Tuesday 25th October – Doncaster Rovers 2-0 Gills (CC3)
You know it isn’t going to be your season when the “reward” for beating a Premiership side 3-2 in a bit of a thriller in the previous round of the League Cup is a long slog up to South Yorkshire on a Tuesday night to play the other giant-killers from the previous round, Doncaster Rovers, conquerors of Manchester City on penalties.
The Gills hadn’t visited Belle Vue since 1996 after which the two clubs path’s had diverged, the Gills gaining promotion twice, Donny ending up at the wrong end of the Conference. The state of Belle Vue indicated little progress at Rovers in the previous decade (just a few portakabins acting as “executive boxes” behind the far goal) but having survived a bent arsonist as chairman Rovers had been bought by a wealthy local and were continuing their march back up the Leagues. With a new stadium about to take shape close to their archaic home the future looks bright for Donny and must give hope to all other clubs who have had to endure financial hardship and criminally incompetent ownership.
The Gills Robbo travel club arrived early in Doncaster and had time to explore but then the heavens opened. The rain just fell from the sky in increasingly impressive torrents. The prospect of standing on an open terrace was not an attractive one, but as the near-biblical deluge continued concern turned to simply getting back from the pub to the Robbomobile in the city centre car park without losing anyone to the possibility of drowning. We later sheltered in the marquee erected in the pot-holed car park behind the Main Stand and were still trying to dry out when rumours of a pitch inspection began to circulate. We really weren’t keen on having to repeat our midweek jaunt…
Most of the 333 Gills fans opted to stand on the open away terrace despite the heavy rain (it was no longer of monsoon proportions), so were a little miffed to learn that the clueless twat on Radio Five had said there were only 50 Gills up there (pre-sales for the seats), We made up for the Gills being rather shite and getting soaked by singing non-stop. It seemed the only thing to do, as we received a further drenching which didn’t really stop until half way through the first half. The free official DRFC plastic macs made anyone daft enough to don them look like grumpy escapees from the nearest loony bin…
On the pitch is was a competitive encounter but Rovers enjoyed the lion’s share of the chances, the Gills defended resiliently, Bullock impressed on a busy night (how wrong can you be!), but Williams didn’t (how right can you be!) and his error allowed Coppinger a free run through but he shot straight at Bullock. Our best (and only) genuine chance of the first half saw Flynn set up Crofts, his 20 yarder was parried into the path of the lumbering Hislop who shot carelessly wide… (a sign of things to come).
The second half was largely one-sided with Donny on top and Bullock forced into action at regular intervals. It was simply a case of hanging on and hoping to nick a goal on a counter attack or from a set-piece but when it arrived sub Jarvis fluffed it. Wallis brilliantly set him free but with the goal at his mercy he wasted the chance. We knew that was probably that and concentrated on hanging on for extra- time but with six minutes to go sub Heffernan sent Belle Vue wild. A Marples cross was met with a deft glancing header that trundled agonisingly into the net via the post. The Gills were then caught up field in the 89th minute, Williams hesitated and Heffernan ended the contest with a clever run and neat finish after the ball had fallen kindly to him.
We were left to head back to Kent and dry out, subsequent news that Donny drew Villa in the last 16 just emphasised our disappointment. Rovers certainly made the most of it thrashing Villa 3-0 before taking Arsenal reserves to penalties in the last eight.
Champagne Moment: The fans in the away end keeping up a non-stop barrage of support despite the uninspiring showing by the players.