DCSIMG

Analysis: Leicester 1 Doncaster Rovers 0

The dejection is plain to see as Rovers are relegated.

The dejection is plain to see as Rovers are relegated.

  • by Liam Hoden
 

Last day dramatics are becoming a trademark of Rovers but something they have had their fill of after the latest season closer.

The contrast to the joyous conclusion of last season, the 18 seconds of madness at Brentford, could hardly have been more stark on Saturday at the King Power Stadium.

The rollercoaster of emotions and nerves was all too familiar, the outcome agonisingly opposite.

Safe in Leicestershire for so much of the afternoon, a late twist in Lancashire sent Rovers tumbling back into League One courtesy of goal difference.

A 1-0 defeat to the league champions was hardly a surprise for Rovers, whether or not their battling qualities once again meant they somewhat deserved something from the match.

But in the months and years to come, May 3, 2014 will be looked upon as the day they let Championship survival slip from their grasp.

Rovers went into the day with their destiny in their own hands but rather than looking to tighten their grip, there was plenty of hoping they would not have to.

So much of the afternoon was about Rovers effectively asking Birmingham to produce what they needed to get out of the bottom three.

Paul Dickov faced an incredibly difficult question: that of when, and if, Rovers should go for goal.

Go too early and risk getting caught out by Leicester, thereby handing the initiative to Birmingham. Wait too long and risk Birmingham taking the initative themselves, leaving little time for Rovers to wrestle it back.

Nevertheless, the safety-first approach Dickov opted for seemed the wisest approach against a side who had marched into the Premier League.

Five men formed the defence including returning duo Lucas Neill and James Husband. Billy Sharp made way for the extra defender, leaving the tireless Chris Brown up front alone.

The game plan of containment was administered particularly well over the first 75 minutes.

Leicester were kept at bay superbly thanks to some brilliantly composed defending and yet more fine goalkeeping from Sam Johnstone. Neill was excellent in a sweeper role but all in red and white put a shift in.

It should be remembered that this was Leicester’s title winning party. The majority of the 29,000+ home support clearly could not wait for the football to stop and the celebrations to begin.

Former Leicester hero Dickov was serenaded from all four sides of the ground and chants with the away supporters were joined in with.

The atmosphere could hardly have been more friendly, and the hospitable mood was shared by the Leicester players who failed to show the usual ruthless threat that has guided them to the title.

Rovers were made to work however and work they did, rising to the occasion as potential party poopers for much of the afternoon. Every man was alert and did not stop running as they denied space.

The Leicester threat was very real however, emphasised through two breaks through Nugent where the striker would have been backed to score but for the never-say-die defending of Paul Quinn and solid reactions of Johnstone.

Rovers had more of the ball in the opposition half than predicted but there were few forays into the final third.

James Coppinger was almost the hero again, 12 months on from his League One title winning goal, after a brilliant run from his own half complete with a pair of nutmegs was spoiled by an over-hit one-two with Brown.

Rovers failed to make opportunities count when it came to set-pieces with free kicks only finding opposition heads in the main.

As half time approached Ritchie De Laet sent a major warning with a header that flashed past the post while Quinn vitally got in ahead of Nugent at the near post as Andy King looked for him with a cross.

The pattern continued after the break. Gabriel Tamas will be ruing rushing a shot on goal after a blistering run to 25 yards out, giving Kasper Schmeichel a simple low stop.

There was a sense Leicester supporters were beginning to grow frustrated at the lack of a goal and it saw the hosts step up a notch.

The impressive Danny Drinkwater tested his aim from distance on a couple of occasions while substitute Anthony Knockaert drew a stop from Johnstone from range.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon to that point came with the news that Bolton were ahead at home to Birmingham, Rovers celebrations greeted with applause from the home support.

Such joy lasted until the 75th minute when disaster struck.

Riyad Mahrez turned James Husband on his way into the box before tumbling under a poor challenge.

There may have been minimal contact but Husband’s flicking out of his leg was terribly clumsy and more than enough for referee Paul Tierney to point to the spot.

Nugent slammed the penalty straight down the middle to put Leicester in front.

Before the nerves could really set in, news quickly filtered through that Bolton had doubled their lead over Birmingham, making Rovers’ place outside the drop zone look even more secure.

Such security did not last as the Blues pulled a goal back just two minutes later.

If there was a glaring error made on Saturday it was that Dickov did not change the system immediately after falling behind.

Being a goal down, regardless of whatever was happening at the Reebok Stadium, Rovers had nothing to lose by taking off the shackles and going for the equaliser.

But they waited, nine minutes in total passing before Billy Sharp and Harry Forrester were introduced with just six minutes of normal time to go. Enda Stevens was even sent in a like-for-like swap for confidence-shot James Husband in the meantime.

Such a decision, or lack thereof, will mean a big what-if will hang over the game and Dickov for plenty of time to come.

Chances would come with Sharp heading a Cotterill free kick into the ground and over the bar from eight yards out.

But the unthinkable happened deep in injury time when the sickening news of Birmingham’s equaliser made its way to the King Power.

Rovers were urged forward by boss and supporters alike but it was too late to save them. They had asked a question which battling Birmingham emphatically answered.

Whatever Rovers’ fate is in League One next season, plenty will be hoping it is sorted well before the final day.

 

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