Paul Goodwin’s match analysis: Doncaster Rovers 0 MK Dons 0 - Stalemate offers cause for optimism

Curtis Main returned to the starting line-up
Curtis Main returned to the starting line-up

Paul Dickov is a glass half full type of guy.

If his team haven’t performed he’ll usually say exactly that.

But even on a really bad day at the office he likes to find positives. He likes to keep things upbeat.

That’s just the way he is.

Positives had been very thin on the ground building up to the visit of high flying MK Dons. Back-to-back defeats to Fleetwood Town, labelled a “shambles” by Dickov, and then Leyton Orient had again put the Scot’s job security under the spotlight.

But, while Saturday’s goalless stalemate was not easy on the eye at times, it did provide some genuine grounds for positivity - because in grinding out a result from start to finish Rovers did something they simply haven’t done enough of this season.

Since they returned to League One, Doncaster have been too easy to play against.

Yes, they are a match for anyone at this level on their day.

But when the going has tended to get tough this term, Rovers haven’t got going.

The qualities that were responsible for winning this league in 2013 - that backs-to-the-wall mentality, that determination to do the ugly things well, that willingness to put your body on the line for the cause - have been very thin on the ground to say the least.

However, Saturday was different - and in a season that Rovers have tended to take one step forward and then two back, that could represent a more significant sign of progress.

It was no coincidence either that the spine of the team had a very different look to it, with Dickov making wholesale changes from the side that lost in disappointing fashion to Orient.

With new loan signing Andy Butler marshalling things effectively at the back, the recalled Paul Keegan back to something close to the type of form he showed before he penned a new contract in the summer in midfield, and fit-again centre forward Curtis Main leading the line alongside workaholic Nathan Tyson, Rovers had a robustness and durability that has been sadly lacking during the opening two months of the campaign.

They were noticeably more imposing, much less willing to be bullied.

MK Dons arrived at the Keepmoat with a reputation for fast, fluid, free-flowing football and the visitors looked comfortable on the ball and enjoyed the better of the possession, particularly during the opening half hour.

But, unfortunately for them, they came up against a much more steely Doncaster; a team much more inclined to get their foot in, and not simply lie down and have their bellies tickled.

The game might have panned out very differently had Jed Steer not made a very smart save early on, reacting instinctively to parry Darren Potter’s shot after things opened up for the midfielder.

Rovers were working hard, Butler was organising things at the back, but Rovers were struggling to get anything going in the final third.

However, as the half wore on the hosts grew in confidence and the half time whistle interrupted arguably their best spell in the game.

Harry Forrester, who had earlier just failed to get on the end of a teasing Tyson centre, linked up superbly with the same player again before clipping a shot inches wide of the far post.

That momentum was lost at the start of the second period as the game nosedived in terms of quality and incident.

But, from a corner, the Dons came the closest either side came to a goal when the ball dropped kindly for Tom Flanagan only for the defender’s rasping half volley to cannon back off the post.

It proved to be the cue for things to liven up considerably.

Forrester cut inside from the left and saw his curled effort saved by David Martin, who was then equal to Keegan’s volley in the follow-up.

Rovers then had two appeals for handball in the area turned down in quick succession as they threatened to up the ante.

And just for good measure Forrester went over in the box soon after, but referee Darren Handley again was not interested.

Dickov at this point was apoplectic with the officials.

And the Scot’s mood would have worsened considerably had MK Dons shown a bit more composure in front of goal in the closing stages, as they ended the game on top.

In a hectic finish, substitute Benik Afobe burst through but his lobbed effort was cleared off the line by Butler. Another substitute Carl Baker then headed inches wide with the goal at his mercy.

Rovers had rode their luck somewhat. But, on this occasion, they had earned that luck by putting a genuine shift in, a fact that did not go unrecognised by the home fans at the final whistle, who were on their feet to applaud the desire and effort of their team.

The afternoon had started in slightly embarrassing fashion for Dickov.

When his name was read out by the stadium announcer, it was greeted with a smattering of boos from discontent supporters.

However, if his players show this level of commitment, hunger and also discipline on a more regular basis from now on, those boos could still turn to cheers.

Rovers: Steer 7, Wabara 6, Butler 7, McCullough 6, Evina 6, Bennett 7, Wellens 6, Keegan 6, Forrester 6, Main 6 (Robinson 62), Tyson 6. Subs not used: Marosi, Wakefield, McCombe, Furman, Whitehouse, De Val.

MK Dons: Martin 7, Spence 6, Flanagan 7, Key 6, Lewington 6, Potter 6, Alli 6, Carruthers 6 (Baker 71), Reeves 7 (Randall 90+2), Powell 7, Grigg 6 (Afobe 68).

Subs not used: Randall, McLoughlin, Hitchcock, Rasulo, Hickford.