Sheffield United v Doncaster Rovers: The ride has yet to hit top speed

Conor Sammon
Conor Sammon

It is fair to say riding with Sheffield United and Doncaster Rovers so far this season has been far from smooth or thrilling.

Heading into Saturday’s derby clash, Nigel Adkins’ Bladesacoaster was stuck in a dip, yet to touch the heights in what is expected, nay demanded, to be a thrill ride of a season.

Billy Sharp

Billy Sharp

Two defeats and a draw from the last three games was certainly not what the ride had promised.

Across South Yorkshire, Rob Jones’ Rovercoaster had not even begun to climb and was increasingly looking set to deliver an underwhelming experience.

Jones had taken over with just one league win all season, and the ride had worryingly shown little sign of improvement under a new driver.

And so, both Adkins and Jones found themselves under certain degrees of pressure as they faced off at Bramall Lane in an intriguing master-versus-apprentice battle - the former Scunthorpe United boss and his record signing.

Nigel Adkins

Nigel Adkins

Both men had a point to prove and the same point as each other - that they were worthy of the job.At the final wh istle, Adkins’ case was the stronger, even if there were still a few issues to be ironed out.

United scored three goals through Chris Basham, Conor Sammon and Billy Sharp but still lacked a real cutting edge.

They struggled to kill off a Rovers side that played more than an hour with ten men after Gary MacKenzie was sent off for a high boot to Craig Alcock.

Largely this was down to the final ball letting them down, allowing Rovers chance to clear. Though Sammon could have easily had a hat-trick and rattled the post, Rovers keeper Thorsten Stuckmann had little to do as the Blades failed to turn the screw.

Rob Jones

Rob Jones

It is at the other end of the pitch where United have come in for the most criticism. And while it was a relatively quiet afternoon for the United defence, they still looked a little shaky in patches. Rovers loan striker Keshi Anderson caused all manner of problems with his direct running.

Yet, there was still plenty for Adkins to be positive about after the game.

The win, he said, put United back on track. And as they climbed into the top six with the ten-game mark approaching in midweek, it is hard not to agree with the ever-optimistic Blades boss.

In stark contrast, Jones labelled his side’s performance as ‘unacceptable,’ laden with mistake after mistake that left them firmly in League One’s bottom four.

It was a somewhat harsh assessment from Rovers’ interim boss, who must now surely see slipping away his chance of claiming the job on a permanent basis after picking up just a point from three games in charge on caretaker terms.

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Jones had been positive about the two previous performances under his stewardship, yet those were arguably worse than the showing at Bramall Lane for which he lambasted his players and kept them locked in the dressing room for more than 45 minutes afterwards.

Rovers’ defence lost themselves for United’s second goal when Sammon had the freedom of the box to side-foot in Paul Coutts’ cross and a horror back-pass from James Coppinger let in Sharp to score the third.

There was a lack of threat, but what can be expected from a side playing two-thirds of the game a man down.

Overall, Rovers were resolute after rejigging the back line when MacKenzie was dismissed.

Until Sharp added the third, there was always the feeling Rovers could nick a draw on the break or from a se- piece as their rearguard held firm under pressure.

The introduction of Anderson added a much-needed fresh spark to the side but in the end they went back up the M18 empty-handed.

As well as two main men in the dugout, there were other individuals who found themselves in the derby-day spotlight.

None more so than Sharp who met his old club and got the inevitable goal, one which finally ended Rovers’ resolve.

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The Sharp and Coppinger combination was once a potent one, back in Rovers’ Championship glory days. The pair had an innate understanding that was key to their side’s attacking threat.

This was not supposed to continue when on opposite teams. In years gone by, Coppinger will have beamed with pride when sending Sharp scurrying away with a finely weighted pass.

On Saturday he will have looked on in horror as his poorly-played back-pass from the touchline allowed his former teammate to nip in, round Stuckmann and put the game to bed by rolling into an empty net in front of the kop.

It had not been the most threatening afternoon from Sharp, with Sammon enjoying the starring role in attack, but he did just enough to leave Rovers supporters ruing his departure once again.

Sharp, Adkins and company were left smiling, reports of a derailment greatly exaggerated.

Jones was left furious and no doubt worrying over how to wrestle the Rovers carriage back onto the tracks before his time on the ride runs out.