Match analysis: Notts County 0 Doncaster Rovers 1 - Williams finds the KO in Boxing Day scrap

Andy Williams celebrates his goal for Rovers
Andy Williams celebrates his goal for Rovers

If there had ever been any doubts over whether Rovers had it in them to win ugly, there will be no such questions left unanswered after this festive period.

After slugging their way to victory over Grimsby Town before Christmas, they were forced into another war of attrition on Boxing Day.

STAR MAN: Andy Butler

STAR MAN: Andy Butler

A scrappy affair it was too. But once again, they rolled with the punches and ultimately landed the knockout blow.

Andy Williams struck on the hour with a header that proved enough to see off valiant strugglers Notts County and send Rovers back to the summit of League Two.

It was not pretty but they managed to prove yet again that they are a level above the majority of their rivals in the division in terms of quality.

Rovers had found themselves matched up in a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield by the hosts and space on the large Meadow Lane pitch proved hard to come by.

County, to their immense credit, did an excellent job preventing Rovers from finding fluidity.

They pressed exceptionally well throughout the first half, swarming around any opposition player in possession. But for a lack of quality in the final third, they could have punished the visitors on the counterattack.

It made for a dull and frustrating start to the afternoon from a Rovers perspective.

Chances were few and far between, passes were regularly mislaid and the usual cohesion was absent.

That Darren Ferguson opted for a tactical switch at half time said everything about the success of each side’s game plan to that point.

Rovers switched to a fluid flat 4-4-2 in a bid to find the space which had previously evaded them.

And they did find it, particularly in wide areas, certainly on the left side.

Tommy Rowe dropped in at left back and Liam Mandeville moved from the tip of the diamond, ordered to hug the touchline.

Rovers were transformed, and it proved the difference that led to the win.

The manager must take a great deal of credit for his tactical tinkering at half time which proved key in undoing the County lock.

Rather than basking in the glory, he preferred to give the plaudits to his players.

“The players have to take all the credit in terms of they listened to the instructions at half time, they took it on board,” Ferguson said. “It’s not a system I would go to often. I’m not keen on it.

“I felt if they matched us up, we’d go to the three, but I just felt watching the game, I wanted Tommy out in the space, that was where the space was.”

Space was certainly at a premium in the first half. And so were chances.

Williams showed a sublime touch to bring down and take on a diagonal ball from Mandeville but County keeper Scott Loach was quickly off his line to smother the shot.

Such close attention was afforded to all those on the pitch in red and white as County showed a real workhorse streak.

The hosts arguably had the better of the chances in the opening period.

Jon Stead flicked a header which Marko Marosi plucked out of the air on his line and Craig Alcock got in a vital block to prevent Jonathan Forte from pouncing.

The system change at the break bore fruit immediately as Rovers looked much more threatening. And on the hour they got the goal.

Superb link play in midfield sent Mandeville scarpering on the left before he fed Rowe on the overlap. The cross put the ball on a plate for Williams who headed down and past Loach.

Matty Blair almost doubled the lead immediately after, rising to meet Mandeville’s cross but heading back off the foot of the post.

From uncomfortable to comfortable, Rovers were given little to worry about for the remainder of the game.

Williams could have put it to bed after embarking on a 50 yard run only to clip a shot agonisingly past the far post.

County threatened to spoil the party when Carl Dickinson beat the wall with a free kick inside seven minutes of injury time but he failed to trouble Marosi, ensuring Rovers kept consecutive clean sheets for only the second time this season.

Certainly on the ugly side but one of the more satisfying Christmas presents to reflect upon.

Notts County: Loach, Richards, Hollis, Duffy, Dickinson, Tootle (Laing 65), Thompson (Oliver 66), Milsom, Campbell, Stead (Collins 86), Forte. Subs not used: Collin, Smith, Oliver, Hewitt, Audel.

Rovers: Marosi, Alcock, Baudry (Wright 46), Butler, Mason, Houghton, Blair, Rowe (Middleton 79), Mandeville, Marquis, Williams. Subs not used: Jones, Keegan, Calder, Beestin, Longbottom.

Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire)

Attendance: 5,828 (1,448)