Can Stoke do it on a cold, wet afternoon in Doncaster? Yes it turns out, but only just…
• Rovers fans awaited the line ups with more interest than usual in the run up to the third round FA cup tie against Stoke City. Would Ferguson play one up front or two? Keegan or Middleton? McCullough or Lund? And in terms of the visitors, how many of their magic front four would play? How seriously would Mark Hughes take it?
• Such is the embarrassment of riches at Stoke that even without Affelay, Bojan, Arnautovic and Shaqiri they were still able to include Peter Crouch, Jon Walters and Charlie Adam among others. Crouch and Adam alone have commanded over £50m in transfer fees, a phenomenal figure when taking into account Rovers much more modest transfer outlay.
• Despite the huge gulf in class on paper, Rovers started brightly and looked fairly comfortable until Aaron Taylor-Sinclair failed miserably to deal with Joselu on the right wing and his cross found Peter Crouch in the middle. 1-0.
• Rovers once again showcased their new found resilience and McCullough’s superb run and pass allowed Tyson to sweep home at the second attempt. Luke McCullough has been a near constant source of irritation and disappointment during his time at Rovers so it was bizarre to see him strolling past premier league players at ease. More of the same in the future please.
• Rovers had Stoke rattled after the goal with Williams displaying some nice touches and Keegan bossing a midfield he had no right bossing. Stoke manager Mark Hughes looked noticeably worried, although years of managing in the premier league have left the former Manchester United striker with a constant look of forlorn horror. There is a phenomenon amongst premier league managers to turn into old women the longer they continue at the top level. Stick a hairnet on Mark Hughes and put him in a bingo hall and he wouldn’t look at all out of place…
• Rovers continued where they had left off in the second half and looked fairly comfortable until Stuckmann’s moment of utter madness. To pass the ball straight to the opposition is unforgivable and whilst Walters finish was truly top class, the whole situation should and could have been avoided.
• It would have been easy for Rovers heads to drop after going behind but instead the reds best spell of the game followed with Andy Butler hitting the bar and heading over from close range and Nathan Tyson (baby) failing to turn home albeit from a difficult angle. Whilst a Charlie Adam inspired Stoke were impressive in the second half, even the most ardent Potter wouldn’t have begrudged Rovers an equalizer. I believe the correct parlance is ‘a proper cup tie’.
• It is not often that a club can take so many positives from a defeat and the fact that the Rovers players looked visibly gutted at the final whistle was an indication of just how close Donny came to forcing a replay. Rovers have come a long way since Darren Fergusons arrival and it is difficult not to be excited about the future. Rovers have already travelled to every team in the top 8 of league 1 and with 3 of our next 4 games at home there are plenty of reasons for optimism amongst the Keepmoat faithful
Paul Keegan – Fringe player to undroppable in a few short games. Keegan was immense against the Potters and should be proud of a battling and physical display against the masters of the dark arts. If he stays fit Keegan will play a vital part in the rest of the season.
Richard Chaplow – Could have had two assists on another day with Andy Butler squandering both of Chaplow’s pin point crosses. If Rovers are to genuinely push for a play off place this season then it is vital that the squad players play a part.
The Black Bank – It easy to forget after yet another unmitigated success that there were many who questioned the merits of an unreserved seating section at the start of the season. Following the successful tifo display and another 90 minutes of near constant noise, those doubters have emphatically been silenced. Rovers now have a fan movement to be proud of. Who would ever have seen that coming a year ago?
James Coppinger – An ankle injury kept Copps out of the squad which is a shame for a player who thrives on big games. The concern for Copps will be the performances of Grant, Middleton and Keegan respectively who were all excellent. No doubt Copps will walk back into the team when fit but a strong midfield showing against a premier league club will have made uncomfortable viewing for Coppinger.
Thorsten Stuckmann – Stuckmann has been our man of the match time and time again this season so nobody would begrudge him the occasional mistake. It’s just unfortunate it came in such a significant game. More worrying is the fact that the Big *CENSORED* German’s distribution is often poor. The obvious answer to such a charge however is that if Stuckmann’s passing was as good as his shot stopping and commanding of his area then he would be playing at a lot higher level than league 1.
Man of the Match – Paul Keegan
Keegs just edges out Andy Williams with a commanding midfield performance. It was a hugely successful day for the stand in (future?) skipper.