Silverware? We don’t care. So says the chant. It’s a pretty good job we don’t care given our appalling cup record. Throw in our poor record at Doncaster over the years and there was inevitability about this loss. You’d be forgiven however for thinking our luck had changed as we sat after half an hour coasting at two-nil up and having given the home side nothing to get excited about. You’d be wrong though.
The Tigers lined up 3-5-2 again, sporting Black shirts, amber shorts and black socks. Andy Dawson returned from injury and played as the third centre-half while Cameron Stewart took up a new role for him as a right wing-back:
Amos; Dawson, Chester, Faye; Dudgeon, Stewart, Cairney, Olofinjana, Evans; Simpson, McLean
Doncaster had barely had a touch of the ball when Aaron McLean put the Tigers in front on 36 seconds. McLean gathered Joe Dudgeon’s cross on the edge of the box, turned and fired a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner [0-1]. City continued to dominate with Stewart getting into great positions on the right and Cairney and Olofinjana stroking the ball around in midfield. A foul on Jay Simpson led to a free-kick 25 yards out. Cairney hit it beautifully but it struck the bar and Simpson bundled in the rebound [0-2]. McLean and Simpson were a handful and Doncaster couldn’t live with them. They looked a good pairing on this showing. Simpson has good movement, a burst of pace and good feet. McLean is good in the air, works right across the pitch and showed plenty of skill too. A deep Dudgeon cross was superbly nodded down by McLean but our old friend, Mr. Lack-of-numbers-in-the-box, was present. Or not.
The game changed within a few minutes of the first half. Doncaster pulled a goal back out of nothing as Harper found Syers who volleyed past Amos. It was a terrific finish [1-2]. Then Tom Cairney was caught by a horrendous looking tackle in their half. We were stunned when the referee didn’t even award a free-kick. He had blindness to “robust” tackles. James Harper threw himself into two unpunished, Aaron McLean was late on Husband and it took a really poor challenge by Keegan on McKenna in the second half before he finally produced a card. Cairney stayed down for lengthy treatment while the idiots in the home end booed him. Football should be ashamed that cheating is now so prevalent that a guy who is genuinely injured gets booed. TC limped back on but went down shortly after and had to be replaced by McKenna. Jay Simpson hit a low shot from (genuinely) 40 yards that the ‘keeper scrambled around the post and then in stoppage time, Aaron McLean wriggled past two in the box, stretched out a foot and got the ball across to Evans who sliced wide with his left foot. That should have been game over.
Doncaster dominated large periods of the second half. We didn’t often look in danger but we were chasing the ball and playing on the counter. The midfield area has been a bit of a worry in the previous games and it showed again here. We’re not keeping the ball well enough and we’re not forcing the opposition backwards. When we don’t have the ball, we’re not doing enough to get it back. Olofinjana used the ball neatly and spread play well but is a waste of time out of possession. McKenna looked like the effort in the rain at Charlton had taken too much out of his legs. Evans has the most energy of our trio but isn’t showing enough quality on the ball. It’s an area we need to improve if we’re going to do anything this season. While a Donny equaliser looked likely, when it came it was a massive disappointment. We dealt well with a couple of set-pieces. Eventually the ball was lumped towards the penalty spot and Rob Jones was able to leap and plant a header into the corner. It was a terrific header but under sod-all pressure [2-2].
The Tigers responded with a couple of breaks. Simpson ran from 40 yards into the penalty area but never got in a position to shoot and ended up on the floor appealing for a penalty without any support for his claim from his team mates or the referee. Next, we freed McLean on the left, he ignored Simpson, then found himself snuffed out by defenders before he somehow found a half-inch of space and fired a shot that was well saved by ‘keeper Woods. Then came the game’s other big talking point. McKenna and Rob Jones chased a ball towards their penalty area when Jones swung an arm and caught McKenna in the mouth. McKenna, unhappy, had a bit of a charge at Jones who shoved him away. They then went nose to belly button and Jones shoved McKenna again. Our friend, the referee arrived on the scene, spoke to McKenna at length and produced a red-card. Jones, who was just as, if not more, aggressive, then received a yellow card. Steve Bruce said afterwards that McKenna had “kicked out” which, if true, makes his red fair enough. How on earth the referee saw it as a yellow and a red though, I’ve no idea.
The ten men battled well for the remaining minutes. The game went end to end with Aluko, who’d replaced McLean, looking dangerous. Amos saved well from Donny sub Cotterill while Aluko’s first shot deflected off Jones, could have gone anywhere, and ended up in the ‘keepers arms. Alex Bruce replaced Faye as City prepared for extra-time. Aluko broke from the edge of our box, exchanged passes with first Olofinjana and then Simpson and fed Evans who initially tried a poor chip over the top but got the ball back and volleyed harmlessly at Woods. Oddly the Doncaster clock had said 90 minutes for about 5 minutes at this point, and the amount of stoppage time had yet to be announced. Cameron Stewart picked up the ball in our half, looked up, and played a super pass in behind for Simpson. He raced ahead of the defence, took a touch and slid the ball past Woods. "We’ve done it!" "Against the odds!" "Ah, bugger. It’s hit the post."
They went up the other end. Coppinger ran at Dudgeon, Dudge backed off, Coppinger crossed and Syers volleyed in [2-3]. Inevitable. Every bit of it. Simpson won a free kick and Stewart delivered it well but Bruce, rising at the back post, headed into the side netting. It needed to go back across goal. That was our lot.
The Tigers are out of the League Cup in August. That’s nothing new. I’d love to say I’m bothered but I’m not really. Championship clubs are the ones who see the League Cup as a pain these days. Most accept that they aren’t going to win it and don’t particularly need the money a one-off game would bring. Hence the number of sides who have been beaten by lower-league opposition in the last few seasons. What is worrying is that our midfield, who provided a solid foundation last season, suddenly look lethargic and we’re passing the ball like Nigel Pearson’s work-in-progress side of two seasons ago. We need a couple of signings before the window closes if we’re going to compete at the top end of the Championship. That’s sad to say. We’ve taken a team that finished eighth last season. We’ve added seven players. Now we look like we need a couple more before we can even think of progressing one or two places up the league.
Those nagging doubts are back.
Those nagging doubts are back.