THERE is no doubting the fact that a lot of Doncaster Rovers’ fans have yet to be convinced of the merits of bringing in out-of-favour Premier League stars on short-term deals.
But Saturday’s game against fellow strugglers Watford is likely to have won over a few more converts to a controversial policy which has made Rovers the talk of the Championship in recent weeks.
All three debutants acquitted themselves well, especially defender Habib Beye and striker Marc-Antoine Fortune with the Aston Villa man deservedly taking the sponsors’ man-of-the-match award after helping Rovers keep only their second clean sheet of the Championship campaign.
“We are a bit disappointed because I think we had five or six chances in the first half and one or two in the second and when you play at home you have to score,” said the 34 year-old who lasted the pace well on his return to first-team football following a lengthy spell in Villa’s second string.
“We had to fight for 90 minutes because they were playing long balls and they had two big guys up front. At the end of the day I think we played well and I think we deserved more than a point.”
Fellow centre-back Sam Hird did well alongside him on his return to the starting line-up and James O’Connor produced a performance at right-back much more in keeping with the quality defender that he undoubtedly is.
On-loan keeper Carl Ikeme, arguably the only player to impress in the 2-0 defeat at Oakwell, again showed on his home debut that Rovers have done good business in bringing the Wolves man to the club.
Midfielder Brian Stock was another player to show that he deserves to be in manager Dean Saunders’ future plans.
“Watford are a big side and we knew that we weren’t going to beat them in the air and that we had to pass the ball as a team,” said Stock. “We worked on that and for me personally when the whole team passes the ball it benefits me as well.
“I got on the ball quite a lot, especially in the first half, and tried to make things happen and I felt a bit like my old self.
“We didn’t get the ball moving as much in the second half, but maybe you’ve got to give Watford a bit of credit for pressing us higher up the pitch, and in the end we probably cancelled each other out.”
El-Hadji Diouf proved far more effective than against Barnsley and had Billy Sharp been a couple of inches taller he could well have headed his fourth-minute cross into the back of the net.
Ikeme was the busier of the two keepers early on and Rovers also had to thank Stock for blocking a goalbound shot by striker Chris Iwelumo just a couple of yards from the line on 18 minutes.
Fortune, another man who has played mainly reserve team football at West Brom this season, slotted in well playing alongside Sharp and Diouf in a 4-3-3 formation.
Rovers’ record buy would surely have opened the scoring had he been able to make contact with Diouf’s cross at the far post.
Although Rovers edged the first half territorially, Watford looked dangerous on the break and Michael Kightly shot just wide of the far post after cutting in from the left.
Watford suffered a blow when leading scorer Marvin Sordell limped off after 37 minutes.
Iwelumo wasted a good chance just before the break, shooting high and wide with an angled effort from about 12 yards out following a long midfield run by Kightly.
Rovers looked all set to break the deadlock on 49 minutes when Diouf and Fortune combined to create a chance for Sharp only to see the former Sheffield United man put the ball just wide from in front of goal.
Rovers’ hopes of claiming only their second home win of the season suffered a blow on the hour as Diouf limped off with a hamstring injury.
The longer the game went on the more it looked as though one goal would decide the outcome but neither side could conjure up a winner in the final quarter and the spoils were shared as they had been last season.
Watford boss Sean Dyche, who has now seen his side pick up three wins and a draw in their last five games, admitted that he was happier with a point than his Rovers’ counterpart.
“They (Rovers) are bottom of the league and obviously want to win games and improve their home record for sure,” he said.
“They’ve signed yet more Premiership players so we knew that they’d have quality.
“We felt it was really important what we did today. We huffed and puffed and had plenty of effort and plenty of energy but our quality was lacking somewhat at key moments in key areas.
“A big positive for us was to come away and not perform just quite as well as we would like but keep a clean sheet and come away with a point and a really good performance from our back five.”
Rovers will view it as two points dropped and the result increases the pressure on the team to pick something up from tomorrow’s trip to Millwall.
But if they show the same commitment and willingness to work for each other, and enjoy a bit more luck in front of goal than against Watford, then a result at the New Den is not beyond them.