Match analysis: Notts County 2 Doncaster Rovers 1 - Limp, lifeless and lacklustre

Paul Dickov gives instructions to Nathan Tyson during the clash with Notts County
Paul Dickov gives instructions to Nathan Tyson during the clash with Notts County

At this stage of the season, you are either involved in the football’s greater narrative or you are not.

On Saturday, Rovers had an opportunity to make their mark in the concluding chapter of the League One story by delivering a heartbreaking blow to Notts County’s survival hopes.

Jack McKay had little support from his Rovers team mates on his full senior debut

Jack McKay had little support from his Rovers team mates on his full senior debut

But they could barely muster anything of note to even get involved the simple narrative at Meadow Lane, nevermind the greater picture at the bottom of the table.

Putting it bluntly, they failed to turn up. And in doing so, their impact on the relegation fight was to make it so easy for Notts County to climb out of the bottom four.

Garry Thompson and Liam Noble struck either side of half time to put the Magpies in full command.

Nathan Tyson’s injury time penalty reduced the deficit but the 2-1 scoreline flattered the visitors.

Given the heights in both performance and positioning that Rovers have reached this season, it was another incredibly disappointing outing in what has been a final couple of months to forget.

Lackluste, sloppy and a yard off the pace set by their battling hosts, Rovers only managed to frustrate and irritate.

The continued blooding of the club’s young players was the only real positive to come out of the afternoon.

Goalkeeper Marko Marosi on his full league debut had little to do other than to twice pick the ball out of his net, both goals about which he could do little.

And it was hard not to feel sympathy for striker Jack McKay on his full senior debut, quite literally chasing a lost cause in attack.

Balls through to both he and Tyson were largely aimless and useless. Both men barely touched the ball during the first half.

Mitchell Lund continued his impressive run at right back with another assured performance belying his age and experience.

It was always likely that County would start the game with real intensity. They could so easily have been condemned to League Two football on Saturday afternoon, so doing all they could to avoid that was vital.

They went for Rovers from the off, backed by brilliant, loud support that certainly on the face of things, believed their side’s survival hopes were still alive.

And the visitors just could not cope with the intensity and found themselves a goal down before they barely managed to play out of their own half.

Paul Dickov sent his side out in a diamond formation with Harry Forrester playing at the tip and Dean Furman at the base.

But it became quickly apparent this was not going to work. Noble and Gary Jones were dominant in the middle of the park and were quick to spread the ball out wide to the energic Thompson and Graham Burke.

Rovers were picked apart far too easy in midfield and the same can be said of the defence as Notts County found the opener with eight minutes gone.

Burke had the freedom of Meadow Lane on the left to send in a cross. Andy Butler missed his attempted diving header clearance and no one reacted as the ball bounced through to Thompson who drilled in low from ten yards out.

Towering striker Balint Bajner gave the Rovers defence a torrid time, consistently outmuscling both Butler and Rob Jones to ensure they never settled and looked rather nervy.

Rovers’ afternoon was summed up with a rare attack midway through the half. They had swarmed into the County half and looked to be in a good position to craft a chance. But the hosts pressed quickly, forcing them back and the phase would end with Rovers conceding a throw in, deep inside their own half.

Intensity was key to the Magpies’ victory. They had plenty, Rovers had none.

Even when the hosts eased off as the half wore on, Rovers had nothing up their sleeves to take advantage despite enjoying much more possession.

Both Forrester and James Coppinger - recalled after being rested against MK Dons following his testimonial celebrations - had shots from almost identical positions 20 yards out that narrowly flew over the bar.

But Rovers would ultimately end the half without registering a shot on target.

The formation was switched to a 4-1-3-2 with Coppinger moved into the middle in somewhat of a free role.

To his credit, Coppinger looked to be one of the players more desperate to spark Rovers back into life. But his eagerness largely proved to be Rovers’ undoing.

He would consistently drop deep looking for the ball, denying Rovers a key outlet in attack and ensuring space was at a premium in midfield. Coppinger and Furman would get under each other’s feet on several occasions.

The mess ensured little joy for Rovers and little trouble for County who started the second half the brighter.

Dickov threw on Curtis Main in place of McKay, ending the 18-year-old’s afternoon of torment.

But the comeback job ahead quickly grew in size when Noble doubled the lead on 61 minutes.

Burke darted in from the left and clipped a ball into the box. Noble claimed between two defenders, brought the ball down and poked a shot past Marosi.

Rovers almost grabbed a goal back quickly through a piece of fortune but Roy Carroll superbly punched clear when a cross from Lund deflected on goal.

Again County eased off, happy to sit on their two goal lead and make sure of three vital points.

And again, Rovers just could not lift themselves to really trouble their hosts.

They did find a consolation five minutes into injury time. Tyson raced onto a long ball and was barged over with a clumsy challenge from Haydn Hollis. He stepped up to slam home the penalty and move clear at the top of Rovers’ scoring charts.

The lack of celebration from Tyson and his team mates told the whole story.

This was a sorry penultimate chapter to a season which at times promised plenty.

Notts County: Carroll 6, Williams 6, Mullins 6, Hollis 6, Adams 6, G Thompson 8, Jones 7, Noble 7 (C Thompson 84), Burke 7, Bajner 8 (Smith 73 5), Spencer 6.

Subs not used: Pilkington, Dumbuya, Hayhurst, Lita, Edwards

Rovers: Marosi 6, Lund 7, Jones 5, Butler 5, Evina 5, Furman 5, Coppinger 5, Forrester 5 (Whitehouse 81), Bennett 6 (Middleton 66 5), Tyson 6, J McKay 6 (Main 57 5).

Subs not used: Marosi, P McKay, Wabara, Stevens.

Referee: Darren Heywood (Lancashire)

Attendance: 5,858 (770 away)