Lots of punches and hard knocks but no Leeds ‘KO’

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DONCASTER Rovers slumped to their first home defeat in six league games against Blackpool on TUESDAY night as the Seasiders completed a league double with a 3-1 win in the return at the Keepmoat Stadium.

It was a setback for Rovers in more ways than one. For given their poor away record the vast majority of the wins that manager Dean Saunders feels the team need to retain their Championship status are expected to have to come from games played at the Keepmoat Stadium, it is imperative that their home form remains good.

Blackpool played well on the night and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt.

Manager Dean Saunders was later than usual coming out to speak to the media post-match - I think it was around 10.20pm - which didn’t give me much time to compile a back page piece before the 10.30pm or so deadline.

Prior to the game I had been told off the record that long-serving Mickey Walker had been rushed to hospital, where he underwent heart surgery after collapsing at the training ground the previous afternoon.

I’ve known Mickey for many years in his various roles as youth team manager, assistant first-team manager, caretaker manager and, in recent years, director of football, and no matter what job he was doing at the time he has always been both personable and approachable. I was relieved to be told that Mickey would be okay, even though he would have to take things easy for a few weeks.

WEDNESDAY: DONCASTER Knights were put to the sword by a lively Nottingham side in their rearranged Championship clash at Meadow Lane, going down 40-14. It was Knights’ first game for three weeks and it showed in a poor first half which saw them come in 23-0 behind.

They hadn’t helped their cause by making unforced handling errors and giving away numerous free-kicks, though team boss Brett Davey did have cause to complain over some of the referee’s decisions.

Knights played much better in the second half and the final score-line looked like being far more respectable until Nottingham took advantage of PJ Gidlow’s yellow card to post two late converted tries.

Adding to Knights’ disappointment was a serious knee injury sustained by second-rower Dan Smith in his first start for the club after a long battle against a career-threatening neck injury.

The Dons got their 2012 campaign off to a winning start with a 48-10 win at Gateshead in their opening Northern Rail Cup Pool B clash. Centre Lee Waterman scored four tries on his competitive debut for the club.

THURSDAY: THE Bentley Ladies’ Thursday Charity Darts League presented their 2011 nominated charity, the Gynaecology Unit at the DRI, with a cheque for £1,300.

Rovers’ hopes of avoiding the drop received a boost as Portsmouth were docked 10 points after going into administration.

FRIDAY: I watched 2011 Super League champions Leeds Rhinos regain Rugby League’s World Club Challenge crown with a 26-12 win, which belies how close the match was, over Australian champions Manly Sea Eagles at Headingley. Although Leeds could have bettered the 21,000 capacity crowd by moving the game to Elland Road, as they have done in the past, the atmosphere generated justified the decision to play at home.

SATURDAY: IT was a red-letter day in Doncaster Knights’ history as their impressive Castle Park complex staged its first ever live televised game.

And thanks to a fair following from Rotherham, and some hard work by the club in promoting the match, the game attracted a bumper 4,000 plus crowd which, to the best of my knowledge, is a ground record.

A lot of people no doubt will have been seeing Knights play for the first time, either live or on television. But unfortunately neither the result, a 15-14 win for the Titans, or the game itself, will have done much to encourage many newcomers to give the Doncaster club another try which is a shame because most games at Castle Park are much more free-flowing and entertaining than this scrappy affair.

I watched half an hour of the match, which kicked off at 12.05pm, on Sky Sports, before recording the rest and setting off for Doncaster Rovers’ Championship derby against Leeds United at Elland Road - a stadium which has seen better days.

Regular readers of this column may remember that I knocked myself out on my last visit to the ground after walking into a low solid concrete support beam during the half-time break.

There are warnings plastered all over the said supports, in what is still a very small media room for a club of United’s stature, not that I would ever make the same mistake twice.

I was amazed at the number of media people in the packed room who remembered the incident.

I didn’t realise, nor it seemed did some other journalists, that Rovers had kicked off with only 10 men. It was only when I saw Pascal Chimbonda (who apparently was told to take off his tights) emerge out of the dressing room that I noticed the visitors were short-handed.

The main talking point after the game, however, was the bust up in the tunnel.

Exact details of what had happened were hard to find as neither team, who were both questioned by the West Yorkshire Police, were prepared to comment. But from snippets of information I was able to pick up by hanging around until nearly 6.30pm, it was clearly a fairly serious incident with a number of punches being thrown.

Boxing legend Chris Eubank was ringside at Rotherham’s Magna Centre to see his son Chris Jnr beat Doncaster middleweight Jason Ball on points in only his second paid contest. Big things are expected of Eubank, who spent three years training in tough American gyms prior to turning professional late last year, but he didn’t embarrass Ball.

SUNDAY: THE Dons left it too late to seriously challenge visiting York City Knights in their second Northern Rail Cup clash at the Keepmoat.

But at least their second half rally earned them a losing bonus point which could yet prove crucial in their bid to finish in the top four if they can win at least one of their two remaining games.