Saturday, 18 March 2023

Doncaster Rovers (U18s) 2-0 Rotherham United (U18s)

Doncaster Rovers (U18s) 2-0 Rotherham United (U18s)
EFL Youth Alliance
Saturday 18th March 2023

Jack Raper and Harry Wood were the scorers as Doncaster Rovers produced a mature performance to condemn Rotherham United to an entire league season without a single win in the North-East Youth Alliance.

Anyone who is well-versed with this level will know that games against Rotherham can be quite tasty due to the physical, aggressive and direct ‘style’ which the Millers always implement. The Millers aren’t a pleasant team to watch but, to their credit, they can easily rope you into how they want to play and whilst that did happen in parts during the course of this game, Rovers were ruthless in the big moments whereas I can’t recall Rotherham even having a shot on target!

In the absence of Jack Goodman who traveled with the first team to Salford, Frank Sinclair filled that vacancy by naming a trialist in the starting line-up and it took Rovers just seven minutes to make a breakthrough with Jack Raper converting via a low left-foot penalty into the bottom-left corner after Sam Brown got in-behind and was brought down inside the area.

With a 1-0 lead established, Rovers sought to add a quick second goal and when Freddie Allen provided some quality movement on the left flank and slid a dangerous ball across the goalmouth on the quarter-hour mark, nobody gambled inside the six-yard box or was there to connect. It was a glorious opening - the sort where Jack Goodman would have been licking his lips if he’d been playing!

After this, the game became VERY scrappy for a sustained period with little in the way of football played as the ball went back and forth and was usually up in the air. This suited Rotherham and, although they had plenty of territory and pressure and put Rovers on the back foot, they weren’t able to convert that into chances as Donny defended strongly - in particular Jak Whiting who did well and was even clattered by Jacob Bryant in a rare instance when the Rovers ‘keeper needed to come off his line and punch a ball clear.

Freddie Allen was victim of a vicious knee-high tackle for which the Millers’ No.19 was deservedly booked and by the half-hour mark, you could sense that the visitors had the initiative but they still weren’t able to produce anything despite a long-throw tactic being another useful weapon for them!

Goodman’s absence meant the ball didn’t ‘stick’ enough when it went forward but to Rovers’ credit when they got the ball down and played football, they looked good value and that’s how the much-needed second goal came about as Faris Khan assisted Harry Wood whose powerful drive from inside the area went through the ‘keeper and into the bottom corner.

The timing of the goal was huge; not only did it consolidate Rovers’ advantage but it really wounded and deflated Rotherham - and it would have got even worse before half-time for the Millers had their ‘keeper not palmed away a stinging shot by Jack Raper.

In a solid position at 2-0 to Doncaster, it looked ominous that Rotherham were about to achieve the unwanted record of going an entire season without a league win and the second half proved to be a case of ‘game management’ from a DRFC perspective with not much incident at either end.

Both teams made a string of substitutions; Rovers’ first half trialist in the No.9 role was replaced by another for the second period (who was quite effective) and Rotherham were forced into a bizarre change when, having already brought on all of their outfield players, the No.10 sustained a cut to his head which had to be bandaged up and had to go off under the concussion protocol.

He was replaced by Nat Ford, who is usually a ‘keeper but instead played the last 20 minutes or so as a striker, and he scuffed a shot wide as Rotherham still tried to force their way back into things to no avail.

Frustrated at losing yet again, some ill-discipline crept in during the latter stages with their No.3 picking up a long-awaited yellow card in injury-time for a cynical foul on Sam Brown when he knew he wasn’t going to get the ball so just fouled the player anyway. No.5 (another in Rotherham’s team who’d sailed close to the wind throughout) was also booked during the second half too.

The full-time whistle brought three points to move Rovers back up to third position in the league table; albeit they’re still six points behind Harrogate who beat Lincoln City, 3-0, to consolidate their own title challenge.

Overall, it’s difficult to judge any individual too much on games against Rotherham because they’re just completely different to all the others during the season. 

I wasn’t expecting much from the Millers as a team anyway but even I was slightly taken aback by just how poor they were, the lack of discipline which was on show (from their pre-match warm-up to trying to argue with the referee too often), and it just kind of speaks volumes that they haven’t won a league game all season. It’s a shame because they do have a few decent individuals who, if they cut out the stupidity, they would stand out a lot more. But as it is, the only thing that always stands out about Rotherham is their distinct ‘style’ and it’s not really doing anyone any favours, nor do I suspect it is even enjoyable for a lot of the lads themselves to play in.

So you can only beat whatever is put infront of you and that’s exactly what Rovers did.

Individually, Jack Raper will be pleased to have bagged what I think is his first league goal this season; Harry Wood put in another decent performance, applied the finish for the crucially-timed second goal, tracked back a lot and covered lots of ground which was noticeable by just how many times he popped up in the photos (below). Faris Khan will be pleased with another assist as will Sam Brown in winning the penalty - although he should have squared it for a one-on-one a few seconds prior to being brought down. And the efforts of the whole defence needs to be recognised because they had to really concentrate when Rotherham got on top and just bombarded them with long bombs, but that collective effort from everyone in the backline was reflected in the clean-sheet, plus the fact I can’t remember Rotherham having a shot on target.

The EFL still haven’t confirmed exactly what will happen over the next few weeks regarding a ‘Merit League’ and whether the points will either be reset or added to the league table but, in any case, DRFC are guaranteed a top half position along with Harrogate, Bradford and Grimsby. Burton will probably be the other ‘top half’ side.

Team: Jacob Bryant, Jak Whiting, Charlie Petch, Will Flint, Freddie Allen, Alex Fletcher, Jack Raper, Sam Brown, Harry Wood, Faris Khan, A Trialist. Subs: Tom Parkinson, Justin Bennett, Owen Scattergood, A Trialist, Will Green.

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