After missing Rochdale because I’m a fair weather supporter, we followed The Tigers to Doncaster for the latest pre-season friendly. I’ve never seen City win at Donny and have even witnessed a couple of humbling defeats. My last visit for a pre-season friendly saw Damien Delaney receive a serious looking head injury which caused him to leave the pitch in an ambulance. He turned out to be fine which hopefully will be a good omen for Ben Amos. The Manchester United goalkeeper only signed for the Tigers officially today but suffered an injury in trying to stop the second Doncaster goal and after a lengthy stoppage, left the pitch on a stretcher. Hopefully it was precautionary but it didn’t look good.
The Tigers squad included ex-Norwich City and Celtic midfielder Mark Fotheringham playing as a trialist. Robert Koren and James Chester were missing, presumably rested, Abdoulaye Faye is still not fit to play and Matt Fryatt, Seyi Olofinjana, Liam Rosenior and Corry Evans are injured. Paul McShane has vanished. All that left the squad looking a little depleted. Steve Bruce decided to experiment with one up front. I’m not sure of the reason and it certainly goes against his previous comments. It wasn’t an experiment that worked very well. (YouTube: Tigers warm-up)
Tigers: Amos; Dudgeon, Dawson, Bruce, Cooper; Aluko, Stewart, McKenna, Cairney, Fotheringham; Proschwitz.
City started the game very brightly and scored a deserved early goal. We moved the ball around neatly, Stewart and Aluko looked lively and we looked a threat for 15 minutes or so. Sone Aluko had already scraped the post with a deflected low shot when the Tigers went in front. Cairney skipped through the midfield and played the ball into the path of Stewart who’d switched to the right. He put a decent low ball into the box and Rob Jones, making his Donny debut, smacked it into his own net. It was so ridiculous, I thought it must have been Cairney who’d got on the end of it but it wasn’t [0-1]. The lead should have been doubled minutes later when Sone Aluko tricked a foul out of Husband in the box. Tom Cairney strode up to take the penalty and smashed the underside of the crossbar.
The Tigers dominated possession until half time but looked far less threatening after the penalty miss. Doncaster threatened when Robbie Blake latched onto an under-hit back pass before Liam Copper tackled him superbly while a free-kick floated to the back post almost caught out Ben Amos. He watched it well though and got down to make the save but couldn’t hold on to the ball and was perhaps a little relieved that Rob Jones clattered into him as he tried to retrieve the situation. At the other end Fotheringham nicked the ball in midfield and fed Proschwitz who got his left foot shot away but saw it blocked by a sliding Donny defender. It was a comfortable half for City with only the lively but unproductive Kyle Bennett causing any trouble. Proschwitz’ lack of involvement was worrying with City failing struggling to get anything into him and his involvement reduced to challenging in the air for poor balls out of defence (and losing).
City never really got going in a disjointed second half. Until the Doncaster equaliser, the Tigers dominated the ball again without creating a whole lot but once they scored, confidence flooded through the hosts and that combined with Hull City looking weaker with each substitution meant the outcome was inevitable. Paul McKenna won a free-kick which Nick Proschwitz put into orbit (YouTube: Proschwitz free kick) and then a lovely City move ended with Fotheringham dinking the ball in behind the right-back for Andy Dawson to charge onto and lash in a half volley that the keeper tipped over the bar. That was probably the visitor’s last chance of the game.
Doncaster equalised through Martin Woods who cut in from their right and hit a terrific left footed shot inside Ben Amos’ left hand post. It was woeful defending though. From the second Woods picked up the ball it was clear that he wanted to get the shot in and one after another the City defenders showed him further inside [1-1]. Aaron McLean and Jay Simpson (not Jamie Devitt Mr Stadium announcer) replaced Aluko and Stewart. Stewart had another quiet game but Aluko was impressive. He’s got plenty of pace, he moves well with the ball, he’s direct and he loves a shot. He’ll be a big favourite at the KC. The Tigers shape didn’t change which meant Proschwitz continued to plough a lonely furrow. Sonny Bradley replaced Alex Bruce but not before Bruce stuck a foot out at a Bennett cross to force a phenomenal save from Amos. Once Bruce went off, Donny really took control and Bradley, who I’m a big fan of, was dragged all over the place. We were ragged at the back and a second goal was inevitable. Kyle Bennett, who was just as lively in the second half but twice as effective, ran through the midfield (minus McKenna who’d swapped with Devitt) and slid the ball in to Hawley whose shot was saved by Amos only for Morgan-Smith to knock in the rebound [1-2]. Amos was injured while trying to reach the rebound and had to be replaced by Eldin Jakupovic.
Cullen and Townsend replaced Proschwitz and Dawson either side of Doncaster’s third goal. Bradley got himself the wrong side of Bennett but looked to have made a decent recovery tackle only for Michael Oliver to point to the spot. I think the linesman gave it and in a competitive match, Bradley would have walked. Woods did what Tom Cairney couldn’t in the first half and sealed a decent win for a patched up Donny [1-3]. On the final whistle a couple of people in the City end booed. Hello? It’s a friendly.
I’m not sure what Steve Bruce will take from the game. It wasn’t the sort of controlled 4-5-1 that Pearson and Barmby used to good effect last season; this was a poor 4-5-1 with the front man an isolated and frustrated figure. Rather than bringing a freshness to the team, each substitution made us weaker and weaker. Ben Amos had a good game in goal and I hope he recovers quickly from his injury. Dawson, Dudgeon, McKenna, Cairney and Stewart all gave their usual performance which is a positive for some but not others. Fotheringham was tidy and played one or two really good balls but isn’t any better than what we currently have and isn’t anywhere near good enough to replace Robert Koren if he decides to leave. Alex Bruce did well at centre half and although he lacks a bit of pace, did get himself into the right positions to avert danger. Liam Cooper had a fine defensive game but his distribution was wretched. He isn’t going to get a game ahead of Chester, Hobbs or Faye this season so hopefully the arrival of Bruce will allow Liam to go out and play a full season somewhere. He really needs the games because he continues to show real promise. I think Doncaster would be the perfect temporary home for him next season.
I’m not too worried about the performance as it is only pre-season and this was an experimental line-up. I’m worried by the number of injuries we’re picking up all of a sudden. Apart from long-term injuries to players prone to damage, we were lucky with injuries until March 2012 and since then we’ve had a run of niggly knocks. We had a settled side for most of last season but more injuries will lead to a high turnover of players and we may well suffer for it this season. I’m also a tad worried that we’re looking at guys like Mark Fotheringham who is a journeyman who never made the best of enormous talent when he had the chance and now never will.
The Tigers head to Hartlepool next. I’ll see them again against Norwich. If the likes of Rosenior and Fryatt aren’t back in action for that one, I’m going to get a little twitchy!
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