Derby verdict and reaction: Doncaster Rovers 0 Sheffield United 1
After a much-needed, deserved victory at the Keepoat Stadium, maybe everything little thing’s gonna be all right when it comes to Sheffield United’s top-six push after all.
Che Adams’ first-half goal proved enough to settle a dour, scrappy affair. And it might just help reinvigorate the Blades after a faltering start to 2016.
Doncaster Rovers, meanwhile, have now not won since a 3-0 victory at Southend United on January 3. More so, they have lost their last three games on home soil and are without a win at the Keepmoat in six attempts. Their fourth successive defeat at the hands of their big-city rivals has left them somewhat nervously looking over their shoulder, six points clear of the bottom four.
You would certainly hope that Rovers have enough about them to manoeuvre themselves clear of the danger zone, although they showed a quite horrifying lack of quality at times on Saturday in what was unquestionably their worst performance yet under Darren Ferguson.
While Jamaica’s finest’s 1980 classic dominated the post-match playlist, much to the delight of the singing and dancing travelling fans, the Keepmoat DJ might have been forgiven for slipping a certain Blazin’ Squad hit in somewhere before kick-off. This game had a real ‘Crossroads’ feel to it.
United had just one win in their last six league games and their play-off hopes were starting to dangle by the proverbial thread. All of the talk at out-of-form Rovers, without a win in their last five games, was about keeping their season alive.
With so much seemingly riding on the game, the expectation was for a good old-fashioned blood-and-thunder derby. However, this was anything but - and a game that was strangely subdued for large parts prompted Ferguson to state it was one of the worst derbies he had ever seen and that the occasion, or indeed lack of one, had “bored him to tears”.
Ferguson, serving a one-game touchline ban for comments he made to the referee in the aftermath of his side’s defeat to Port Vale and forced to watch the game from the stadium’s control room, was left less than impressed with his own players too.
At times they appeared to resemble a team of strangers, struggling to do anything constructive in possession and lacking cohesion both with the ball and without it. Strikers Andy Williams and Nathan Tyson tried their best to feed on scraps but time and time again they were left isolated by a midfield unwilling to support their frontmen.
United, on the other hand, went about their business in a much more resolute and organised manner.
The Blades were far from brilliant but what little quality there was on the ball came from them, with the busy Louis Reed and experienced Dean Hammond winning the midfield battle hands down.
The winning goal, which arrived just a few minutes before the break, came from a very rare moment of quality. Jose Baxter, the best player on the pitch, found himself in space in between the lines and chipped a delightful ball into the path of Adams, who coolly poked it past the on-rushing Chris Neal.
Up until that point, it had been fairly even in terms of chances.
United had began the brighter and went close twice in the opening five minutes, first when Baxter’s hooked effort had to be tipped over by Neal, before Neill Collins’ header from a corner clipped the bar and went over.
While the Blades favoured more patient approach play, Rovers were not scared to get it forward quicker but too often it was hit and hope.
A long ball forward, however, resulted in aruably the home side’s best opening. Williams did well to bring it down inside the penalty area but George Long was equal to his effort on goal.
Williams was the chief outlet for Rovers. In the first half he also saw a close-range effort blocked by Collins after good work from Tyson at the byline, a header hooked off the line by David Edgar after he got up above Long and then a chipped attempt saved by United’s young goalkeeper.
There was very little fluency about Doncaster’s play, however, and it brought about a tactical switch at half-time as one ex-Blades defender was replaced by another. Andy Butler, who Adams had held off to open the scoring, went off to be replaced by Craig Alcock and Rovers switched from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2.
Adams, who impressed in the lead role up front in the absence of former Rovers star Billy Sharp, might have broken the deadlock much earlier after latching on to a through ball and lobbing tamely straight at Neal.
After the interval it was also Adam’s decisive break from halfway that led to the best chance of the half for Reed, only for Neal to produce an important save after being left one on one with the midfielder.
It mattered not, though, as the Blades comfortably held out for victory against a Rovers team that lacked any sort of composure or quality in the final third.
The closest they came during a drab second-half display was a shot from Cameron Stewart that kept Long honest at his near post and a drilled cross from Harry Middleton that narrowly evaded Tyson.
Will everything be all right for Rovers? They need to be a damn sight better than this.
What about United? They too need to be better. But this might just be the win to get them going again.
doncaster Rovers: Neal 6, McCullough 5, Butler 5 (Alcock 46, 5), Taylor-Sinclair 5, Evina 5, Gooch 5 (Mandeville 62, 5), Keegan 6, Middleton 5, Stewart 5 (Chaplow 77), Williams 6, Tyson 5. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Lund, Lecygne, Davies.
Sheffield United: Long 7, Brayford 7, Collins 7, Edgar 7, McEveley 6, Campbell-Ryce 6 (Flynn 74), Hammond 6, Reed 7 (Basham 83), Adams 7, Baxter 8, Calvert-Lewin 7 (Woolford 86). Subs not used: Howard, Coutts, Done, Sammon.
referee: Mike Dean (The Wirral).