Match Report: Swindon Town 0 Doncaster Rovers 1

Kyle Bennett thanks Sam Johnstone for his penalty save that helped Doncaster Rovers claims all three points at Swindon. Picture by Richard Parkes
Kyle Bennett thanks Sam Johnstone for his penalty save that helped Doncaster Rovers claims all three points at Swindon. Picture by Richard Parkes

There will have been plenty of questions asked of just why the near 300 hardy souls would want to make at least a six hour round trip to watch their inconsistent side just five days before Christmas.

But Rovers helped to provide an emphatic answer for their loyal fans with a brilliant win over one of League One’s top sides. The 283 travellers saw their efforts rewarded with a superb performance, capped with penalties netted by Theo Robinson and saved late on by Sam Johnstone.

While recent away performances have seen Rovers produce some excellent attacking, Saturday’s game was all about effort, endeavour and industry. Under the cosh for long periods, they rarely looked like being breached by an increasingly desperate Swindon. Robinson and Johnstone’s highlight reel moments will be remembered as the game’s heroics. But Rovers had 11 heroes on the pitch at any one time on Saturday.

The effort was phenomenal. Legs were tireless and the commitment even more so. It was an example of the multi-faceted nature of this Rovers side.

The manner in which they stood up to a Swindon side on a run of four straight wins was thrilling.

There will not be many more times this season that they come under as much pressure as they did on Saturday.

But there should be plenty of confidence now that they can cope with whatever is thrown at them.

If only it could be carried over into home performances, then Paul Dickov would really be on to something this season.

The only real negative from Saturday’s victory is that it highlighted the disappointing nature of this year’s Keepmoat form.

Until a solution is reached, the Rovers boss will always have his doubters.

But he must be commended for his approach on Saturday. He got it spot on.

One Swindon journalist commented that Rovers were the most defensive side to have visited the County Ground this season. A degree of sour grapes may have been present but he was right about Rovers’ primary objective.

And the fact they became only the second side to return home from Swindon with three points this season shows just how well the game plan worked. Fighting fire with fire was never going to be a sensible option against one of the division’s best footballing sides. To do so would have left Rovers wide open to the dynamic attacking play of the hosts’ favoured 3-5-2 system.

So Dickov sent his side out to deny them room to pick out their passes and provide a roadblock to their attempts to play down the middle.

It required the sacrifice of Rovers’ most talented striker, Curtis Main, who dropped to the bench to allow Dean Furman to come back into the side.

Furman joined in a midfield four, protected behind by Paul Keegan and topped by lone striker Theo Robinson.

These three men in particular were stand outs and all because of their superb work rate.

Furman has spoken recently about his frustration over the lack of starts for Rovers. When handed his opportunity, he gave Dickov plenty to think about.South Africa’s new skipper never stopped running, be it to track back or to attempt to launch an attack. He eased the pressure on Rovers so much, particularly in linking with James Coppinger.

Rovers pressed from the very start and Swindon, for a long time, did not know how to cope with it.

There was a certain degree of gamesmanship on show as well, particularly with Sam Johnstone who took an age with goal kicks after Rovers went in front.

Mark Cooper’s side looked to pass the ball but were more often than not cut off at the source, largely due to Rovers’ energy. And soon the frustration began to creep in for the hosts, with plenty of errors, misplaced balls and poor runs.

At first, it seemed Rovers would struggle to get off the back foot. Robinson looked isolated and the midfield was particularly deep.

But after the first 15 minutes or so, the midfield four pushed higher up the pitch and began to break well. They looked particularly good down the right hand side where Coppinger and Furman operated.

Swindon did show their teeth first but Andy Butler reacted quickly to block an attempted volley from Andy Williams, providing a taste of what was to come from the Rovers defence.

Moments after claims for a penalty for the Robins were turned down when Nathan Bryne tumbled under challenge from Butler, Rovers were gifted the opening goal.

Coppinger played a through ball and as Furman looked to meet it, he was clattered by Jordan Turnbull with referee Kevin Johnson showing little hesitation in pointing to the spot.

There were no nerves from Robinson, who missed his last spot kick at Fulham, as he stepped up and smashed the ball past Wes Foderingham.

The Swindon keeper produced a superb stop to tip a powerful Luke McCullough header over the bar moments later as Rovers pushed for a second.

Swindon started strongly after the break, producing their best spell of pressure.

Former Rovers transfer target Jon Obika rattled the post with a powerful drive on the turn while Johnstone had to be alert to keep out two strikes in quick succession.

But as the chances continued to be wasted, the more panicky the play became.

Ben Gladwin struck an awful effort wide after dancing into the box while Williams rushed his shot after being sent through one-on-one with Robinson and drilled agonisingly wide. Surviving the pressure, Rovers managed to move off the back foot as the half wore on.

Robinson saw a shot from the edge of the box deflect wide and from the subsequent corner, Butler produced a fine diving header but powered the ball just wide.

After knocking on the door for so long, it seemed as though Swindon had their answer when Reece Wabara was penalised for appearing to haul down Williams inside the box.

But substitute Michael Smith squandered the chance as he sent a tame penalty that was all too easy for Johnstone to keep out at his left.

Though Rovers sub Harry Forrester saw an attempt to square a pass from the byline kick off Foderingham and the post, the finish was a nervy one for the visitors.

Deep into the five minutes of added time, Furman was in the right place to block Louis Thompson’s header on the line and hook clear.

Conceding an equaliser at that point would have been an injustice for Rovers given their efforts.

Instead, they sent their loyal band home with an early Christmas present.

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