Ten minutes in I feared a hiding. Ian Lawlor had already been called upon to make two smart saves, and a bloke behind me had just decreed two consecutive Rovers touches in Arsenal’s half of the field worthy of a song and dance.
This may’ve not been Arsene Wenger’s first choice XI, but it still boasted a wealth of experience (and an experience of wealth) far beyond Doncastrian reaches; a fact certified midway through the first half when Alexis Sanchez chipped in for Theo Walcott to put the hosts ahead.
It’d been fun whilst it lasted, we thought. But it turned out to be only just beginning. The longer proceedings went on, the more Rovers grew into both game and their 4-5-1 formation. Rodney Kongolo and James Coppinger began to get the ball down and support the tireless Alfie May; Matty Blair found the space to get forward, the back-four looked assured.
After the interval Rovers matched their hosts. Of course Arsenal continued to have chances – they always would – but now they were in a game. Andy Butler headed over from a corner; May, John Marquis and Ben Whiteman all had openings on the break; Liam Mandeville had a shot deflected wide.
One last late chance; a deep corner, Matty Blair’s header looked like it could, like it might, but it’s trajectory instead found David Ospina’s finger-tips and the crossbar; and 10,000 hands went to 5,000 heads.
Defeat perhaps, but one masked in pride – a heart-bursting home-town pride.
by Glen Wilson