, when balls were being cleared away, there were collective roars of ‘YESSSSSSS’ and mini-victories within passages of play being celebrated. The lads were completely behind each other and vocal with their encouragement. That style can rattle opponents but, beyond that, it proves there’s a strong togetherness with every player on the same page and buying into the same common goal.

Mansfield used to do this really well (and quite annoyingly when you were on the receiving end of it), in the era where they always used to compete for the North-East Youth Alliance title. I can draw plenty of similarities between the two teams so keep it going!

It also speaks volumes when a team doesn’t play well, by their own admission, and still gets a win - and a MASSIVE reason for that is down to the defensive back three (Jak Whiting, Charlie Petch and Will Flint) who’ve formed a strong understanding, look confident, and have played nearly every minute of every game together this season. That said, the ball retention in midfield needs to be better. It wasn’t great in the first 55-60 minutes at Burton; similar bits of sloppiness were on show again in this game and with some tough fixtures coming up in October, every player needs to perform well because the top teams in this league will punish any sign of weakness.

Individually, I thought Charlie Petch was excellent (and the mention of Mansfield above has got me thinking back to one of his first youth team games and just how much he's improved since then), whilst Will Flint produced his best performance for a few weeks. 

Freddie Allen still has some things to work on defensively and over time he'll get better, but in an attacking-sense he was good. He wasn’t afraid to get the ball down, be direct and use his pace to try and beat his man - particularly in the first half. It worked twice - including one point where he hurdled between two players and still kept possession to get to the edge of the area, and I liked that contribution.

Jack Goodman is working harder than ever before upfront. He’ll always score goals (because it’s what goalscorers do) but his closing down, pressing and that kind of work, has undoubtedly gone up a few notches over the past few weeks. I've seen that improvement with my own eyes, I've got a lot of respect for it, so keep it up!

The substitutes certainly helped to change the game and therefore, Max Adamson and Will Green deserve a fair amount of praise. 

Max scored one and got an assist (or secondary-assist if Harry Wood is trying to claim it), he got in behind the defence and posed a nuisance when he came on and he just now needs to carry that same threat when he next starts a game. If he does then my sympathies will go to the opposition defence! 

Meanwhile, Will’s set-pieces were sublime and the quality of them are up there with some of the best I've seen for a while. His second corner (which led to the goal) will probably be remembered more than his first which was a horrible inswinger right under the crossbar and down the throat of the 'keeper. He’s got a good turn of pace to go with his sweet left-foot and when he gets a consistent run in the team, if he replicates this form then he'll quickly get a good reputation. I've a lot of respect for how he played in his 20-25 minutes.

Scunthorpe deserve credit for how they performed though. 

For 75 minutes, they were the best team who played to their strengths and, personally, I enjoyed this game as it gave me the chance to learn more about their players and what they can do.

I’ve a new found respect for Harrison Poulter (No.10) and this was one of the best games I’ve seen him have. He dropped back on more than one occasion to link-up with others - just one example being the early chance when TSF flashed a shot across the face of goal. He worked hard against a strong defence, converted his penalty in a confident manner (and he deserved a goal for what he produced anyway), posed a sustained threat and looked sharp. It left a good impression.

Both full-backs were decent. Charley Strouther (No.3) was lively at times and was probably more consistent in terms of his deliveries than Harry Elliott-Bell (No.2) although I’ve liked HEB ever since I saw him last year. He was okay on the ball, got into some exploitative positions - both in and out of possession, showed a bit of pace and was vocal too. None of it went unnoticed. He played centre-back last year when I first saw him (and he impressed then) and I rate his qualities.

Elsewhere, Josh Robertson (No.8) stood out in the second half with how he drove forward in possession and got inside the box on a couple of occasions. He wasn’t afraid to make late runs and gamble on things either, which kind of paid off as he won the penalty. Harvey Cribb (No.4) slightly behind him in midfield also won a lot of second balls, offered that bit of maturity which comes through being exposed to a first team environment, and it was good to see what he could do.

Both Tyrell Sellars-Fleming (No.9) and Nat Wallace (No.7) were a nuisance at times with their movement and skill. It also says a lot about Finn Abraham (No.5) that he was handed the captain’s armband despite the fact he’s a first-year scholar and for a 20-minute spell in the second half, he was really good and won every header, whilst Grayson Giles (No.16) came on and helped to claw a goal back as he initially won the free-kick on the edge of the box. He also scored two goals in the other game involving the Under 16s on the adjacent pitch to underpin his reputation as one of the best strikers who’ll be entering the Youth Alliance over the next year.

Obviously Scunthorpe didn’t get the result, which will frustrate them, but they still ought to take a lot of positives from this performance along with their emphatic 5-1 win at Rotherham Rugby Club last week. They've got the dynamic of a half-decent team and, as I've said, I enjoyed watching them perform well because it’s always good to learn about different players and they left some good impressions.

I’ll be at the FA Youth Cup game at Pontefract on Thursday (which will be a bit different from the last time Scunny played in the same competition - to put it mildly!) and if they repeat this performance then I’d back them to take a step nearer to another night out at a Premier League stadium.

Rovers: Jake Oram, Will Flint, Charlie Petch, Jak Whiting (C), Alex Fletcher, Freddie Allen (Will Green), Josh Lindley (Justin Bennett), Faris Khan, Jack Raper (Harry Wood), Owen Scattergood (Max Adamson), Jack Goodman. Unused Subs: Tom Parkinson, Chris Pooley.

Other results this weekend...

Grimsby 2-2 Bradford; a topsy-turvy game where both teams led.
Lincoln 4-2 Huddersfield; just six goals in an Imps game this week but two more for Julian Donnery.
Mansfield 0-2 Harrogate; a result which reaffirms my belief that Harrogate are improving.
Hartlepool vs Rotherham; who knows?

Friday, 23 September 2022

Beverley Town 5-1 Glasshoughton Welfare

Beverley Town 5-1 Glasshoughton Welfare
Northern Counties East League (Division One)
Tuesday 20th September 2022

Despite a full set of fixtures in the Papa John’s Trophy and a few games which looked quite attractive, a trip to Beverley (primarily for the chance to get another ground ticked off) got the nod for a midweek game.

Beverley is the ‘posh part’ of Hull and they're newcomers to the NCEL having won the Humber Premier League last season. Probably as a consequence of that achievement, plus a novelty factor for groundhoppers who haven’t been here before AND super-cheap admission which was only £3.50 for adults - making it one of the cheapest in the league, there was a bumper crowd of 301 for this meeting under the floodlights.

The ground is quite pleasant and far better than the ramshackle set-up at fellow divisional new boys Horbury Town. There’s hard standing on three sides, a 54-seat stand (I counted them like a saddo!) to satisfy NCEL ground regulations and, best of all, it’s not far from Beverley Railway Station - useful on the very rare days when trains operate in the UK!

On the pitch, Beverley got off to a fine start to life at Step 6 as they won their first three fixtures and, briefly, looked as if they might challenge for the title but results have tailed off since and that meant they were in a mid-table spot going into this game. Glasshoughton, meanwhile, are masters in perennial mediocrity, yet they found themselves in the drop zone at the start of play.

Although the scoreline ended up being a hammering for them, Glassy didn't actually play too badly early on and the outcome could have been different if they’d taken their chances during the first 25 minutes when things were relatively even.

Matt Semley had an effort blocked in the game's first proper chance and then Owen Thomas floated a clever cross towards the back-post on the quarter-hour mark where Jonas Ndombasi wasn't quite able to put the ball in the net. Glassy ‘keeper Alfie Hayes Daubney pulled off a couple of saves at the other end and there was also a goal-line clearance as it remained goalless.

The opener then came on 25 minutes via Ollie Baldwin, who went through the middle and finished well, and soon enough Beverley were in complete command as Reece Moody converted from the penalty spot. If that wasn't enough good enough for the home fans, the game was all but over as a meaningful contest just before half-time when Baldwin made it 3-0 with an acrobatic overhead kick (or so I'm told as I was queueing up to sample some of the local cuisine at the time).

Few teams in the NCEL can boast a better pitch than Beverley because it's fantastic and, after the re-start, the hosts played some decent stuff as they inflicted further damage. Moody made it 4-0 on the back of some positive build up-play in and around the box and, although the visitors quickly pulled one back through Kiyani Clayton's penalty, the scoring was completed inside the final 10 minutes as Lewis Gibson claimed his first goal in Beverley’s light blue colours.

Based on this performance, it's evident that Beverley are a good team. Yes, they were playing strugglers who might not have had a full squad to choose from given it was a midweek game, but it's easy to spot quality and if they play like this every week then they’re more than capable of putting a run together and challenging for a Play-Off spot. I’m sure the dream would be nice for Beverley, whereas Glasshoughton will need to grind out results from those around them in the league table if they’re to avoid the prospect of this being the season where they drop out of the NCEL altogether.

I've now got just seven grounds left to visit across the two NCEL divisions until I’ve completed the whole lot; three in the Premier Division (Barton Town, Golcar United and Knaresborough Town) and four in Division One (Campion, Glasshoughton Welfare, Nostell Miners Welfare and Selby Town).

I don't know which one I'll get to next although the plan to have them finished in time for the World Cup starting in November is probably looking a tad unlikely.