Nottingham Forest 0 Doncaster Rovers 0: Paul Goodwin’s post-match analysis

Paul Quinn in action at Forest. Picture: Steve Uttley
Paul Quinn in action at Forest. Picture: Steve Uttley
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Just a fortnight ago Rovers fans trudged back to work on Monday morning contemplating the very real prospect of an immediate return to League One.

The few hundred that made the long, arduous trip to Bournemouth berated and booed their heroes following unquestionably the worst performance of Paul Dickov’s short tenure in charge.

After such an abject, empty display, they had every reason to wonder where the next point would come from. The run-in suddenly looked incredibly daunting.

But if a week’s a long time in football, two weeks is an absolute eternity.

And following deserved home wins over Huddersfield and Watford, Rovers came up with a performance at the City Ground right out of the ‘how to play away from home’ coaching manual. Not bad for a side that hasn’t won on its travels since September. The only thing missing was a goal.

Rovers weathered Forest’s early storm and grew in confidence. Happy to sit off rather than press, they created the better of the chances after the break, defended doggedly throughout and their ball retention was a billion times better than what it was at Bournemouth.

They played with a tenacity typified by a warrior-like performance from the head-bandaged Paul Quinn, a calmness that stemmed from the faultless Sam Johnstone, and a structure in which every single player knew what was expected of them. They played with purpose.

In short, Doncaster were everything that they were not at Bournemouth.

Stop mentioning Bournemouth, I hear you cry.

But on the evidence of the last three games, that result on the south coast could yet prove to be one of the most important scorelines of the season.

The sheer ineptitude of that performance could be the motivating factor that now drives Doncaster to safety.

Eight points clear of the bottom three, the happy ending that seemed so unlikely a fortnight ago now suddenly seems a lot more likely.

But, make no mistake about it, Dickov will be beating his players with the metaphoric Bournemouth stick until that mission is accomplished. He won’t forget it. He has a long memory.

“That performance [the Bournemouth defeat] is still in my mind and it still it hurts me,” said the Scot, as he reflected on Saturday’s stalemate.

“It has been a bit of a turning point though.

“I’ve got to be fair to the players; that sort of performance this season has been few and far between. It can happen to anyone in this division at any given time.

“But what it did do, it hurt us all.

“We decided after that game that the very minimum we had to do was to go out there and give absolutely everything we’ve got. The players have done that.

“The proof is in the pudding - seven points against Huddersfield, Watford and Nottingham Forest, who are all very good teams in this division, shows you we’re doing something right. But I’ve got to keep right on top of my players.”

Rovers did a lot of things right at the City Ground.

With the returning Andy Reid pulling the strings for Forest, the home side controlled the first half of the first half. Jamie Paterson lashed a good chance over the bar, while Greg Halford’s weak finish when put clean through exposed his defensive roots.

There was no sense of panic in Doncaster’s ranks though. Indeed, Dickov’s well-drilled men were getting more and more of a hint that they could nick something on the break. Richie Wellens went close from distance before David Cotterill drilled just wide.

But it was a superb save from Sam Johnstone, getting low down to parry Radoslaw Majewski’s drive before Quinn hacked Simon Cox’s follow-up off the line, which seemed to inspire Rovers into thinking it could be their day against a Forest team intent on passing it into the net.

In terms of the result, it might not have been Rovers’ day. The wait for an away win goes on. But they came very close to stunning the Reds in their own backyard as Billy Sharp, James Husband and Mark Duffy all saw good second half chances go begging.

Sharp’s header from Cotterill’s wicked free kick delivery was the closest they came, while Husband’s opening after some clever interplay carved Forest open was the best chance they had. Johnstone had to remain alert to tip over Majewski’s late piledriver but it would have been an injustice if Forest had claimed all three points.

This was a very different Doncaster to the one that turned up at Bournemouth.

By the looks of it, they’ve learned their lesson. But Dickov won’t be forgetting Bournemouth in a hurry.