It’s still a little early in the season to be talking about must-win games, but there was no question the pressure was on tonight. The home defeat to Leeds not only put an end to the previous decent run of results (since the Millwall game) but also focused attention back on the poor home record this season (and the echoes of something similar for much of last season); and the defeat at QPR, while not especially damaging in itself, left us back to one place above the relegation zone. Three points tonight and at least that gap widened to six points and pushed us four places up the table, with another home game coming up; anything less and … well, just didn’t bear thinking about. In the event, while it was far from a breeze, Doncaster proved a very different kettle of fish to the side that visited us briefly earlier in the season and the points were indeed taken, giving Sir Chris some long overdue exercise after the final whistle at The Valley.
Transport difficulties and the need for at least one pre-match glass threw out our timings and I have to say I missed the first few minutes – and the build-up to the game. Consequently I’m indebted to a fellow Addick for informing me after the match that it hadn’t been Hamer in goal; just hadn’t crossed my mind it wasn’t him and I was preparing mentally some positive comment along the lines of him having not let his error against Leeds for their third to affect him, judging on the reports from the QPR game and the performance tonight, when he was called on just once but when required made a good save late on to head off what might otherwise have been a nervy end. Instead, I am informed we lined up with Alnwick in goal, with Hamer having picked up an injury in the warm-up. So to him must go the credit.
Otherwise, with Wood not brought straight back in, the defence threw up no surprises: Wilson, Wiggins, Morrison and Dervite. Cousins and Stephens kept the central midfield berths, with Stewart on the right and Jackson being called on to play wide-left (I’m sure there was a quote not so long ago from Powell to the effect that he’d never play there again, no matter), with Pritchard missing out to accommodate a basic 4-4-2 with Kermorgant and Church up front.
Missing the start also meant I didn’t see what was apparently an early miss by Church. By the time I’d settled in the game was looking rather low-key, with a rather sparse crowd (full marks to the Doncaster fans who turned up again) not helping. Indeed, the first 20 minutes or so were fairly mundane, from both teams. Stephens was trying to make things happen, and Stewart was looking a threat, but otherwise our movement wasn’t especially sharp and with Kermorgant still feeling his way back into things we were looking fairly ordinary, as if the obvious need to get a home win under our belts was weighing on us.
Then almost out of the blue we had a couple of excellent chances. Good movement by Church on the left side created the space for him to put in a low cross which was left by Jackson for Kermorgant, who hit it on the turn only to see the ball rebound off the inside of the post and out. Then a ball in from the other side was met sweetly by Jackson, only for his curling effort to be well turned away by their keeper. After that the game settled down again. At the other end we were looking fairly comfortable, if not completely assured. Doncaster caused us all sorts of problems with their set-pieces in the abandoned game and that seemed to leave a scar; one ball in saw three Charlton defenders converge on it and all contrive to miss it.
Then from the relatively mundane came a goal that surely puts to rest our goal of the month competition, if not goal of the season. Ball coming down over his shoulder around the edge of the area and Stephens hit an absolute screamer into the far corner. Really one of those ones that Malcolm Allison used to say you might as well blame the cleaner for.
One more before the break and you felt that might do it, but when that chance came, from a driven low cross, Church failed to make a meaningful connection when it seemed any touch would do. Kermorgant did also make something of a hash of putting the ball into an empty net from about 30 yards, but the linesman’s flag was up in any event, while a free kick from him curled over the bar. Instead perhaps the turning point of the game came shortly before the break as Doncaster fashioned their one real chance of the night. Their guy sprang the offside trap (according to the linesman at least) and was almost clean through, only for a series of desperate lunges persuaded him to turn inside once or twice and by the time the shot came in it cleared the bar.
At the break things were far from done and perhaps the game should already have been put to bed, but if they’d equalised then who knows?
The second half picked up in pretty similar fashion, a lot of ordinary stuff played in the direction of Church with Yann struggling to have his customary impact, but with the defence not put under serious pressure. Doncaster started to make their changes, including the introduction of a worryingly nippy forward, but before we could start to be truly anxious we did get the breathing space we needed. I can’t say who played the ball through to Church (but whoever it was take another mark in the ratings) but it was a peach, allowing him to run through on the keeper. He bided his time but once the keeper had committed himself tucked it into the corner of the net, perhaps off the post. A much-needed goal for him and for us.
Doncaster’s response was fairly tame and instead the chances came and went for us to truly kill them off. Stewart decided it was time for some shots. His first was turned over the bar and his second came back off the bar. Wilson got in on the act, forcing a good save, and then there was the moment of farce when it seemed somebody must score and instead Church swivelled on the loose ball and miskicked.
So the third never came but the game was seen out comfortably after Alnwick had dived smartly to his left to turn aside their one second-half serious attempt on goal. Sordell replaced Church, Hughes came on late for Jackson (who had picked up a yellow card), and right at the death Green was allowed to stretch his legs for a few minutes, with Stewart coming off.
It was, I guess, what Sir Chris might describe as a decent professional performance. We needed a home win badly and took it. A word on our visitors? Decent and fair. I think they were missing some players tonight, but it also underlines the cliché that goals change games. In the first half of the abandoned game they scored three and not surprisingly it lifted them all round. Tonight they looked a pale shadow of that outfit. Good luck to them, no hard feelings I hope about the abandonment and the outcome tonight. Just hope that Ipswich play on Saturday like the Doncaster of tonight and not the one of the abandoned game.
Alnwick – 8/10. The guy was called on to make one serious save and pulled it off, while dealing with everything else that came his way.
Wilson – 7/10. Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet; just one bad moment in the second half when he allowed their guy to turn him inside the box, otherwise decent.
Wiggins – 8/10. If it hadn’t been for Stephens’ screamer he would have been a fair shout for man of the match. Excellent in defence and played like a winger going forward (reviving the promotion year games by tending to go outside/past Jackson).
Morrison – 8/10. Can’t remember him putting a foot wrong.
Dervite – 7/10. Generally fine but did concede a few free kicks in areas which allowed them to threaten.
Stewart – 8/10. Not everything worked, but he gives us a real outlet and sometimes went past his marker with ease. Unlucky not to score with at least one of his two efforts.
Cousins – 7/10. Not especially prominent but usually neat and tidy and kept things ticking over.
Stephens – 8/10. He was trying to lift things when were were having ordinary spells, especially in the first half. And he’s just scored a goal of the season contender.
Jackson – 7/10. Clearly remembered how to play with Wiggins on the left side, another who was unlucky not to score with a decent effort.
Kermorgant – 6/10. Still working his way back, which is hardly surprising. Hasn’t yet got back the strut and presence and the easier movement. His main effort on goal came back off the post.
Church – 7/10. Tireless in chasing some ordinary balls, sometimes to good effect. If he’d missed his one-on-one we might have been talking about the chances he didn’t take, but we won.
Subs – No marks really for Sordell, Hughes or Green as the game was all but done and dusted by the time they came on.