Much improved Rovers held by fellow strugglers: Doncaster Rovers 0-0 Watford

Rovers' Billy Sharp goes the for ball against Watford's Carl Dickinson. Picture: Andrew Roe
Rovers' Billy Sharp goes the for ball against Watford's Carl Dickinson. Picture: Andrew Roe

A LACK of composure in front of goal proved Rovers’ undoing in a frenetically paced contest with fellow strugglers Watford at the Keepmoat.

The Hornets also struggled in the final third against a Doncaster defence which looked much more assured than in recent weeks.

It was a result that did little for either side’s hopes of avoiding the drop but Rovers produced a performance which provided an apt response to the poor show at Oakwell the week before.

Dean Saunders handed debuts to new loan trio Marc-Antoine Fortune, Habib Beye and Herold Goulon while Sam Hird replaced the injured Richard Naylor in the back four.

Beye and Hird produced a very steady partnership to frustrate Watford’s powerful forwards Chris Iwelumo and Craig Beattie.

The action was electric from the off and end to end football played out for the majority of the 90 minutes with Rovers showing much more endeavour than they did last week at Barnsley.

The front three of Fortune, Sharp and El Hadji Diouf – who skippered the side for the first time – were lively but none could find the killer touch.

Worryingly for Rovers, Diouf was withdrawn on the hour clutching his hamstring and will likely be a major doubt for the trip to Millwall on Tuesday night.

Sharp should have opened the scoring five minutes in with the lively Diouf the provider.

Diouf dropped deep into midfield to collect a James O’Connor pass and delivered a beautifully weighted cross from the corner of the box and while Sharp rose well, he could not turn his header on target.

This sparked a good spell of pressure from Rovers and Fortune crafted another chance when he crossed from the left only for Sharp’s touch to take the ball off Diouf’s foot.

Fortune’s best work came outside the area on his debut appearance as he showed strength and a burst of pace which combined to torment the Watford defence.

Watford’s first real opportunity came on nine minutes in a manner many of their chances would come, on the break.

A long ball caught the Rovers defence somewhat flatfooted with Marvin Sordell latching on and shooting on the turn, but pressure from the recovering Beye reducing the power and leaving a simple take for Carl Ikeme.

The action again switched to the other end as Simon Gillett collected a Diouf cross in acres of space on the edge of the box but his shot was well blocked by Carl Dickinson.

Brian Stock found himself on blocking duty at the other end when he somehow flicked a header over from under the bar when Adrian Mariappa fired on the turn from eight yards out.

Fortune continued to cause Watford problems on the left and sent a ball across the box to Diouf who curled a low effort towards the far post but could not find the net nor a lunging team mate.

Watford surged back with Ikeme called upon to deny Sordell from point blank range as he flicked a cross on target on 20 minutes before on loan Wolves midfielder Michael Kightly threatened for the first time, cutting in from the left and curling a shot just wide of the far post.

Chris Iwelumo fluffed a glorious chance to put the visitors ahead in the dying moments of the half when he pulled away from his marker to collect a Kightly pass ten yards out only to see his first time shot fly high over the bar.

And Rovers themselves could have taken the lead before the break but substitute Beattie – who replaced the injured Sordell – hooked off the line from Diouf’s cross while Stock collected the clearance but fired narrowly over from 25 yards.

The second half did not quite live up to the electric pace of the first, beginning a little scrappy and the atmosphere was soon fiery after a melee in the middle of the park.

Herita Ilunga went down clutching his face and when Iwelumo offered his thoughts, Herold Goulon pushed the big forward away, sparking a lot of shoving.

Watford’s decision not to give the ball back to Ikeme, who had cleared into touch with Ilunga down, did little to calm the angry mood.

Sharp had two good chances in the early stages of the half, flicking wide an Ilunga cross before Rovers’ best chance of the game.

He flicked out at a direct ball into the area and sent a lob over Scott Loach only to watch the effort go agonisingly wide.

Fortune crafted his best chance of the game a few moments later when he left Lee Hodson stranded only to send his shot high and wide.

In the later stages, both sides appeared to run out of steam and chances were restricted to the long range variety with little quality on offer.

It was clear Saunders was desperate for his side to win and made three attacking substitutions with Barnes, Kyle Bennett and James Hayter all sent into the midfield.

This however damaged Rovers’ steady structure and the fluidity they had found began to wane.

Kightly sent a shot well over the bar from just outside the area while composure also evaded Beattie who attempted to shoot with the outside of his boot but also found the stand.

Sharp failed to get on the end of Ilunga’s tantalising cross on 69 minutes and a minute later, Fortune found space on the edge of the area but could not get enough bend on his shot to find the top corner.

The pace of the game dropped in the last ten minutes though Rovers did endure a nervy injury time period as Watford were awarded corners and short range free kicks which would ultimately come to nothing.

Rovers: Carl Ikeme, James O'Connor, Habib Beye, Sam Hird, Herita Ilunga, Herold Goulon (Kyle Bennett, 71), Brian Stock (James Hayter, 83), Simon Gillett, Marc Antoine Fortune, Billy Sharp, El Hadji Diouf (Giles Barnes, 61).

Subs: Neil Sullivan, Mustapha Dumbuya.

Watford: Scott Loach, Lee Hudson, Carl Dickinson, Adrian Mariappa, Mark Yeates, Chris Iwelumo (Troy Deeney, 77), Nyron Nosworthy, Marvin Sordell (Craig Beattie, 37), Prince Buaben, Michael Kightly, John Eustace.

Subs: Ross Jenkins, David Mirfin, Jack Bonham.

Referee: P Tierney

Attendance: 8,389.