Well at least the Doncaster Rovers physio is. Not even a week has gone by for the Yorkshire club and we already fading away from hopes of an over achieving season; or at least the bookmakers and journalists think so. Let’s review how it all went wrong.
Signings such as Chris Brown, Tommy Spurr, Ryan Mason, Richard Naylor, James Baxendale, Kyle Bennet and Giles Barnes set the tone in the town of Doncaster that the football club is aiming not to undergo the misery of last season where we clung on to Championship status in the closing weeks. Pre-season looked good for the Vikings and everyone couldn’t wait to get the season underway at Brighton last weekend, and after a coach journey that survived the chaos on the M25, we was all glad to be standing outside the stadium that is the American Express Community Stadium. Easily one of the nicest grounds I have been to across the country (Only Millwall’s and West Ham’s stadiums are unvisited by yours truly in the Championship, and only a hand full further across the football league). I expected Brighton to take the lead early on; spurred by their roaring crowd and with the beautiful new pitch to play out the second half in the Rovers favour, allowing us to come back and maybe steal the points and how wrong I was.
The Seagulls were in truth mediocre at best in the opening stages. They had momentum and the crowd behind them, but their chances were wasted and rather than flattening Doncaster they allowed us into the game, showed us too much of the ball and it did become a real show. It was clear to everyone in the stadium that this was the first game of the new season; as good as some of the football was mistakes were more common than crowd chants and the reactions from both sets of players weren’t as sharp as normal and foolish, late tackles were flying in from every direction. The game itself was a combination of great football, but scrappy foot work. This was underlined by a very late challenge by ex-Leeds defender Richard Naylor when he brought down Barnes for Brighton and was lucky in the hosts view not to see red.
There were also plenty of chances and Brighton new boy Craig Mackail-Smith had a whole bunch of chances to give Brighton the lead but all the chances were either a result of offside play or were wasted. Doncaster’s record striker and fan favourite Billy Sharp was clear in the 18 yard box and with only a sliding defender in his way he somehow managed to miss the target. Brighton’s best chance then came when Ashley Barnes was in the clear, he shot under the diving Woods who got enough of the shot to slow the pace but it was heading towards the line only for Rovers captain George Friend to clear. Then came the deafening blow for the hosts’ party day when Ryan Mason’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected into Sharp’s path whose poor connection was more than enough to give Rovers a deserved 1-0 lead going into half time.
Everything was going brilliant for the away team, we did make some mistakes; but we were playing well and keeping Albion at bay. The second half was to read a very different story. The swing of our fortunes started when Lewis Dunk’s horrendous challenge on Billy Sharp left the first goal scorer at the Amex on the floor clutching his ankle, on came the physio and he was soon stretchered off. Without our one-million-pound man Doncaster were pushed back by Brighton and their 2 substitutes Craig Noone and Will Buckley were to play the rest of the tale. The hosts’ pressure finally paid off seven minutes from time when sub Buckley smashed the ball from the edge of the area to beat Gary Woods at his near post. A poor goalkeeping effort; but his view was partially blocked by Naylor.
Seven minutes later and after a Doncaster corner Hayter was left on the floor clearly in pain, he was also stretchered off as our day was going from bad to worse. It would also worsen after nine minutes of extra time and Brighton broke, Buckley again surging one on one with the Rovers keeper to place it beautifully in the net and give Brighton the dream start in their new home. In the days that followed it emerged that Hayter’s injury wasn’t as bad as first thought but Billy Sharp was revealed to have suffered ankle ligament damage.
Then on Tuesday night we played hosts to Tranmere Rovers in the league cup, and the game was always in Donny’s favour as goals from Chris Brown, Ryan Mason and Kyle Bennett gave us a 3-0 win. Mason however was again stretchered off and has also suffered ankle ligament damage. If you think our situation cannot worsen anymore then you’ll be in fits of laughter when you hear our opponents on Saturday; West Ham United. With only one out and out striker fit (and question marks still hang over Brown’s fitness) and Sharp not to be fit for a long time, the loan market must apply to our club as the goals must come from somewhere. The Viking’s Supporters Co-operative (VSC) have set up a donation fund for fans to donate what they can so the board know the town backs the club and they can reach into their pockets and can push on and try and get a goal scorer.
Who will this be? It currently remains unclear and we probably won’t see this new player in a red and white shirt on Saturday at the Keepmoat against the Hammers. The only thing that does remain clear is that the next few weeks could be very slow and daunting ones for the most over-achieving club since the Premier League era began.
Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers Blogger
Lee tweets at @mr1croft