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Hard Hats Off
Hard Hats Off

The Safety Dance

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 10/04/2023

DONCASTER, sadly, runs through my veins. I have no relatives here so I'm clear on that count, but over the years I've spent a bit of time here, usually changing trains which I've done hundreds of times.

The weather seems permanently grey, but the central shopping centre's fine and I've always found the people to be ok, but this isn't a place that's ever going to light me up. If you're looking for an absence of ambience, Doncaster fits the bill and as with many places, its out-of-town demeanour puts the less in soulless. A few years ago at my work, I used to deal with colleagues from Derby who in the name of centralisation were moved here to the Service Delivery Centre, or in other words an out-of-town portacabin. Understandably they weren't thrilled and it became normal to be greeted on the phone by "Joe in Dismal Bloody Doncaster". Doncaster Rovers's stadium is out of town, so my expectations were not high, however on arrival on this cold, wet and grey day after a walk through litter-strewn streets, I arrived at an impressive stadium with very friendly stewards. It thundered. Lightening struck. It rained torrentially.

Strangely I had never previously visited Doncaster for football, not even Belle Vue before it burned down. Come to that, I can't remember much by way of league or cup encounters between the two clubs. I have vague recollections of a 4 - 3 victory in 1971 and that's it. We haven't played them much in recent years, and lost 1 - 3 at home in the corresponding fixture earlier this season. At that stage they had high hopes but it looks like they've dropped off, and the result of today's game has no meaning for anyone. But like the Bradford game 9 days ago, there's always a bit of needle when we play teams from Yorkshire and if nothing else, the Town fans were up for it. Town's players and management had the task of winning back the supporters' trust after Friday's awful showing against Hartlepool. Some years ago I read a book by the cricketer Mike Brearley in which phe talked about "the flight from selfishness", where one batsman after another gets a low score on a flat pitch for no reason other than expecting to get a low score because everyone else has. So it is with Town and their passing and general play. One midfielder misplaces a pass - they all do it. They all become as incompetent as each other. There are exceptions: I see in Clifton and Smith players who decide to make something happen. The same with McAtee but in his case his willingness to kickstart his mediocre teammates often results in selfishness. None of this gives much hope for this or next season, but even so almost 3,000 of us were here today in today's crowd of 8,620 and hoping not to be let down. Good energy was a minimum requirement here in the Eco-Power stadium. The ray of hope in advance of the game is that Doncaster's form hasn't been great but let's deal with our own demons first, and, the pantagruelian excesses of Easter Sunday now passed, turn the likelihood of a blue Monday into a happy one.

And blue was the colour as Town lined up against their hoopy opponents. But would football be the game, or would it be another display of gross ineptitude on a football field size scale? Mr Hurst's line-ups at the moment seem to be based on giving everyone a game like a magnanimous sports teacher, and our numerous failings preclude thoughts of tactical genius. The eleven apparently random players who got picked to start today were: Crocombe - Emmanuel, Smith, Waterfall, Maher, Glennon - Green, Morris, Clifton - McAtee - Taylor. Five at the back with Emmanuel and Glennon or whoever operating as wing backs seems to be the current thinking but this has proved to render us vulnerable to the opposition exploiting gaps on the right and left when counter-attacking.

The weather remained fresh but the rain had gone by kick-off time. The first action came when Faulkner opted for a vertical clearance. The ball hung poetically in the air, eventually dropping for Emmanuel to take possession, run forward and win a corner. Waterfall went up. The ball was scrambled clear. On 10 minutes a nice cross-field pass from Green found Glennon. Clifton received Glennon's pass and was bundled over in the corner. Time for a training ground move: Glennon sent a long ball to Morris whose shot was blocked. The ball came out to Clifton who hadn't read the script, leant back and cleared the bar with consummate ease. A foul on Agard led to a prolonged stoppage and a free kick for Doncaster but nothing came of it. On 18 minutes the now fit Agard was sent through but Mr Reliable Waterfall mopped up. Great defensive work from Clifton then prevented Rowe from getting a shot in. Doncaster failed to take advantage of a free-kick following a McAtee foul, then Emmanuel was fouled outside Doncaster's box. Morris crossed for Maher who seemed to be caught by surprise. Barlow went close for Doncaster but neither side were showing any initiative. Doncaster moved slowly. Town lacked inspiration and quality. On 26 minutes Doncaster lumbered up field, winning a throw deep in the Grimsby half. Molyneux found Barlow who with acres of space outside the box curled a shot into the top right corner with Crocombe getting his fingertips to it but was unable to prevent it from going in. Doncaster 1, Town 0. The performance was flat. Town fumbled around and fed on crumbs. An Emmanuel back flick earned a corner. Glennon's delivery was once again decent, but Morris headed down to a Doncaster defender to stop the attack. Town retrieved the ball as Doncaster were also practicing the art of self-destruction, and Green had an attempted cross-shot which Mitchell tipped over. On 37 minutes Doncaster blundered their way up the field. Barlow received the ball on the left. Barlow found Close who with all the time in the world took aim and curled his shot against the crossbar. It was like target practice. Green then tripped a Doncaster player in the box but the referee bizarrely ignored it, and play continued. The game had no momentum but Town looked least likely to score, being unable to put any move together without it breaking down. Crocombe was kept busy, first from a Maher back pass which he launched into the stand. Then Town's keeper got into a complete mess all by himself, giving the ball away outside his box to Westbrooke who aimed at goal from a narrow angle with Crocombe racing back, just missing. This moment of tragi-comedy wasn't one for the highlights reel, but then there was nothing from Town which would have made it. Whatever had been said to Town's players after Friday's fiasco had fallen on deaf ears.

Khan replaced Waterfall for the second half. The game had barely restarted when Doncaster's Nelson went down following a challenge and after attention was stretchered off some 7 or 8 minutes later. "We had a shot on target" commented a spectator excitedly in front of me, celebrating this rare event. Morris indeed did have a shot on goal with 55 minutes on the clock. Emmanuel and McAtee set up a mini attack on 59 minutes but Town's play still lacked fluidity, purpose or energy. Play stopped again for a while when Emmanuel crossed into Molyneux's face. Town couldn't get going and the stoppages weren't helping. From the restart, Glennon had a shot which he dragged wide. The sides traded fouls. Even a purist would be baulking at this anti-spectacle. On 71 minutes a Doncaster defender crudely whacked Taylor in the back. Free-kick to Town on the left edge. Glennon crossed but Maher's header was weak. This was as near to a chance as Town had got. Emmanuel and Glennon were putting in good work on the flanks but no-one was making anything happen. On 76 minutes Crocombe punted forward a long clearance. Mitchell flapped as McAtee and Clifton homed in. Clifton took possession but Mitchell fouled him in the struggle inches outside the box and received a yellow card for his troubles. Glennon's curled free kick missed by inches. As icing on the stale cake, Glennon received a yellow card for protesting that Mitchell had touched the ball on its way out. Glennon then got into a spat with Faulkner as the game started to get fractious. Town continued to be unable to build up meaningful moves as they misplaced headers and passes. Worryingly, there was no indication of what the style of play was supposed to be, as crisp link-up play seemed out of fashion. On 83 minutes Lloyd and Orsi came on to replace Taylor and McAtee. Too late to expect miracles? On 85 minutes Town won a corner after good work by Emmanuel. Glennon's delivery once again was good. Mitchell punched the ball out weakly. The defence was unable to withstand the barrage of Town players as Smith and Maher led the charge. It was Maher who bodily forced the ball into the back of the net. Unexpectedly Town had equalised. 1 - 1. Doncaster responded Crocombe had to make a low save from Molyneux. The corner came in. Crocombe made a save from Faulkner's header. The game had finally livened up. Brown played a nice volley to Barlow who blazed his shot over. Town came back, and started to show signs of the team play which had been notable by its absence. Glennon and Emmanuel combined. Emmanuel crossed from the right. Lloyd headed downwards. Mitchell made a good low save. After the earlier stoppages 9 minutes were added. Khan was unable to break through but Town were now attacking. A Green header in the box found Lloyd who went down following a challenge. The game carried on. Emmanuel was tripped when launching an attack. Taking the free-kick quickly, he found Clifton who crossed to the near post. Lloyd was on hand but unable to squeeze it in. 96 minutes had gone. Town attacked from the right. With Town's attacking force advancing, Emmanuel crossed. Mitchell, under pressure, was only able to push it away. Orsi managed to slide the ball across to Lloyd who rammed the ball into the net from close range. Doncaster1, Grimsby Town 2. It didn't seem possible. The game ended with Town on the attack. Time for celebrations and a big sigh of both relief and disbelief.

Such is the distorted outlook of a football supporter that unbridled joy can result as today from victory after 85 minutes of turgid underperformance. Mr Hurst may congratulate himself on his substitutions. Finally, we had someone to benefit from the endeavours of Emmanuel and Glennon. 10 minutes of energy was all we needed against a laboured Doncaster side. I'm not sure we have learnt for the future what our best shape or pattern is, indeed we didn't seem to have one for most of the game. Our best chance had come when Crocombe launched a clearance from one end of the pitch to the other. But it all came good at the end. We can dance at our win and celebrate the fact that we are mathematically safe from relegation and therefore can come back to dismal Doncaster again next season.

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