Another post work evening in Leeds train station, as usual it is full of business folk rushing round trying to get home as fast as possible. As I sit on the train bound for Doncaster most of my fellow travellers are engrossed in their laptops, to contrast I’m sat munching into some Barbeque crisps and two cans of Marks & Spencers finest cider. Oh yes ladies and gentleman this must be a Yorkshire Football (Mid) Weekend.
Fellow blogger Lee Garrity had invited me down to Doncaster to take in the game between Rovers and Preston North End, a huge game at the bottom of the nPower Championship. Who was I to turn down an offer of free football and an opportunity to meet a blogger who is kind enough to write for my site.
Lee had sent over the names of a few pubs near the station one of which was aptly named “The Railway”. After stepping outside the station I saw the sign about 100 yards away and headed straight for the boozer. Not the worst pub I’ve ever been in, seemed friendly enough with the normal selection on mainstream lagers. I settled for the uninspiring Stella 4 and took a seat. Lee arrived a few minutes later I supped my pint and we were off to the ground.
Like most new stadiums around the country Doncaster’s Keepmoat ground is situated in an industrial estate which usually means there is a lack of drinking options before the game. Not in Doncaster. The Toad Brewery has solved this issue by creating a “beer garden” so to speak inside the warehouse where they brew the alcohol. So a couple of hundred Rovers fans stand inside drinking the home brewed lager and ale knowing they are minutes from the ground. Genius!
This was my first visit to Doncaster so I was intrigued to see what the new Keepmoat stadium looked like. After a pint in the Toad we took the short walk to the Keepmoat. Similar to most of the new stadiums it looks nice enough, clean and simple. A one tier stand that loops all the way round the ground. The most striking thing is the lack or personality or uniqueness that makes grounds interesting. Lee himself admitted he missed the old Belle Vue ground, he jokingly remarked that maybe one day they could move back.
Preston started the game looking up the table at Doncaster, a mere eight points ahead with 6 games to go. Not an unassailable lead three points for the away team would heap the pressure on the home side. Earlier in the season Doncaster had looked like pushing on for a playoff place, but bad form had seen them slip down the table. Preston were the form team coming into the match with only one defeat in six and Rovers run of 6 games without a win confidence wasn’t exactly sky high at the Keepmoat.
I won’t bore you with the usual match report as there are plenty of better quality ones around the internet. I will give you some of my impressions of the game though. It was a really enjoyable match-up, both teams tried to attack knowing a draw wasn’t good enough. Preston used their major height advantage from the start; long diagonal balls to Eddie Johnson or Chris Brown were the order of the day. If that wasn’t enough to deal with the movement of Iain Hume and Keith Treacy gave them the option to play the ball on the floor. Preston did not look like a relegation candidate, which shows the job Phil Brown has done since he came in.
Doncaster on the other hand can only play one way. With a severe lack of height their only option is to pass the ball, which they do with great effect. It has its limits though, the ball goes wide and the cross comes in which is inevitably cleared. Bongani Khumalo and Craig Morgan were dominant at the back; any high ball played in was easily cleared to safety. Doncaster’s play was akin to Arsenal at times, some really nice interplay, lovely passing moves, but no end product. Star striker Billy Sharp was missing through injury and although he doesn’t add any height, his ability to hold the ball up and link up with the midfield adds so much to Rovers play.
The game had a good atmosphere to it; Preston had quite a good away support and they let themselves be heard over the beating Doncaster drum to my right. Just under 10,000 people were in attendance and for a stadium 2/3 full there was a decent level of noise around the ground.
Something I have noticed in my travels around Yorkshire visiting grounds is the grumbling from old men. There is nothing more comical than old Yorkshire men grumbling over a goalkeeper taking a free kick five yards further forward than it should be, as if it makes any difference, the ball will still be kicked into their box. “Bloody ‘ell lino” was the soundtrack to last night’s game. Is this a Yorkshire thing, or just old men in general?
One MASSIVE difference from the jump up the divisions…what god awful pies you get at Championship games. I ordered a Meat and Potato pie, mainly to warm my hands and for research purposes only. It was awful…I’m still waiting on the meat to arrive. These were the same pies I had encountered at Huddersfield earlier in the season; I hope it will be my last.
Back to the football and the game was just as tight in the second half, Preston started like Phil Brown had burnt their arses with one of his sun-bed tubes, taking assault on the Doncaster goal they had three good early chances but Rovers weathered the storm. The game became stretched and space was starting to appear.
James Coppinger was behind anything of any quality Doncaster created and the excitement rose when he played Simon Gillett in behind the Preston defence, his cut back looked wasted until the crowd noticed Brian Stock lurking at the edge of the box. The ex-Preston man hit the shot first time, Turner got a hand to it but it was too strong, the home crowd erupted a mixture of joy and relief. The celebrations had barely died down when substitute Paul Hayes headed in the equaliser after Khumalo had rattled the crossbar, the crowd went silent.
Overall a draw seemed the fairest result for both sides. Other scores had gone in Doncaster’s favour; eight points from safety with five games to play; surely only a capitulation of the highest order would see them relegated. For Preston only a miracle will see them play in the same division next year.
A great night of action, there is always something special about watching football under the floodlights, from the start Yorkshire Football Weekends was about experiencing all levels of football in the county and although you will likely see a higher level of football at the bigger clubs my impression so far is you’ll have a better match day experience at the lower levels.