Match Report: Doncaster Rovers 1 Portsmouth 1

Rovers' in action against Portsmouth.
Rovers' in action against Portsmouth.

DON’T panic, don’t panic!

Never has Corporal Jones’ catchphrase been more apt this season.

Doncaster’s rise to the top of League One has been based on a template of controlling games, gaining the upper hand by being resilient and organised.

Nothing flash, often not pretty to watch, Rovers size up the opposition, fathom out their weaknesses and wait for their moment to pounce. They grind teams into submission.

At half time, after Chris Brown had poked home David Cotterill’s inch-perfect cross for his 10th of the campaign, it was business as usual at a sandy Keepmoat Stadium.

But against a Portsmouth team who refused to cave in there was to be an unexpected twist as Doncaster missed an opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the division.

When Rovers are good, like in their previous home game with Hartlepool, they can be very good.

When they are bad, like at MK Dons, they can be very bad.

But when they are not so good they have an abundance of durability and resilience in their locker which can make life very difficult for the opposition.

Saturday was very much a case of the latter. Or so it seemed.

Pompey had been kept on a leash during a first half of few chances - until panic set in on and off the pitch. In a very un-Rovers way, the pressure of the promotion run-in seemed to really affect Doncaster.

And as the unrelenting visitors grew in confidence, even Rovers’ very own Corporal Jones caught the bug.

His hurried clearances were met by screeches from the West Stand as the tension grew and grew, and Portsmouth continued to turn the screw.

Jones was not the only one guilty of panicking, as the league leaders lost their shape and all too often surrendered possession.

Whereas before the break Doncaster had not been brilliant but remained in control of the game, that element of control had vanished as a closely fought contest approached the hour mark.

Portsmouth, a side all but relegated, deserve great credit for their spirited performance.

It was a display that was not in the script, but when Jed Wallace tapped home a 75th minute equaliser from close range it had been on the cards almost from the moment the second period kicked off. Rovers had lost control.

“We spoke at half time about trying to raise the tempo and moving the ball quicker once we got into the final third,” said boss Brian Flynn.

“But we didn’t really get into the final third a lot, that’s why we didn’t do well in the second half.

“When we did get in the final third we needed to play one or two touch football - to make it electric and disturb defenders in that key area.

“But sadly it didn’t happen a lot. It didn’t happen enough.”

Chances had been at a premium in the first half but Cotterill was at the heart of everything Doncaster did create.

The winger’s looped free kick was headed tamely wide by Jones, his probing right wing cross was inches away from Paynter’s head before the his slide-rule pass released Paynter only for the striker’s effort to be blocked by the impressive Simon Eastwood.

So it was no surprise when Cotterill was the architect of the opening goal, finding space on the right before delivering a perfect ball for Brown to gleefully hook home at the near post after drifting off his marker.

Rovers began the second period on the front foot and went close to a crucial second when Cotterill’s powerful shot from distance was parried by Eastwood and Jones failed to keep the rebound down.

But from that point on came Pompey’s second wind as midfield pair Therry Racon and Johnny Ertl gained a grip on proceedings and Rovers slipped into panic mode.

Racon first saw a goal bound effort blocked and the midfielder tested Gary Woods’ handling from the edge of the area after John Lundstram made a hash of a clearance.

The writing was on the wall as Portsmouth dominated possession and probed away at Rovers’ nervous-looking rearguard.

Dean Furman came off the bench to replace James Coppinger as Flynn looked to provide more midfield insurance.

But the change was to no avail. The equaliser soon arrived and it had been coming.

Bustling striker Patrick Agyemang showed good strength and composure in the box and layed it across the face of goal for Wilson to prod home from eight yards out.

Furman almost won it for Doncaster with a dream debut strike from 20 yards which was parried wide by Eastwood but Rovers had to settle for a point.

Woods’ horrible miscued clearance at the death, which thankfully went unpunished, typified how Rovers had let this game slip. This felt like a missed opportunity.

“We weren’t at our best, particularly in the second half,” said a disappointed Flynn.

“We weren’t good going forward, and that’s one of our strengths. I don’t think the service to our strikers was what it should have been.

“We didn’t pass the ball well enough and I don’t think we had two consecutive passes that went forward.

“We went forward and then came back and that suited Portsmouth.”