Doncaster Rovers 0 Middlesbrough 0: Strong run continues after Boro test

Doncaster Rovers vs Middlesbrough FC - James Coppinger and former rovers star george friend battle it out
Doncaster Rovers vs Middlesbrough FC - James Coppinger and former rovers star george friend battle it out

The back-to-back league wins jinx might still be lingering on but eight points from a possible 12 and three clean sheets on home turf proves that January has been a bit of a season-defining time for Paul Dickov’s men.

A 0-0 draw against a strong Middlesbrough side on a blustery Saturday afternoon no doubt helped Rovers in their continued quest for Championship status sustainability.

And they could have - maybe should have - won it at the Keepmoat this weekend.

For Aitor Karanka’s travelling Teessiders, who brought more than 4,000 in support, had little in response to combat a confident Rovers outfit particularly in the first half.

The hosts - who last time around fell to a 4-0 thumping at Boro - were forced into making a solitary change for the Championship clash following an on-going calf problem with goalkeeper Ross Turnbull as last minute loan signing Sam Johnstone, of Manchester United, came straight into Dickov’s starting eleven.

Boro’s main attacking threat came mainly from the left flank with Mustapha Carayol looking dangerous on the ball but unable to create the killer pass for lone striker Curtis Main.

At the other end, Rovers were enjoying the better of the ball through James Coppinger who was once again turning back the years as he powered down the right and linked up well with Richie Wellens and Billy Sharp.

The 33-year-old midfielder had a glorious opportunity inside the opening six minutes when he glanced a head wide of the mark after connecting with a pinpoint delivery from the diminutive Mark Duffy who was causing problems for the visitors from his left wing role.

Continuity has been key to Rovers’ delayed festive cheer this month with Dickov having the luxury of first teamers to choose from after seeing the injury list dwindle down to just Rob Jones, Jamie McCombe and Harry Forrester.

That factor has helped breed confidence throughout the team which has in turn rubbed off into the stands of the Doncaster faithful - particularly following the acquisition of Southampton ace, and Keepmoat cult hero, Sharp.

It was his pressure that forced Boro into hurriedly clearing for a throw-in. From this possession, James Husband collected the ball from the edge of the area and was caught with a high boot for a free-kick.

As the young full-back left the field for treatment, Coppinger stepped up and planted his set-piece straight into the wall with cries for handball ringing around the Rovers ground, but nothing doing in the 18th minute.

As Doncaster tried to crank up the creativity, Boro still kept the hosts on their toes giving them little room for manoeuvre as they often pressured Rovers into a final ball lacking a real clinical edge.

Husband re-entered the field and it was from his delivery in which Sharp was close to guiding past loan man Shay Given, however the Republic of Ireland ace was able to punch away the danger as Middlesbrough countered.

The 26th minute saw the old school pairing of Coppinger and Sharp connecting, with the latter flicking on a header just inches past Given’s right-hand post as the flag went up for offside.

Wellens, who earlier saw a snapshot sail well over the bar, later reacted angrily to a challenge as he recklessly careered into Carayol in the 36th minute leading to Rovers and Middlesbrough players squaring up to one-another.

Referee Andy Davies had no option but to punish the Doncaster skipper, luckily for him with only a yellow.

However, that also highlighted the problem Dickov will now face in the Brighton and Barnsley tests after it was the central midfielder’s tenth caution leading to a two-game ban.

Half chances later fell to Coppinger and Carayol, however, neither posed enough of a threat to test their respective goalkeepers as stalemate ensued at half time.

With it looking likely that Karanka would ring the changes following a fruitless first 45, it was in fact the man in the middle who was brought off as referee Davies was deemed unwell to continue and fourth official Mark Brown stepped in.

Doncaster were also forced into a change as the ever-reliable Paul Keegan had to exit with a thigh problem with Dean Furman coming on.

That change poses a further blow for Dickov’s central midfield pairing who have been instrumental in Rovers’ recent resurrection.

Boro were arguably shading proceedings after the interval, but suffered the same fate as Doncaster as their killer passes were found wanting.

A good chance fell to Carayol in the 53rd minute as the Gambian winger burst past Bongani Khumalo but dragged his curling effort wide of Johnstone’s left-hand post.

Given was later called upon as he denied both Coppinger and a Duffy close range follow-up as the game entered the hour mark with both sides struggling to find a breakthrough.

A beautiful ball in from Emmanuel Ledesma found Main ghosting in at the back post as Boro threatened in the 60th minute before a stretching Chris Brown had the goal gaping at the other end but fired over from point blank range.

Boro cut a frustrated figure as they won the ball back well, however, opted for the long pass on the break which caught the wind every time giving Rovers enough time to recover strongly and retain possession.

Chances were few and far between in the final 20 minutes as fresh legs from both sides were unable to make their mark as defences were stubborn and a final ball lacking.

Just as the game looked to be heading for a goalless draw, substitute Kei Kamara raced ahead of Rovers’ backline at the death and wrapped a powerful effort wide of Johnstone’s post, a minute after the forward had entered the field in place of Daniel Ayala.

Doncaster’s Brown was later not able to get enough conviction on a chance in injury time as the Keepmoat drew a blank - proving to be fair result with Rovers finding themselves five points clear of the drop-zone and unbeaten in their last four.