You cannot take a lot from a pre-season friendly in my humble opinion. The games are not at full pace, certainly not for 90 minutes anyway, so you get glimpses and hints rather than any real idea of how your team will fare over a tough season of Championship football. Last night at the Keepmoat we got exactly that, a game that had sporadic bursts of energy and a few hints about where we are at.
The first thing that really stood was the new yellow away it. This has already been talked about a lot so I don’t want to dwell on it but, having now seen it in the flesh, we really should be looking to keep this one for some time. Well done to all concerned.
The team lined up for kick off in a quite flexible 4-2-3-1 formation but with considerably changed personnel from Saturday. Only Mills, Lansbury and Ward remained from the Stevenage game as others got a chance to shine, including a trialist left back.
Reira Mills Wilson Pinillos
Burke Ward Taylor
The most interesting takeaways for me came from the three forward players operating behind Dexter Blackstock. Straight from the start Jamie Ward stood out as a player who has something. He works very hard to win the ball in forward positions and when he has it at his feet he is a threat to defenders. His arrival also seems to have inspired Chris Burke to his best efforts and he too was a thorn in the sides of Doncaster defenders as he twisted and turned.
Paul Taylor, who continues to train with the club, on this showing at least did not convince me he is worthy of a contract, or more importantly a place in our limited squad of 24 senior players. He kept going and made more of an impression in the second half but he doesn’t bring anything different to the squad that I could see last night and we have much greater need for other types of player.
Despite a bright start from Forest, Doncaster quickly found their feet and through the expert promptings of James Coppinger, who ran the midfield in fine style, they looked a much slicker outfit than Forest throughout the first half. Forest were a bit disjointed and though they threatened through the creativity of Ward and Burke, they looked second best for much of that first 45 minutes.
Blackstock was unable to really impose himself and David Vaughan - though he didn’t play badly - looked off the pace in a pre-season match, which is a concern when it comes to the full speed of the Championship. The need for a striker and, for want of a better description, a Gary Gardner is stark. We have midfielders and some of them are potentially very good but we lack that glue to pull it all together in this key area of the pitch.
Perhaps another hint came as Doncaster scored. They had earlier managed to head home a high ball into the box only for it to be ruled out for offside, although this didn’t stop them from playing a burst of goal music in unfortunate celebration before realising what had happened. That turned out to be a warning and on 16 minutes a free kick was crossed into the box, poorly defended and forced home by Curtis Main. An old defensive problem rearing its head despite the presence of Kelvin Wilson and Matt Mills, both possessing - but failing - to impose impressive physical frames.
Elsewhere in defence young Spanish centre half Roger Reira played at right back as Dougie Freedman looked to further investigate the "square pegs in round holes" that he hopes will give him flexibility in his squad and fellow countryman Daniel Pinillos, a trialist who played for Cordoba last season, played on the opposite flank. It is difficult to judge either player on such a game, Reira made slightly more of an impression but Pinillos did little wrong, except for a misjudged back pass that almost caught Dimitar Evtimov out, but also nothing especially impressive either.
On 34 minutes Forest equalised with what was the highlight of the match. Chris Burke span past his man, took the ball to the edge of the box and curled it left footed into the opposite top corner of the goal. An absolute beauty of a goal, reminiscent of the finish to his debut goal against Blackpool at the start of last season. It was a good evening for Burke who looked motivated and effective.
At the start of the second half Michael Mancienne, Ben Osborn and Jamie Paterson replaced Mills, Henri Lansbury and Ward with Paterson slotting into the number 10 role behind Blackstock and looking very keen to make an impact. A period of sustained pressure resulted from the changes as Forest looked to get control of the match but although chances were created there were to be no more goals and the game petered out as further changes were made by both sides.
A final moment of worry came with five minutes left as an overly robust challenge on Osborn led to him leaving the field with a shoulder injury. The immediate reaction of Nicky Maynard calling for a substitution and the sight of a stretcher hovering (but ultimately not used) elevated the concern and we can only hope he is okay.
Overall, it feels like we have some good players but we also lack a bit of balance in the squad. Expectations seem to be quite low key at the moment and that should be a good thing, especially given the considerable uncertainty around those frustrating injuries. After the match Dougie Freedman expressed his happiness with the progress to date and confirmed that a more settled side will play the remaining two friendlies against Swansea and Villa, as we get a clearer idea of our starting eleven and perhaps our prospects for the long season ahead.
*You probably know Steve as @mistrollingin. Steve has fully got his head around FFP so he'll be bringing that and more to the In The Top One table.