Two clinical but classy Ben Whiteman strikes sent Doncaster Rovers through to the third round of the FA Cup, despite a late Carlisle United resurgence through Jon Mellish. Both teams looked evenly matched, bar the brilliance of the Rovers captain Whiteman and the tricky on loan Southampton winger, Josh Sims.
Donny came into the game in 10th place in League One whereas the Cumbrians were positioned just inside the League Two play-off spots in seventh place. Both teams are evidently going strong in the league and many were interested to see how United dealt with the step-up in opposition.
Prior to kick-off, both teams adhered to a minutes silence for the passing of Diego Maradonna during the week. Rover’s winger Sims gave a performance that the Argentine would himself have been proud off with trickery and panache which proved he could easily make his parent clubs bench, at some point in the future.
The game was kicked off with both teams clearly trying to implement their own style on the game, United’s high press and somewhat direct style up against Donny’s clever and intricate passing.
The first real signs of a breakthrough came on the 19th minute when former Manchester United youth product, Joe Riley shot wide after some neat interplay from Omari Patrick and Gime Toure led to Patrick laying off Riley. However, the midfielder’s shot was wide of the mark.
Carlisle’s next opportunity must’ve left manager Chris Beech, thinking his team should’ve taken the lead after the ever-busy Jon Mellish flicked over the bar from only five yards out. A long throw from the Irish under 21 international, Josh Kayode, seemed to evade everyone at the front post and was allowed to bounce into the onrushing Mellish’s path but how he managed to flick the ball over the bar only he will know.
Rover’s first real chance came through Okenabirhie when Tom Anderson, a former Carlisle United loanee, had his deflected pass fall to the Rovers striker to the right of the six yards box but was denied by a superb Callum Guy sliding challenge to stop a worrying situation for the blues.
There was more worry for United as Okenabirhie was again through in a similar position to the previous opportunity but he could only drag his low shot past the right-hand post.
Finally, Donny broke the deadlock with Ben Whiteman showing why he is one of the best players in League One when he cooly slotted the ball into the right-hand corner. It was originally created by Josh Sims’ direct running to burst past Anderton’s challenge and he continued into the area only to be stopped by Hayden; the United centre half could not clear and on-loan Manchester City midfielder Matt Smith showed his quality by managing to slip in Whiteman, who curled the ball past keeper Paul Farman.
Things went from bad to worse for the Cumbrians and it was the same man Whiteman who compounded their misery. Yet again he managed to produce a sublime effort into the bottom right-hand corner from about 25 yards. Carlisle know they won’t see this type of quality week-in week-out and will not feel hard done by in the concession of both goals.
There were late flurries towards the end of the first half in both boxes as Kayode managed to work his way into the Rovers box and seemed to go down with defenders surrounding him but Referee Scott Oldham booked the striker for simulation. Oldham has failed to impress in previous games at Brunton Park and seemed almost desperate to produce a card. This meant that Donny went into the break two goals ahead.
Donny started the half with more emphasis and they came the closest when they broke down the left flank. Left-back Danny Amos who had been bullied in the first half by Omari Patrick swung in a ball which striker Okenabirhie could only nod past the right upright.
United soon began to push and came close with winger Patrick whose side-foot volley was beaten away by emergency loanee, Joe Lumley in the Rovers goal. Aaron Hayden broke down the right touchline and crossed to Kayode, he then laid it off to the former Bradford man who was unlucky not to score.
Donny winger Sims was forever taunting the United back-four and his trickery and pace almost reaped reward on the 61st minute. Drifting in from the right-wing Sims hit a low shot just past the right-hand post but it looked like Farman had it covered.
Gime Toure next went close for United. Patrick slipped the ball through to the skilful Frenchman but his left-footed effort close to goal was straight at Lumley who held the ball well.
United must’ve thought they will never score when Lumley made a spectacular save to prevent Rhys Bennett’s header from a Callum Guy corner going into the top corner. Lumley displayed cat-like agility to claw the ball out for another corner to the Blues.
This time United finally managed to get the ball into the back of the net. A deep corner was headed down by Hayden which Lumley could only parry into the path of the talismanic Mellish, who struck yet again. A roar from the Blues players signalled they were well and truly back in the tie.
Kayode almost equalized two minutes later when substitute Alesandra slipped in Mellish down the left. His near-post cross was headed wide after just enough pressure from one of the Rovers defenders.
United created very little towards the end bar a Gavin Reilly half volley that went flying over the crossbar. Unfortunately, manger, Chris Beech’s decision to substitute youth academy product, Josh Dixon after he’d only been on for twenty or so minutes added a sour taste to an encouraging performance.
Dixon had suffered from many serious injuries the previous season and was only just back which should’ve been a great achievement for the youngster. Many will hope that this does not come as a body blow for the youngster who has already battled so much in his short career.
The match ended and it was Doncaster Rovers who were through to the slightly less lucrative than previous years, thrid round. United will be glad for no more distractions as Beech tries to lead his men to promotion to League One where they could be facing very good sides such as Donny in the future.