Late substitute makes all the difference with goals
CARDIFF super-sub Jason Koumas sentenced Doncaster Rovers to a third successive Championship defeat by scoring two late goals to earn his promotion-chasing side a flattering victory over Doncaster Rovers.
The Wigan loanee had hardly broke sweat when the Bluebirds were awarded a free-kick just outside the Doncaster box following a foul by centre-back Matt Kilgallon on top scorer Jay Bothroyd in the last minute of normal time.
The foul might have been debatable, but there was no argument over the quality of Koumas’s 25-yard strike which gave young keeper Gary Woods no chance.
Rovers skipper Brian Stock, for one, wasn’t surprised by the goal.
“I’ve trained with Jason Koumas and played with him (for Wales) and I’ve seen him do that ten out of ten on the training pitch and the quality that he has is unbelievable,” said Stock.
“He’s a Premier League player and he showed that when he came on and he was the difference between the two teams.”
He added: “All the lads are very disappointed in the changing room not to have got anything from the game. Although we’ve not picked up any points we’ve performed well and as the manager said we’d rather get beat the way we did.
“So we need to take a lot of positives out of the game and take them into Tuesday’s home game against Preston.” but
Rovers huffed and puffed in the first three minutes of added time - substitute Jason Euell heading over - before Koumas made sure that the Bluebirds completed the double over the South Yorkshire side by grabbing their third at the death after combining with Craig Bellamy in a two-on-one with Mark Wilson.
Prior to Koumas coming on, Rovers had looked the side most likely to snatch a late winner following James Coppinger’s 78th minute equaliser.
The industrious Hayter set him up and Coppinger beat Heaton from the edge of the box to claim his first goal of 2011.
It was Rovers’ first goal in four games and if anyone deserved to score it was Coppinger.
He had gone close on a couple of previous occasions earlier in the half - notably testing keeper Tom Heaton from the edge of the box with a goal bound shot the keeper did well to smother.
Said Coppinger, who has now got seven goals to his name: “When I got the goal I thought it was going to be our day because we had the momentum.
“We’d had two disappointing results in our two previous games when I thought that we could possibly have got something out of the games, and today was another frustrating afternoon.
“With other players not scoring you have to take responsibility. Thinking about how I could improve my personal performance during the week, I wanted to score goals and have assists like I have tried to do all season.
“It has wavered a bit recently with all the injuries we’ve had and people not getting on the end of crosses, but it hasn’t affected me today.
“I’ve come into the game feeling positive and that’s something that I’ll try and take into every game for the rest of the season.
“Goals are something that has been missing from the team and the gaffer talks about players taking responsibility - especially with Billy (Sharp) being out injured - and he’d like to see other people chipping in.
“But it hasn’t happened, and we’ve got some tough games coming up, so somebody needs to step up to the mark and hopefully it can be me between now and the end of the season.”
Rovers made a lively start and had they scored in the opening ten minutes or so when they were dominant they could have clipped the high-flying Bluebirds’ wings.
Coppinger shot inches wide of the far post with an angled effort and Franck Moussa, presented with the Supporters’ Club Player of the Month award for March before the kick-off, was only denied a second goal in Rovers colours - after being put through by birthday boy James Hayter - by a fine save by Heaton.
It was against the run of play when Cardiff took the lead on 15 minutes.
Seyi OIofinjana put leading sorer Jay Bothroyd away just inside the Doncaster half and he ran on into the box before cleverly back-heeling the ball to Chris Burke, who made it three goals in the last three games.
Rovers didn’t let their heads drop and the hard-working Simon Gillett raised hopes of a first-half equaliser on 28 minutes, racing into the box, after capitalising on a mistake by defender Dekel Keinan some 30 yards out, and forcing another good save from Heaton.
Rovers had earlier had to reorganise their back-four after left-back Joseph Mills picked up a leg injury in the 21st minute.
Matt Kilgallon came on with George Friend switching from centre-back - where he has been playing for the last few weeks - to his more regular left-back spot.
Friend is being ‘nursed’ in training during the week in the hope that he can see the season out before undergoing surgery to repair a double hernia, but he hardly put a foot wrong in either position.
Said Friend, who first felt the problem in last month’s 5-2 defeat at Leeds: “ I didn’t really feel it much today and we’ll see how it is on Tuesday. Hopefully there won’t be too much reaction.
“I’d not played left-back for a number of games but obviously I can play there. I wasn’t expecting to play there today. I hope Millsy’s injury isn’t too bad because he’s been really good for us there.
“I’m happy to play anywhere on the pitch so I’m just pleased that I could put in a performance and it’s a shame that we didn’t get the result.
“The score-line wasn’t a fair reflection of the game. I think their third goal was more a case of us pushing forward trying to get an equaliser and we got caught short at the back.
“The foul for their second was debatable, but I’ve not had the chance to see it again.
“I think before that goal they were finding it tough in the heat.”
One win in 13 games is relegation form in any division, but Rovers are playing much better than their record suggests.
Thanks to the points they amassed in the first half of the season Rovers should hang on to their Championship status.
A win tomorrow against Preston is vital, however, and it is to be hoped that the town’s football fans heed chairman John Ryan’s plea to turn up in their numbers.
O’KELLY: WITHOUT a shadow of doubt the score didn’t reflect the game but you have to deal with it and move on.
Once we got it back to 1-1 I thought that we probably looked the strongest side to win the game.
But they brought on Jason Koumas and Lee Naylor and the Koumas quality told in the end.