Newport County 0 Doncaster Rovers 0: Life's a pitch as Rovers made to settle for a point
The league leaders taking a goalless draw from the side sitting bottom of the table may not seem like a great result but there was a sense of relief that Doncaster Rovers did just that at Newport County.
The much talked about Newport pitch was a leveller for two sides whose fortunes could hardly be more contrasting.
And it set the stage for what can only be termed as a battle, one lacking in both thrills and quality.
Rovers prepared for the game on what Darren Ferguson termed ‘park pitches.’ If pitches in the borough’s parks were as bad as that at Rodney Parade, the council would have some serious questions to answer from its rate-payers.
More sand than grass, it made for an ugly view and an even more ugly spectacle. Scrappy was one word. Horrible probably a better choice.
It took only a few seconds of play to hammer home that it would be far from a comfortable night for Rovers. A typical top-versus-bottom clash this would not be.
The bounce of the ball could barely be read. One moment it was as though it was ricocheting off concrete, the next moment mud.
Ferguson insisted in the week there would be aspects of Rovers’ game that they simply could not use against their struggling hosts.
Any semblence of their patient, incisive possession play was gone, replaced by a much more direct approach.
There was no bringing the ball down in defence and picking a pass but instead an intention to clear as quickly as possible.
That the cultured Mathieu Baudry was absent from the back line was no coincidence. He was one of two changes with James Coppinger - carrying a heel problem - also dropping out and Craig Alcock and Joe Wright coming in.
Matty Blair offered some hint of attacking excitement with his direct running, particularly in the first half when he found the only real stretch of pitch where grass featured.
But in the main, Rovers attempted to catch out Newport’s high line with early balls over the top. The hosts had confidence to perch just inside their own half, knowing the pitch ensured there was no real clean run of goal even beyond the defence.
Offsides were aplenty, as was frustration for front two John Marquis and Andy Williams who struggled to find breaks.
Early shots were taken by Marquis and Conor Grant - operating behind the front two in a 3-4-3 system which saw Niall Mason move into midfield - but both struggled to test Newport keeper Joe Day.
Rovers looked the more dangerous, largely through their determination to force the issue.
But there was still plenty of danger in Graham Westley’s Newport side, emphasised when Ryan Bird flicked a header just wide with the last touch of the first half.
David Pipe had opened the game with a close range header which drew a superb reaction save from Ian Lawlor.
As the game moved into the second half, it was clear it was going to take something special or a fortunate bounce of the ball for a goal to come.
A brilliant through ball from Blair found Tommy Rowe who worked space for a shot but Day was equal to it.
Such moments of inspiration were few and far between, though Rovers increasingly looked the more likely to break the deadlock.
Pressure was plentiful in the second half but the bounce of the ball rarely fell right. Balls were tossed around the box but testing efforts on goal were non-existent.
Newport closed the game the stronger and there were more than a few nerves when the ball sat up for Darren Jones in the dying seconds but he blasted over the bar.
Not the ideal result for Rovers but the damage was not too severe.
Tests against Carlisle United and Luton Town this week will struggle to be as difficult.
NEWPORT: Day, Nelson, Jones, O’Brien, Pipe, Rose, Blanchard, Williams (Gordon 46), Butler, Bird, Reid. Subs not used: Bittner, Samuel, Sheehan, Owen-Evans, Parselle, Flynn.
ROVERS: Lawlor, Alcock, Wright, Butler, Blair, Houghton, Mason, Grant, Rowe, Marquis, Williams. Subs not used: Etheridge, Evina, Walker, Middleton, Keegan, Beestin, May.
REFEREE: David Webb (Lancashire)
ATTENDANCE: 2,653 (396 away)