5-1… but did Doncaster deserve defeat?

The ball ran harmlessly through to the goalkeeper. At least, that what it first appeared was happening. The full-back was shepherding. The goalkeeper was collecting. Then one of the quickest players in the division appeared, as if from nowhere, and suddenly Doncaster Rovers had a penalty to defend and a bizarre refereeing decision to attack.

Lloyd Dyer raced to close Neil Sullivan down and the decision, bafflingly enough, was that the goalkeeper took Dyer out without getting a touch on the ball. Television replays provided damning evidence to the contrary.

The question here is how much James Linington’s verdict contributed to the resulting rout inflicted upon Doncaster by Leicester City. At the time of the penalty award, Leicester were trailing to Billy Sharp’s early opener. But by the time Linington blew the final whistle, the home side had struck five times and Sharp’s goal was still the only one registered by the visitors.

Doncaster manager Sean O’Driscoll was quick to sort the post-match focus into two distinctly different piles – his and that of the media. O’Driscoll decreed that Doncaster would be concentrating on their disappointing second-half display, which saw the hosts score four times without reply and it could have been even more.

If this had been a Premier League game, though, there would have been a rather intense spotlight thrust on Linington’s controversial decision. So it merits a mention here instead.

The Doncaster players delayed the taking of the penalty for well over a minute, arguing with the referee and refusing to leave the penalty area. This was an understandable attempt to unsettle Paul Gallagher. As you can see, it had no effect whatsoever.

Personally, perhaps surprisingly, I think this behaviour is entirely acceptable. Many football fans would probably disagree. The referee’s decision is final and all that. But referees have so much power. It is only natural that a player may seek to redress the balance if he feels his team has been wronged.

While referees cannot be held responsible for the actions of individual players, they can influence the path of a game and often this is done with very little regard for any deserving causes.

Should the men in black think about whether a team “deserves” a penalty or not in deciding whether one should be awarded? Probably not, but it is particularly galling for a team of little resources to concede a controversial spot kick away from home on the stroke of half time. Referees must be as close to certainty in their mind as is humanly possible when they make this type of decision.

Doncaster fell apart after the break, admittedly. Leicester’s relentless counter-attacking pulled the visiting back four out of position on numerous occasions and it could be said that Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men deserved the wide margin of victory for their second half dominance.

But to decide which team, if either, deserves victory from any match is often to diminish the importance of the effect each event in the game has on its outcome. A regular mistake is to say a player “could have scored three”, for example. If the first opportunity is taken, then the second does not come along. Certainly not in the same fashion, anyhow.

Leicester only got the opportunity to score four in the second half because the momentum was with them and, as anyone in football will tell you, an equalising goal in first-half stoppage time is a “perfect time to score”.

Doncaster’s deflation appeared in stark contrast to the buoyancy they would have maintained had they been in a better position to threaten Eriksson’s unbeaten home league record as Leicester manager.

I think the key word here is empathy. There are very few football supporters who can truly say their team does not regularly find themselves on the end of a decision that appears to favour a “bigger” club. I’ve been to Old Trafford. I’ve been to Stamford Bridge.

The difference in scale between the two sets of clubs on those occasions were far greater than between the pair involved in the encounter at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday, but the story is the same.

Doncaster are, in many ways, one of the most enviable professional football clubs in the entire country. Punching above their weight without huge investment, O’Driscoll’s side also play passing football and have a refreshing commitment to attack.

Putting five goals past them is no huge achievement given the respective transfer values of each sets of players. That one of them, the most crucial of all, came about in such a pathetic manner felt, in some small way, shameful.

It is a great credit to O’Driscoll that he was unwilling to focus on that particular aspect of their mauling at the Walkers, preferring to concentrate on defensive deficiencies.

Doncaster have a good man at the helm, a welcome footballing philosophy and, as a club, represent so much that is good about the Football League. May the next controversial refereeing decision in a Doncaster Rovers match go in their favour.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. Tighty
    December 12, 2010

    I was at the game too, and close to the penalty decision, which was obviously a poor one. For the first half an hour, too, Donny played some outstanding stuff.

    However O’Driscoll said afterwards that he and staff had to spend half time calming his players down and that once it went 2-1 several of his side went missing. I’ve rarely seen a poor decision, which it was, have such a marked effect on a group of eleven players.

    After all, at 1-1 there was all to play for. It should hardly have decided the match with 45 minutes still to play. A few more eladers in the team and they fight harder than they did.

    Their capitulation reflects badly on them, I feel and was completely at odds with my experience of them as a good team built for little and punching way above their weight.

    • theseventytwo
      December 12, 2010

      I agree that their capitulation was shocking. The way they had numbers upfield but had so few (no?!) shots in the second half was bizarre.

      I suppose the headline is a bit misleading. It was a deserved defeat. I just felt sorry for them with the way that the scoreline doesn’t reflect the situation when that decision went against them. Despite that, the main point is probably more along the lines of what you (and O’Driscoll) say – that it shouldn’t have affected their players to that extent.

  2. Tel
    December 12, 2010

    Normally I’d have some sympathy for these arguments.

    But I didn’t hear any complaints from Donny fans last year, when a reckless and dangerous challenge by Brian Stock put Matty Fryatt out of the game for three months. If Stock had behaved like that on a street or in a nightclub, he may have been looking at a jail sentence.

    That tackle went unpunished and allowed the visitors to sneak away from the Walkers with a point. It also caused disruption to the rest of our season, perhaps even contributing to our failure to secure automatic promotion.

    Conjecture? Maybe so, but aren’t all “what if?”.questions in that category.

    It could easily be said that Doncaster were more unnerved by the pace of Leicester’s attacks than by lingering resentment over the spot-kick.

    • theseventytwo
      December 12, 2010

      Two points there – firstly, I somehow forgot to mention the Fryatt thing, despite it already having been the intro for my piece for the Merc tomorrow! Doh! Thought it was interesting that the following game was the Scunny 5-1. I thought we were a far better team with Waghorn up front on his own than we’ve been with Fryatt in, although he was superb in the Newcastle game the week before he was injured. I honestly don’t think that side was good enough to secure automatic promotion, Fryatt or not. Newcastle and WBA were way ahead last year.

      Secondly, I agree that they looked shell-shocked by the pace of City’s attacking. Naughton’s goal in particular was one of the best examples of a quick counter-attack you will ever see at that level. One of my favourite City goals of recent years.

  3. johnfallen
    December 12, 2010

    who penned this drivel? the chairman of doncaster? It is quite clear the author has an axe to grind against leicester…fair enough…no comment regarding the two blatant pens lcfc should of had second half… plus the sending off that doncaster should of incurred..not to mention the three times lcfc hit the woodwork and numerous other chances we missed..I have lost count of the appalling decisions lcfc have suffered at the hands of refs this season…but lcfc are not using it as an excuse for our short comings…To put this defeat down to one refereeing decision is ludicrous,really pitiful…72…

    • theseventytwo
      December 12, 2010

      I’m a Leicester fan mate.

  4. johnfallen
    December 12, 2010

    72, well you go on a guilt trip if you want…I will stay in reality…If your proposition is we got the penalty because we are a “bigger” club than doncaster, sir you are deluded…there was no “pressure” on the referee and the crowd were no baying for a pen…he gave what he saw..on replay there is a debate to be had..To say this completely derailed donny is to sell them short and to question their professionalism.
    As I pointed out, in the second half the ref evened it out by ignoring at least one obvious pen for us…Patronise doncaster if you will, I have more respect for the club and mr.O’Driscoll.

    • theseventytwo
      December 13, 2010

      1) I don’t think we’d have been given that penalty away from home. I’m not saying we did get it because we are a “bigger” club – I’m saying that I know how it feels to get them given against you and wonder how on earth the referee has come to that decision.

      2) I think it’s clear, both from watching the game and from O’Driscoll’s comments afterwards, that the decision did derail Donny. To say that is selling them short or questioning their professionalism is not what I’d define the situation as.

      If a Doncaster fan feels like I’ve patronised their club then I apologise but that’s up to them to decide.

  5. johnfallen
    December 13, 2010

    Alex, you obviously mis read my comments…the aricle implied it not me..we charged as little as £6 saturday…you obviuosly didn’t go or would of known that…thanks for wishing us out of business ,that says more about you than me…I wish doncaster all the success they can achieve…ps. take the chip off your shoulder ….

    • theseventytwo
      December 13, 2010

      I don’t think the £6 offer extended to the Doncaster fans. From what I’ve read, they paid as much as £26.

  6. johnfallen
    December 13, 2010

    don’t wear colours and you can usually get in the home end anywhere..thats what I do, saves me money…never been turned away yet..

  7. FuzzyDuck
    December 13, 2010

    First of all its good to see a fan who has tried to explain why their team has won so convincingly rather than just accepting their own brilliance. Beating a team in your own division by such a margin is unusual and should be explained further. Well done on being so sporting.

    Did Leicester deserve to win? – OF COURSE THEY DID!

    First of all, Rovers should have been 3-up and cruising by the time the penalty decision was awarded. At 3-up I sure Leicester would have been more malliable and I’m also sure we wouldn’t have got so wound up about the penalty.

    The penalty was of course ridiculous. If it was anything, it would have been a rather harsh and petty foul given against Dyer for pushing O’Connor but I’d have given nothing.

    O’Connor went on to play the worst game I’ve ever seen him play. He’s normally our best defender but he spent Saturday afternoon in the wrong place. Most unusual for him.

    Were O’Connor and the rest of the Rovers’ players affected by the decision. Well from Sean’s comments, yes they were. It looked like the incident ruined his team-talk, which was needed as Leicester had been getting more and more into the game. SOD also said the players weren’t in the right place mentally when they came out for the second half.

    But these guys are professional footballers. Bad reffing decisions remain part of the game. Yes, something needs to be done about that, but until it is done, you’ve got to live with it. That means stop sulking and put it behind you. I cannot excuse our players for not doing just that.

    I was also disappointed with the manager on Saturday. The turning point was the introduction of Dyer and the moving of Vassell to the middle and it happened on 37 minutes. It was patently obvious on 55 minutes that we were in trouble. So why was our first change after 75 minutes and at 4-1? The horse had long bolted.

    To be fair to Sean, at least 5 of our players were not performing so I don’t think a tactical change would have saved the game. He may have made it less of an embarrassment though.

  8. Lee
    March 18, 2011

    You can argue till the sun comes up about whether it was the dominant performance from Leciester or the shocking penalty decision from the Referee, but it was a comibnation of many things, the first being the luck on Leciester’s side.

    When I heard the line up I was worried about our (Rovers’) chances when heard we had Martis playing at wing back, he was always going to allow Lecesiter to pose a deadly counter attack. Having said that we started the game (as most times) as the better side, and as Fuzzy Duck says we could have had 3 before the penalty decision, some of them chances, especially when Healy (I think) dribbled it round the keeper to somehow manage to blast it wide of an empty net were denied by a combination of good goalkeeping and luck bieng on Leciester’s side.

    Before the penalty half time couldn’t have come quick enough, after the penalty our players heads dropped and the tables were turned and half time came too quick. However the players had 15 minutes to calm down about the decision and take to the field and just do the same as the first half. Somehow that didn’t happen, in the first half our anchorman role with Brian Stock worked perfectly, taking the sting out of leciester’s fast attacking pace. He felt like he didn’t exist in the second half as every single Leciester attack was quick and straight down the middle, and with Martis not bieng the fastest on the left hand side (after all he is a CB), there was always a threat there as well.

    First half: A great half which was fairly even with Doncaster argubely the second hand, however the great football on show from both teams is overshadowed by a penalty decision which was a shocker, but ones that do happen in football, and why I won’t be drawn into it too much.

    Second half: Doncaster struggled to get into their stride and Leciester took advantage and exposed all holes making it a similar game to that on a FIFA or PES Exhibition match.

    We walked away with nothing but a battering by in truther the better team for the majority of the match, the 5-1 scoreline may have been a bit harsh and hurt Doncaster, but having said that the attacks from Leciester could have lead them to score 7 or 8. It was a great game for the home support with their offer to fill the ground and Im sure it put at least 2000 more on the gate for the remainder of the season!



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