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Report: Grimsby Town 1 Doncaster Rovers 0

Grimsby Town v Doncaster Rovers
Grimsby Town v Doncaster Rovers

The strongest Doncaster Rovers side fielded so far this pre-season failed to fight back and suffered defeat in their friendly at Grimsby Town.

Rovers needed the majority of the first half to settle into the game and were punished by a high quality finish from Reece Hall-Johnson midway through the half.

And while they improved dramatically after the break, Rovers could not find the equaliser and suffered their second consecutive pre-season defeat.

Grant McCann's side could point to a fine performance from Grimsby goalkeeper James McKeown as well as a pair of goalline clearances.

But there will have been some disappointment that they could not force the issue more - particularly in the opening period.

Though he insists every position on the pitch is still up for grabs, McCann had hinted that the side he would field at Grimsby would offer a real indication of his thinking for the opening day of the season.

And it could not be denied his starting XI at Blundell Park was the strongest seen so far in pre-season.

Barring, possibly, the absence of James Coppinger - who continues with a managed programme in his recovery from an ankle injury - it could very well be suggested that Tuesday night's XI was Rovers' strongest team.

It delivered the introduction of new signings Ali Crawford and Mallik Wilks to their Rovers public. Crawford operated on the right of the midfield three with Leeds United loanee Wilks on the right of the attacking trio.

The squad also included a trialist - former Leeds United youngster Romario Vieira, who left the West Yorkshire side at the end of last season.

It may have been the strongest side but there was more than a little hint that Rovers continue to be a work in progress under McCann.

For much of the first half, passing was sloppy and somewhat over-ambitious, which played into the hands of a Grimsby side that looked confident on the ball and spread play across the pitch.

Rovers could have been accused of attempting to force the issue too much with high risk balls out of the back or across the pitch which put a lot of pressure on the recipient.

Much of McCann's plans could be seen in the approach with centre halves splitting and full backs pushing high up the pitch.

But there was an unfortunate lack of fluidity in some of the play until late in the first half when they finally found some composure.

Crawford showed early on what he has been brought into the club to do as he slid though a superbly weighted pass into the box. Alfie Beestin ran onto it but got himself into a tangle that saw the chance disappear.

And that summed up a lot of first half play - flashes of real quality but moves breaking down.

Grimsby should have been ahead on ten minutes. Centre half Danny Collins played a superb ball from half way into the box where Jake Hessenthaler shrugged off Niall Mason but could only put a header straight at Ian Lawlor.

John Marquis drew the first test of Grimsby keeper James McKeown with a low drive which forced an awkward save while Tommy Rowe drilled the follow-up well wide.

McCann has been encouraging his players to shoot more and new boy Wilks has taken notice. He produced a fine chance from nothing and curled narrowly over the bar from the corner of the box.

But it was Grimsby who took a deserved lead with a fine finish of their own.

Hall-Johnson galloped into space 20 yards out and curled a wnderful effort into the bottom corner which Lawlor could do little about.

Rovers continued to concede possession cheaply while the hosts looked comfortable.

Whiteman shot for the bottom corner from the edge of the box which forced a testing save from McKeown, while at the other end Hall-Johnson attempted to score an identical goal to the opener but made it much easier for Lawlor to save.

Rovers did grow into the game as the half wore on and began to string together better passages of play.

Rowe went close to drawing them level with a low drive which needed Alex Whitmore to block on the line while Crawford curled a sublime free kick narrowly over the bar.

Rovers emerged with much more impetus at the start of the second half and pushed Grimsby back almost throughout the 45 minutes.

They looked after the ball much better, made smarter decisions in possession and won play back quickly while also crafting a much greater number of chances.

Crawford had a glorious chance to equalise when he latched onto a stunning first time through ball from Marquis but was closed down quickly by McKeown as he attempted to round the keeper.

Vieira was handed time on the pitch, operating in the deeper lying midfield role, after replacing Rowe who was always set to play around an hour.

Marquis drew a fine save from McKeown as he attempted to loop an effort past the keeper.

Wilks showed signs of his tremendous power with what looked set to be a brilliant solo effort until it was hacked clear off the line.

Picking up the ball close to the half way line he surged forward, riding several challenges before closing down on goal only for his shot to be blocked by Akin Famewo.

Rovers' endeavour petered out as full time approached and they could not find the equaliser.

Hessenthaler almost doubled the hosts' advantage in stoppage time when he looped a header mere inches wide of the top corner.

Grimsby: McKeown, Davis (Dixon 62) , Whitmore, Collins, Hall-Johnson (Famewo 62), Clifton (Fox 83), Rose (Woolford 62), Welsh, Hessenthaler, Hooper, Vernam (Robles 76). Subs not used: Russell.

Rovers: Lawlor (Jones 65), Mason, Anderson, Butler, Andrew, Crawford, Whiteman, Rowe (Vieira 66), Beestin, Marquis, Wilks. Subs not used: Fletcher, Prior, Watters, Ben Khemis, Gibbons

Referee: Geoff Eltringham

Attendance: 1,397 (157 away)