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doncaster rovers 0 − 3 leeds united: giving back

doncaster rovers 0 − 3 leeds united: giving back

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We avoided them for a good long while, but there’s not really any getting away from it these days. We’re basically stuck with Doncaster. 

It’s a relationship that’s showing no signs of ending. They’re not quite low enough in the table to suggest they’re going to be relegated; we’re not quite high enough to suggest we’re going to be promoted. We’ll probably each avoid divisional changes by the skins of our respective teeth, meaning we’ll do this all again next year. Two more games added to the head-to-head record, plus whatever the cup fates decree. More games against Doncaster Rovers. Great.

To be fair to Doncaster, apart from the play-off final back in 2008, they’ve been quite good to us over the years. First, by not being in our division from 1956 until that year, meaning we could safely forget about them and their town. Second, by allowing themselves to be beaten seven times out of ten since we became reacquainted. I suppose it will always rankle that one of their two wins came at Wembley, but at least we can look at these matches each season and know that six points ought to be ours. 

It was by no means certain that we’d get the three points from the Keepmoat before the game on Saturday, though, and it wasn’t really certain until Ross McCormack shimmied through their defence and nutmegged Ross Turnbull for 2-0. Leeds’ away form has been a problem, and Donny were a problem, and even though we won 3-0, our away form is still a problem, albeit a problem that has three more points to show for itself. A win’s a win, but if we were looking for a performance that said our travelling hoodoo was over and done with, we didn’t get it at Doncaster.

What we got instead was some fine centre forward play from Mathieu Smith, stooping to head a great Alex Mowatt free kick for the first goal, and then, with a certain amount of swagger, shrugging off his marker so he could lay the ball off to McCormack, then getting into the box and onto the end of Ross’s cross himself, sending the ball just wide. We’ll gloss over his flailing reverse cartwheel as he tried an overhead kick in the build up to Austin scoring the third.

What we also got was a moment of individual forcefulness from Ross McCormack to settle nerves and make it 2-0. I wouldn’t call these flashes from McCormack, that are coming so often these days, moments of ‘brilliance’; I prefer ‘forcefulness’ because a) he’s only playing Doncaster, after all, and b) they’re more about gritting your teeth and getting things done than about turning on the style and showing off. Leeds needed a goal so Ross, like a forties comic book hero, set his jaw, took the initiative and forced the ball into the goal as an act of his will. And he keeps doing it. And it’s pretty great.

The other thing we got was outplayed for a lot of the second half, to the extent that the stylishly inclined Mowatt was replaced by the distinctly artless Michael Brown. It worked: Leeds got their second and third after Brown came on to stop everything in midfield going Rovers’ way, but it’s not a satisfactory solution, because there shouldn’t really be a problem there for Brown to solve. Mowatt’s young, Murphy’s learning the division and Austin’s inconsistent – we know these things – but as a trio, they should be able to control a game against the team standing 20th in the league. Especially when it’s Doncaster. We can disregard possession stats because they can be misleading, but it’s harder to ignore pass accuracy of 68% for Austin and just 56% for Murphy (Mowatt’s was a much more like it 82%). Only Dean Furman was doing any tackling of note for Rovers, so the problem was simple – we were giving the ball away too much. 

Against Doncaster that’s alright. Given a chance, Theo Robinson will either be offside, or balloon the ball to the moon. But while we might be stuck with playing Donny, unless there’s a drastic rule change we can only play them twice a season, and we can only play half of our league games at Elland Road. Barnsley are dreadful and we should demolish them on Saturday – and I make that statement in full knowledge of all the fates I’m tempting.

But after that we’re away to Blackpool and Forest over Christmas, and while it might be traditional for United to give us an utterly miserable time at this, the happiest time of the year – just think back a year to the horrors of the defeats at Forest and Hull, and the creeping sadness that characterised beating Bolton on New Year’s Day – losing away at Christmas is one tradition I’d like to see brought to an end. If we must have Doncaster back in our lives, at least give us back our Christmas, too. 

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