Saturday, 25 September 2021

Staveley Miners Welfare 1-1 Barton Town

Staveley Miners Welfare 1-1 Barton Town
FA Vase
Saturday 25th September 2021

With various former Doncaster Rovers youth team players currently on the books at Staveley Miners Welfare, it's probably no surprise to anyone that Inkersall Road is somewhere I've been wanting to visit for some time - even if, logistically, it's a pain of a place to get to.

It's been almost 10 years since my previous visit - a 2-0 win under the floodlights over Oadby Town in the 2011/12 season which was during the Trojans' progression to the FA Vase Semi-Finals where they ultimately succumbed to Dunston UTS.

By coincidence this was another FA Vase game; though it resulted in a different outcome as Staveley, despite a last-gasp equaliser, were beaten 5-3 on penalties by dogged and determined fellow NCEL (Premier Division) rivals in Barton Town who defied their early-season struggles and lowly league position and gave a really good account of themselves.

Having been in relatively close proximity in the morning, watching the current crop of DRFC youngsters succumb to something of a chastening 2-0 defeat at Mansfield Town, it made sense to nip just up the road and catch up with some familiar faces.

Charlie Bell, in DRFC's youth set-up as recently as six months ago, has already established himself as a regular starter in Staveley's team and featured at right-back whilst Declan Howe (who was at DRFC about 6-7 years ago before going to the USA on a football scholarship) operated in a centre-forward role. They both had decent games and combined for Staveley's equaliser late on.

Matt Parkin, Rieves Boocock and Myron Gibbons were all named amongst the substitutes,

There was a great zip and zest about things from the outset leading to a frenetic pace as both teams went at one other. Both teams also wanted to get the ball down, be incisive and attacking and the intensity was absolutely excellent - a far cry from large swathes of the game I'd witnessed earlier in the day at Woburn Lane. 

It's fair to say Staveley, in blue and white stripes (who were perhaps going into the tie as favourites), were being given a very good game by a hard-working Barton team who've somehow struggled for results in the early stages of the new season - though based on this performance, results will inevitably come at some point for them.

Opportunities were hard to come by at either end during the first 45 minutes though as both teams kept their discipline, maintained their shape and structure (in all but one or two instances) and defended well. 

Whilst the visitors looked bright on the ball and when moving it out onto the flanks, Staveley looked dangerous at set-plays and getting deliveries into the box from wide areas and they went close with a header just past the quarter-hour mark.

There wasn't much between the teams whatsoever but with the sun shining, Brett Marshall's team stepped things up a little bit after the re-start and enjoyed a sustained period of pressure during which Bell was involved in several bits of good link-up play, had many touches, and was something of a driving force down the right channel with his sheer energy. 

However, the hosts couldn't carve out any golden or gilt-edged chances as such. Howe had one or two openings (and possessed a good hard-working presence) which drew saves, Thomas Poole had another and Barton perhaps went closer through shots by Ben Hincliffe and Mitchell Levi-Lewis at the other end.

A draw was looming but with less than 10 minutes to go, it was the visitors who made a breakthrough when Tom Waudby's run and pass to Harrison Coley allowed the striker to place a low shot past the home 'keeper and into the net to put the visitors on course for progression.

Staveley were never going to throw the towel in though and during the last of four minutes of indicated injury-time (although about six ended up being played), they equalised with Bell providing a pinpoint near-post cross which bounced up perfectly onto Howe's toe-end ahead. The 'keeper was already rooted to the spot in anticipation of collecting the cross and the decisive diversion ensured it ended up in the net instead - provoking wild scenes of celebration.

Remarkably, both teams then had good chances to win it despite there being almost zero time left on the clock and injury-time having already been pretty much completed. 

Staveley switched off from the re-start and only a last-ditch block by a defender, at the expense of a corner, spared their blushes. From the resulting flag-kick, the hosts were able to counter-attack and Howe had the ball at his feet past the halfway line and should have squared it to Gibbons who was up and running alongside him in a better position. He didn't square it though and the danger came to pass - with the final whistle soon afterwards ensuring that penalties would happen after all.

Barton converted all of their attempts and a miss early in the shoot-out by Staveley ensured it wouldn't be their day, but overall it was a good, enjoyable football game - great value for just £4 admission with plenty of talented (and many ex-academy players from various clubs) on show.

There is something of a pathway for progression at Staveley and one glance at the career of Adam Lund, who spent a year at Inkersall Road before earning a move to Alfreton Town - for whom he's now flying in the National League North, is evidence of that. The investment that's been put into the club is also apparent - from the 4G surface to the facilities around the ground and it seems like a good place, with a good crop of hungry players who are all on the same page, to be playing football.

It's a significant step-up from youth football; not everyone would be able to hold their own for sure, but fair play to these lads for putting on a good, entertaining contest.

Mansfield Town (U18s) 2-0 Doncaster Rovers (U18s)

Mansfield Town (U18s) 2-0 Doncaster Rovers (U18s)
EFL Youth Alliance Cup
Saturday 25th September 2021

Trends which are a significant cause for concern are developing because this was another humbling defeat for Doncaster Rovers' youngsters against Mansfield Town. 

Having been out-played and out-fought by the Stags in a 4-0 reverse at Cantley Park just a fortnight ago, this time Rovers went down 2-0 in an EFL Youth Alliance Cup encounter - a loss which means they're now already out of the competition with one game still to play.

The overall team performance left a lot to be desired as the lads were once again dictated to (and even bullied to a large extent) by stronger, cleverer and more physical opponents who had the proverbial grit between their teeth and wanted it more. Mansfield might not always possess the most technically-gifted of players but they're extremely good and well-drilled in what they do and their victory was both comfortable and deserved. Nobody can have any complaints about the outcome.

Jack Deakin capitalised on some sloppy defending to open the scoring on 20 minutes before Bobby Faulkner's own goal within a minute of the re-start left Doncaster with a mountain to climb - one which they didn't ever really look capable of doing.

It's a trait now that against opponents with a 'pure football' ethos, Rovers do well. Against physical opponents, they don't do well - and considering this is now the third defeat already this term to opponents in the latter category (the other coming against Grimsby Town), the latest setback needs to serve as a big reality check to the lads of where they're really at in footballing terms. For it to happen three times, it just isn't a coincidence nor can it be considered as one.

The lack of a midfield enforcer - probably not seen in the youth team since the AJ Greaves days, is apparent, but with personnel unlikely to change anytime soon the lads quickly need to adapt as best they possibly can and figure out how is best to compete against that certain calibre of opponent that they struggle against. 

If they don't, then the reality is we're only going to be here again further down the line.

Arguably the most frustrating aspect of what unfolded is that Mansfield didn't exactly create a raft of openings; proof of that being Rovers 'keeper Luke Chadwick only made one save of any note which was in a one-on-one just after the second goal. It could even be argued that the Stags' opener came against the run of the play to some degree as well.

However, Rovers' overall performance was poor. Too many direct balls forward only served to concede possession on far too many occasions, the midfield didn't get on the ball enough (and when they did it was too late in the game and they were often easily knocked off it), nor was any player fully able to exploit the space in wide areas which Mansfield allowed due to their shape. There was a litany of individual errors and it's a collective display which needs plenty of reflection and plenty of quick learning from.

The line-ups suggested that Doncaster may have had a decent chance of coming out on top as Mansfield chose not to field any first-year professionals (as they did in the game a fortnight ago). Ethan Hill and Nathan Caine, both of whom featured at Cantley Park, have now been loaned out to non-league teams to gain vital senior experience and their absences, along with those of quite a few of their second-year players, meant the hosts' xi was mainly that of first-year scholars. Owen Mason - in my opinion the best 'keeper seen anywhere in the EFL Youth Alliance for some time wasn't included, so Louie Turner deputised between the posts.

Rovers' line-up was pretty much as expected though attacking options were limited and there was no involvement for Ethan Harrison, Alex Wolny, Tavonga Kuleya or Owen Scattergood for a range of different reasons.

The opening stages of the game were largely scrappy and devoid of any major chances. 

Jack Raper did get a 25-yard free-kick on target for Doncaster after Will Hollings was brought down but this was routinely saved by Turner. There were also a couple of set-piece situations which lacked a quality delivery as Dan Wilds' deep free-kick was claimed under zero pressure whilst a Corie Cole corner didn't pose any problems as it didn't beat the first man.

At the opposite end, Mansfield's only chance in the first quarter-of-an-hour came when a speculative snap-shot bounced wide of Luke Chadwick's left-hand post.

However, with 20 minutes played, the Stags opened the scoring. A quick one-two following a throw-in resulted in a ball being flashed all the way across the six-yard box and with no defender able to make any connection, it was recycled back towards Deakin who stabbed it goalwards beyond Chadwick. Appeals for offside, which it probably wasn't, fell on deaf ears and the goal stood. It was a blow for Rovers as they'd been on the front foot for much of the previous 10 minutes or so, but now found themselves in a battle to get back on level terms.

Gradually from this point onwards, Mansfield's physicality and work-rate became more noticeable and although Donny did carve out a few openings, their overall play and retention of the ball required plenty of room for improvement.

Jak Whiting produced the first quality delivery into a dangerous area with a left-wing cross from open play to pick Jack Goodman whose header from inside the area bounced narrowly wide. Goodman later broke away in a counter-attack in the minutes leading up to half-time but, having taken too many touches and kept the ball at his feet despite there being both an opportunity and angle to shoot, the move was prematurely halted by an extremely late flag from the linesman.

At the other end, some concentrated defending by Bobby Faulkner saved Raper from embarrassment after the midfielder chose to keep the ball in play and knocked it backwards to inadvertently set-up a Mansfield counter-attack.

The half-time whistle couldn't come soon enough though. Rovers' performance had been poor and too many long balls had resulted in possession being lost cheaply. There was a severe need for both improvement and for players to want the ball, to get on it, drive forward and force issues.

Initially, the start to the second half seemed promising enough as two corners were won within the first two minutes, though it ultimately proved to be Doncaster's undoing.

The second set-piece delivery was cleared by the Stags' defence and after covering defender Alex Fletcher failed to win a header midway inside the hosts' half, with nobody else covering behind him it led to a quick four-on-one breakaway. Faulkner sprinted back and recovered some ground whilst Diego Edwards' poor touch allowed Chadwick to advance just past the edge of his own box and get to the ball first. However, his intended clearance ricocheted off either Faulkner or Edwards, diverting the ball goalwards where it ended up in the back of the net - and an already difficult-looking task was now even greater.

Things could have then got even worse because within the blink of an eye from re-starting play, Mansfield's 'high press' resulted in Faulkner being dispossessed by Edwards on the edge of his own box. Chadwick was quick and alert in reading the immediate danger and produced a smothering save at the feet of an attacker who received the ball and got a shot away.

After this mistake by Faulkner and the bigger set-back of having gone 2-0 down, in all fairness to the Rovers players, they enjoyed their best spell of pressure during proceedings which lasted up until around the hour mark and saw them create a series of half-decent openings.

In the immediate aftermath of the aforementioned opportunity where Chadwick produced a save, the defence cleared their lines and sprung a counter-attack where Tom Parkinson was involved in some positive play which helped stretch the Stags defence. It culminated in Whiting having a goalbound effort deflected wide at the expense of a corner - from which Faulkner headed over despite being in an unmarked position.

Hollings was soon the victim of a pscything knee-high tackle which was ridiculously only punished by a yellow card - leaving even some of the Mansfield-supporting parents on the sidelines flabbergasted as they knew it should have been a straight red card.

The intensity of the game was better at this point and in Fletcher's last major involvement before he was replaced by Faris Khan which brought about a change in shape, the full-back was guilty of not unleashing a shot when he caught a glimpse of goal inside the hosts' penalty area.

Hollings came closest to pulling a goal back for Doncaster with a low 20-yard drive which came back off the post after a corner was only partially cleared away, but that was as good as it got because from this point onwards things fizzled out and Mansfield never seemed under too much more pressure.

The Stags lost Deakin to injury after the big striker pulled up whilst chasing the ball down and he was replaced on the frontline by Colt Reynolds who possessed a deceptively half-decent turn of pace and boasted quite a bustling physique. 

Josh Lindley was also introduced from the Rovers' bench for the last 20 minutes following a spell out injured and showed some neat and tidy touches - demonstrating a willingness to get on the ball and pick out some passes to get things going. His influence alone wasn't anywhere near enough to change what seemed to be a foregone conclusion in regards to the final outcome though.

The closest that the visitors came to a goal during the closing stages was when Parkinson and Wilds combined in a move which saw the ball flicked up for the Rovers skipper to hit and his connection forced a save - albeit a routine one for the Mansfield 'keeper.

The full-time whistle brought the curtain down on a disappointing display and the fact that the post-match debrief lasted for some time afterwards proves there were plenty of things that needed to be dissected and many lessons that can be learned. 

What was produced simply fell some distance short of what's required to beat Mansfield or any physical team for that matter. Across the pitch, as a collective, things were disjointed, it seemed jaded, poor on both quality and in decision-making at times and the lads allowed themselves to be dictated to, bullied, and easily beaten.

None of the lads can come out of it with a vast amount of credit, barring an odd one or two exceptions such as Josh Lindley (and that was only a positive 20-minute showing from when he came on) or Jak Whiting (who tried to exploit the space in wide areas and produced a bit of quality at times with his delivery). Others showed tiny snippets of good things - some more so than others, but that needed to happen an awful lot more for it to be effective and influence the scoreline. Others, individually, just had poor games considering the expectations/standards which they'll have for themselves and they'll know that - hence why I won't 'dig out' anyone specifically. 

Another frustrating aspect, which is a big concern, is that the lads didn't force the issue anywhere near enough, or want to get on the ball and drive with it until after they were 2-0 behind - by which point it was already too late and far too much of an uphill battle. There were way too many direct balls from the back which Mansfield's defence gratefully lapped up and it made things really comfortable for them.

Considering that this Stags team was young (and, in my opinion, potentially one of the more inexperienced xi's they've fielded over the past few years), the performance/result must act as a stark reality check. Had Mansfield fielded their 'big dogs' (i.e. Ethan Hill and their other first-year pros, along with some more of their second-year scholars) then their winning margin would only have been more emphatic.

Having watched this Rovers team regularly, and disregarding this performance altogether, it's obvious that they're capable of doing well and expressing themselves positively against opponents with a footballing ethos and I've said consistently that at some point they will beat a team convincingly by a decent scoreline. 

Sadly, however, on the flip side of that statement, unless there is a quick and significant improvement, they're only going to be on the end of more heavy defeats against teams who employ a direct, physical or combative approach. The next of such opponents will be Rotherham United in October.