ANALYSIS: Doncaster Rovers 0 Middlesbrough 0 - Confidence growing at Keepmoat

Harry Forrester shoots for Rovers. Picture: Howard Roe
Harry Forrester shoots for Rovers. Picture: Howard Roe

If Doncaster Rovers are lacking in confidence at the Keepmoat Stadium they have a funny way of showing it.

For the second time in the space of a week Paul Dickov’s men delivered a composed and competent display against one of the Championship’s leading lights.

Curtis Main blocks Stewart Downing's free-kick

Curtis Main blocks Stewart Downing's free-kick

After last season’s struggles on home soil, a testing quartet of fixtures against Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Wolves could have easily backfired and opened up old wounds.

Instead, Rovers appear to be well on the way to putting the past behind them and can reflect positively at the halfway point of their pre-season programme.

If they can continue the good habits of the last week against Sunderland on Wednesday night and Wolves this weekend, they should be free of the mental baggage that blighted them last term when they face Bury on August 8.

There is still plenty of work to be done – predominantly in the final third – but it is a case of so far, so good as the big kick-off draws closer.

Harry Middleton

Harry Middleton

Facing a talented Boro side which included £5 million new signing Stewart Downing, Doncaster continued where they left off against Forest last week.

They defended efficiently and effectively as a unit, and also showed flashes of very neat interplay.

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Before the break they fashioned the best openings, and after the interval they held firm as Downing did his best to turn the screw.

Jamie Coppinger

Jamie Coppinger

Richie Wellens, the fulcrum of most of Doncaster’s positive passing, arguably outshone Downing and laughed in the face of anyone suggesting, at the age of 35, he might struggle to hold his own in a 4-4-2 set-up.

Fellow veteran James Coppinger, in a game arranged as part of his ongoing testimonial year, came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock and displayed some deft touches throughout.

Young midfielder Harry Middleton did his cause no harm at all with another assured display in the centre of midfield.

The new faces in Rovers’ rearguard - goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann, left-back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair and centre back Gary MacKenzie - all contributed to a general feeling of encouragement and optimism among the home fans at the final whistle. All that was missing was a finish. A goal.

Curtis Main, otherwise impressive in his hold-up play, fluffed the best chance of the game in the closing stages, while Andy Williams alongside him appeared somewhat over-eager to impress.

With Dickov desperate to avoid a repeat of last season’s famine (only Yeovil and Crewe scored fewer times at home) it is Rovers’ play in the final third which now demands most attention. The Scot will also try to add to his attacking options, with top scorer Nathan Tyson champing at the bit but unlikely to be ready to face the Black Cats.

Boro will have been disappointed with their display but they actually started much the better, bossing the early possession without really testing Stuckmann.

Gradually Rovers grew into the game and began to see more of the ball. Harry Forrester saw his decent hit from the edge of the box clawed away by Dimi Konstantopoulos, who then had to divert wide another long range effort from Coppinger after some lovely link-up play between the home side’s mdfield and attack.

Luke McCullough, who played the full 90 minutes at right-back and now appears to be in pole position to start the season in that position, survived a scare when his poor back-pass was seized upon by Bradley Fewster who then went down in the box under the challenge of Stuckmann, only to be booked for simulation.

Boro’s biggest threat came from set-pieces. Adam Forshaw drilled just over after Grant Leadbitter’s corner fell kindly for him, while both Leadbitter and Downing just missed the target with free-kicks from the edge of the area.

The visitors were more of a threat after the restart and Stuckmann had to be at his best to first keep out Downing who broke clear, before spreading himself expertly to block Mustapha Carayol’s effort from close range.

The big German almost undid his good work, however, when his misplaced throw fell straight to Kike who blazed over the bar, before he quickly redeemed himself with another excellent save low down to keep out Downing.

With the constant flow of substitutions, the second half became disjointed in a similar fashion to the Forest game.

But Rovers should have capped their encouraging performance with a winner in the closing stages when Wellens broke and played in Main, only for the former Boro striker to send his chip wide of the target.

It was the sort of chance that strike partner Williams might have gobbled up. But the former Swindon man was already off the field, reflecting on what had been a frustrating afternoon for him personally, after picking up a knock.

Dickov, meanwhile, could reflect on another good display. He has asked his team to be hard to beat on home soil, and thus far they are delivering.

Next up Sunderland. Stay unbeaten against the Premier League big boys, and confidence really will be flowing.

Rovers: Stuckmann, McCullough, Butler, MacKenzie (Jones 69), Taylor-Sinclair (P McKay 81), Coppinger (Mandeville 81), Wellens (Whitehouse 81), Middleton (Linley 89), Forrester (Carberry 89), Williams (Evina 59), Main. Subs not used: Marosi, Lund.

Boro: Konstantopoulos (Ripley 70), Ayala (Nsue 64), Burn (Husband 46), Friend (Fry 84), Kalas (Jackson 84), Carayol (Adomah 64), Downing (Wildschut 84), Forshaw (Maloney 84), Leadbitter (Clayton 64), Tomlin (Reach 46), Fewster (Kike 46). Sub not used: Mejias.

Attendance: 2,813.

Referee: Darren England (South Yorkshire).