MATCH REPORT: Doncaster Rovers 1 Bolton Wanderers 2
IN the week that saw Granada Studios open the doors to its old Coronation Street set in Manchester to the general public, the Rovers of Doncaster threw open its doors and windows to a rampant Wanderers.
And the Whites took full advantage of the early hospitality to return across the Pennines with another three points, despite a second half spent on the back foot.
Dougie Freedman’s side were simply irresistible in the first few rounds of this night out in South Yorkshire as they left Paul Dickov’s team punch drunk inside 15 minutes – inspired by weekend matchwinner Joe Mason.
Mason was rewarded for his late stunner at Huddersfield with a place in the starting line-up in place of Liam Trotter as the only change to the side – though it was a far more flexible diamond-shaped midfield quartet at the start.
And he was almost profiting after just 40 seconds when a through ball from Medo Kamara set him free but there was no support and the chance was gone.
Not that the Whites needed to worry as their stunning early form had the hosts pegged back and as bewildered as a drunk staggering out of the Rovers Return after last orders.
This was not just help yourself for Wanderers going forward, it was like a free bar offering up chance after chance and they were not about to pass up those opportunities again.
Just seven minutes were on the clock when Neil Danns broke the deadlock after a superbly worked move. Jay Spearing curled a ball out to Alan Hutton, rampaging forward as ever from right-back, and his low cut back was smartly dummied by Chung-Yong Lee for Danns to arrive late and fire home into the bottom corner from 18 yards.
Wanderers attacked with will, full of confidence after Rovers through the doors wide open at the back.
And Mason could have doubled the lead on 12 minutes but he overran the ball after Chung-Yong’s slide-rule pass into the left channel.
The young loanee, who had scored in his previous two outings against Doncaster, did not have time to dwell on that, though, as he did maintain his goal-a-game record three minutes later.
He picked up the ball with his back to goal inside the box and turned quickly to hammer home low off the far post and past a shell-shocked Sam Johnstone in goal.
It was more a happy quarter hour than happy hour so far for the Whites and the fans were revelling in it as they chanted ‘Can we play you every week?’ behind Adam Bogdan’s goal.
This ‘Open All Hours’ sort of game, however, had something in it for the Keepmoat landlords and David Cotterill lit the ground up with a stunning free kick on 18 minutes that curled over the Whites wall and in off the underside of the bar with Bogdan given n chance.
For a player whose middle names include George Best, it was certainly befitting of that standard.
It was a slight concern for Wanderers that for all their early domination, it was only 2-1 in their favour.
But they were back on the front foot almost immediately.
Lukas Jutkiewicz saw a rasper from distance tipped over by young Manchester United loanee Johnstone, before the keeper did likewise from Zat Knight’s header from the resulting corner.
Jutkiewicz tried his luck from even further out before Johnstone dived low to palm away Spearing’s drive.
Wanderers were having more chances than a game of Monopoly, but Rovers were still, remarkably, in the game.
Skipper Ritchie Wellens saw a shot well saved by Bogdan and just before the break, Paul Keegan’s flick from a corner clipped the top of the crossbar. Chris Brown also saw a close-range header saved in what was a worrying end to a first half that should have seen the Whites out of sight.
After the restart, the home side were encouraged to retake charge and only a perfectly-timed David Wheater tackle in the box denied Billy Sharp.
There were half-hearted shouts for a penalty as well but referee Gary Sutton was undeterred as the Whites, with Medo now back deeper, were pressed back.
Freedman swapped Trotter for Mason – much to the disapproval of a 700-strong away following.
But it was about defending now and the team dug in like they did at Huddersfield, resolutely and calmly, to see it through with relatively few scares.
They could even have stretched the lead had Wheater’s superb downward header not been met with an equally fine save from Johnstone seven minutes from time, or substitute Jermaine Beckford not placed a stoppage-time effort wide of the mark.
Danns wasted an even better chance when he skewed miles off target moments before the end of five added minutes.
In a bizarrely open game, it could so easily have gone the hosts way after that opening salvo and their second-half rally but the Whites were not made to pay for the sloppiness of some of their first-half defending.
Instead, it will be the hosts feeling a little hungover this morning and in need of a pick-me-up.