Doncaster Rovers refuse to stick to Norwich City script
NORWICH CITY 1, DONCASTER ROVERS 1: City dropped two valuable home points on a frustrating night at Carrow Road. Doncaster were struggling to name a full-strength side given their huge injury list, but proved dogged and determined opponents – although they needed a massive helping hand from their hosts in the shape of an own goal equaliser.
Just as City looked like grabbing a valuable three-point haul after Grant Holt's 31st-minute goal, full-back Adam Drury got his head in the way of a corner and the win was snatched away.
It wasn't one of the classics we've been treated to in recent weeks, but even a point isn't to be sniffed at.
City fans have been spoiled at times and went to Carrow Road last night on the back of one of those games that will go down as 'an advert for Championship football' at Leeds on Saturday. This wasn't in the same league.
Doncaster had been in free-fall, having come to Carrow Road with a record of four defeats on the bounce – conceding nine goals in the last two games, including a 6-0 reverse at home to City's local rivals Ipswich a week earlier. City were in rude health – one defeat in 11 games had maintained their place in the top six.
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But those stats are rarely sufficient to forecast the true outcome of a game. City had their chances – Holt and Aaron Wilbraham in particular – and had Rovers on the rack at times. But they were left frustrated.
Lambert kept faith with the same XI which earned a point at Leeds on Saturday, while Rovers boss Sean O'Driscoll made just one change, the experienced Brian Stock coming in for Dean Shiels.
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The pre-match talk may have been about the visitors' depleted ranks, but the starting line-up was certainly strong enough to hold its own – the task for City was to dent any confidence they had remaining in the tank after their shocking recent run.
Rovers had clearly thought out their plan and were happy to quickly get men in midfield whenever City had the ball.
Wilbraham was the first to attempt a shot after a fairly even opening few minutes, but the sting was taken out of it and Rovers keeper Neil Sullivan had no problems gathering.
John Ruddy had a little more to do moments later when Stock set up Mark Wilson, who turned on the edge of the area but fired straight at the City keeper.
Rovers went closer when John Oster put Franck Moussa through. Moussa got within a range that was too close for comfort, only for Elliott Ward to block his shot, the ball bouncing on the top of the net for a corner.
Moussa was finding any little gaps there were for a run and was clearly a danger for the City back four.
Lambert had concerns of another kind after Holt took a knock, although the signal to the bench appeared to be that he could run it off – which he appeared to do. The last thing City need is another injured player.
Russell Martin made good yards to the edge of the Rovers area, but when he got there realised his left foot was the only option, decided to pass – and the move broke down.
Henri Lansbury tried an acrobatic bicycle kick but didn't connect and moments later Wilbraham was forced to try to knock the ball back for Andrew Crofts when only a couple of yards only for Wayne Thomas to clear. David Fox sent a free-kick from the left corner flag to the near post but Ward was inches away from connecting as City began to apply some pressure.
But the flurry of activity had about as much longevity as the snow flurries in the city earlier in the day.
The task was to crack a packed defence and City decided the best route was route one.
Fox found Adam Drury on his own on the left and the full-back launched a long, long cross deep into the area where Holt had timed his run to perfection to blast a right-foot volley into the roof of the net for his 13th league goal of the campaign.
Would the floodgates open? Doncaster certainly couldn't afford to sit back and frustrate City – they needed a goal.
They rarely looked like getting it, although they were doing enough to ensure City weren't entirely rampant, even though Holt could have doubled his tally in the final minute of the first half when he stabbed Drury's cut-back over from eight yards after lovely footwork by Lansbury, who had just seen a shot blocked.
Lansbury miskicked early in the second half as he met Martin's cross, claiming his shot was handled by Sam Hird – although all he got for his efforts was a corner.
It was a good start to the half by the Canaries, although Wilbraham might have done better when he collected a fine ball by Whitbread, but floated his effort wide from the edge of the area. There was a fright when Jason Euell set up Moussa with a lovely flick, but the loan player's shot was from distance and an easy gather for Ruddy.
Joseph Mills then got into the area after a lovely, mazy run, Ward ending it with an interception that was better than his foul on Moussa moments later which earned him a yellow card.
Holt chested down a cross from Lansbury but fired over as City controlled the bulk of possession – but Wilbraham should have opened his City account in the 63rd minute when he met Martin's cross just a couple of yards out but headed close enough to Sullivan for the veteran keeper to beat the ball away.
Wilbraham then met Fox's free-kick at the back post, headed the ball across goal, but it was tough for Holt to do anything but fire wide from a difficult angle.
Holt then set up Crofts, cutting the ball back from the right only for the midfielder to flash a left-footer wide.
Rovers looked like they were wilting and ready to break given the chances that were coming City's way, but they were proving a difficult side to put away.
Holt had a half chance to settle the issue after 78 minutes when he turned at the back post, but found only the Barclay Stand.
With the game entering the final ten minutes it was time to see if Doncaster would go for an equaliser with a little more conviction – and in the 83rd City provided them with the answer.
Oster's corner looked to have got a slight nick off Martin, but it most certainly got one off the head of Drury – leaving City's defenders rooted to the spot as their visitors celebrated an unexpected gift.
Oster then set up Euell for a shot that Ruddy had to save as Rovers threatened again.
Whitbread had a header blocked as Carrow Road urged City forward, but even the fans couldn't suck the ball into the net and a difficult night ended without the traditional celebrations that usually accompany five minutes of time added on, but murmurings of frustration among the home supporters.