Monday, 26 September 2011

Doncaster Rovers 1 v 0 Crystal Palace

Saturday 24th September 2011
Football League Championship
Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Admission: £15.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 9,362
Match Rating: 3














With a cheap bus ticket to Sheffield aimlessly booked months in advance, my plan was to attend either the Don Valley Stadium - which has surely assumed the Football League's undisputed number 1 status as the most unsuitable and least atmospheric venue since Brighton vacated the Withdean Stadium, or a non-league game. However, a visit to the Keepmoat Stadium suddenly became the stand-out fixture for me to attend, considering tickets were almost at half price for this fixture, and that Doncaster would be playing Crystal Palace, a club who, being a Charlton fan, are the team I "love to hate" in the Football League.




Having caught the train from Sheffield Meadowhall to Doncaster, the Keepmoat Stadium is located about a twenty minute walk south-east of the train station, sandwiched between industrial estates, a retail park and also a small lake. Although most of the usual complaints about a newly built stadium can be applied here - no real character or unique identity - it is one of the better newly built grounds I have encountered. Well designed on the outside and inside, an attractively designed "wrap-around" stadium with excellent views from every seat in the ground, and the size of the ground has been sensibly set so that it has quite an intimate feel which helps for a good atmosphere to be generated. The programme was quite disappointing with little interesting to read but plenty of mundane articles.



Doncaster have made a dreadful start to this season, gaining just one point and scoring two goals in their opening seven matches, leaving them four points adrift at the foot of the table. Events bordered on the farcical at the club in recent days, with the chairman publicly fully backing manager Sean O'Driscoll on Thursday, only to place him on gardening leave on Friday (apparently via tezt message), quickly to be replaced Dean Saunders, surely appointed due to his name rather than experience gained in the Conference. It seemed harsh on O'Driscoll, perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to the club's poor start, considering the club has overachieved massively in their five years under O'Driscoll up to this season. For Crystal Palace, it has been something of a struggle to maintain their Championship status in the last couple of seasons, however they have made a reasonable start to this season, and find themselves firmly in mid-table, in twelth place in the 24 team league, although they have lost their last two league games.




As might have been expected with a new manager at the helm, Doncaster started off the game quite well, although Crystal Palace's young and pacy forward line always looked capable of weaving their way to a shot on goal. As the first half continued, Crystal Palace increasingly dominated proceedings as Doncaster's play deteriorated, probably due to a lack of confidence on the ball, relying on aimless balls forward, and they were probably slightly fortunate to go into the half-time interval with a 0-0 scoreline.



The second half started off with something of a midfield battle, Doncaster certainly improving but rarely looking capable of scoring. However, arguably the game-changing moment came with the introduction of Doncaster's Billy Sharp, the club's top goalscorer in the last two seasons. His introduction lifted the fans, and his all-action display certainly lifted the team. Ten minutes after his introduction, and Doncaster took the lead, with the slice of luck that clubs in a predicament like Doncaster need, when former Crystal Palace midfielder John Oster took possession about 30 yards out and struck at goal, and a large deflection off a defender's leg wrong-footed the goalkeeper and the ball nestled in the corner of the net. From this point, there only looked to be one winner, as Doncaster spurned several wonderful chances to increase their lead and by now Crystal Palace's threat was negligible. And so Doncaster secured a crucial three points and a good start for the new manager, and whilst they remain bottom of the table, hope will have grown that they can move in the right direction. Crystal Palace look destined for a comfortable mid-table season, and they have some excellent tricky youngsters who the club will do well to keep hold of in the long term.

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