Match analysis: Doncaster Rovers 1 Grimsby Town 0 - the perfect early present
If Darren Ferguson could have chosen three early Christmas presents, a win, clean sheet and a show of grit from his team would have been at the top of his wish-list.
He got all three from a hard-fought victory against a plucky Grimsby outfit as Liam Mandeville’s third minute free-kick - the in-form teenager’s seventh goal in nine games - settled an intense, physical battle.
The win, and the nature of it, was the perfect tonic for Rovers, not just to get any lingering frustration of the Plymouth defeat out of their system, but also to now set them up perfectly for two very winnable festive fixtures at Notts County and Mansfield Town.
The Mariners, backed by a 4,000-strong travelling contingent, more than played their part in a first league meeting between these sides for 26 years.
The visitors certainly had their moments and the outcome might been different had they not been missing 16-goal striker Omar Bogle through injury.
But Rovers were unquestionably the better side, controlling the first half and then seeing the game out successfully to get straight back on the horse following the previous weekend’s disappointment.
KEEP IT CLEAN
A first clean sheet in eight matches was just what was required, but Rovers had to work hard for it.
Danny Collins ought to have done better when he got in front of his man to meet a Danny Andrew free-kick but flicked his header just wide.
The lively Tom Bolarinwa flashed a deflected effort into the side-netting on the stroke of half time.
And hearts were in mouths right at the death when Dan Jones flashed a ball across the face of goal but three Town players failed to take advantage.
It was tight, tense and sometimes scrappy to watch.
But, in many ways, with the second half at Stevenage still very much fresh in the memory, Ferguson would have taken more pleasure from this kind of victory than a comfortable three or four-goal romp.
His side had to really dig-in and grind the victory out in the end.
In doing so, it should give them belief that they can win games in different ways. They don’t have to always completely outplay teams, or blow them away, to get those three points.
Right from kick-off Rovers set a quick tempo, passed the ball with confidence and purpose, and also got about Grimsby when they did not have possession.
It was a textbook way to start a game, and it did not take long for Rovers to make it count on the scoreboard.
Central to that passing was Jordan Houghton who was a calming influence in the holding role, ticking things over. Ahead of him, Tommy Rowe offered technique and tenacity in abundance.
The performance of Houghton and Rowe was key to the way Rovers controlled the game for the most part - bar a nervy spell at the start of the second half when Grimsby got on top.
When Tommy Rowe and Mandeville stood over the decisive free-kick, you kind of expected the senior player to take control of the situation.
But when Rowe instead ran over it, and left the kick for Mandeville, that almost said everything about how the youngster has stepped up to the plate and been accepted by his teammates.
Mandeville has gone from boy to man in the space of a few weeks and Rovers now look like they’ve got a serious talent on their hands - and may even have to fend off the circling vultures next month.
He filled in for James Coppinger at the midfield tip on Saturday - and the biggest compliment you could give the teenager is that Rovers did not miss their veteran skipper as much as they might have feared before the game.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Darren Ferguson: “Those are the games you need to win - the ones where you scrap, fight, battle.
“I thought we did it very well and it was a deserved victory and a really good win for us.
“It was a fantastic goal that won the game for us and we’ve kept a clean sheet. We’ve seen a strong, disciplined side to our game today.”
Marcus Bignot: “We created chance upon chance and I honestly believe, going off memory and a bit of emotion as well, we got into the better goalscoring opportunities and had the better of the half chances as well.
“Doncaster are one of the best football sides in the division.
“But they never opened us up and James McKeown has barely had a save to make.”