Doncaster Rovers 0 Yeovil Town 4 – Saturday 12th April 2002
On the day that Yeovil were confirmed Conference Champions in April 2002, they were scheduled to play at Doncaster live on Sky, after being ignored for much of the season. Despite Yeovil being top since September, Sky had showed their usual favour towards the ex-league teams and had not shown Yeovil since their first game back at Huish Park against Woking. In other circumstances this might have been a title decider, as Doncaster had probably been the pick of the chasing teams and looked most likely to challenge the Glovers. It is often the way that the two top teams play each other towards the end of the season, as happened when Yeovil hosted Rushden and Diamonds in April 2001.
It wasn’t to be though, as Donny had lost their games in hand and their challenge had fallen away. Yeovil had the chance to seal the title at home to Telford the previous week, but as Chester won they could technically be caught on goal difference, however unlikely that might be. So it appeared that Yeovil would have to beat Doncaster live on Sky in order to win the title, a tough proposition. As it happened, we were confirmed champions before the game started – the 5.30 kick-off meant all of the 3.00 games had finished. Chester dropped points at home to struggling Woking and could no longer catch the Glovers – they had scored two very late goals after going 2-0 down but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-2. There was jubilation among the 1000 or so travelling fans on the crumbling Doncaster terrace as the title was won without even kicking a ball. We hoped that the game wouldn’t be an anti-climax after all our hard work being ignored by Sky, and that we could still put on a show.
Fortunately that was exactly what happened, as Yeovil ran away with the game, beating one of their nearest rivals 4-0 on their own ground in front of their biggest crowd of the season. In fairness it had been a tight game until a flurry of goals at the end of the first half gave Yeovil a 3-0 lead. Darren Way barged his way into the box and in the process of falling over accidentally diverted the ball into the net for his only goal of the season. Michael McIndoe scored the second from the penalty spot, and Lee Johnson scored the third in the most unusual circumstances.
Defender Steve Foster blocked a cross in the box, and played it back to Andy Warrington who picked the ball up, giving away a free kick as it was a deliberate back-pass; Yeovil were given a free-kick about six yards out. Although this seems like a good thing it often ends in farce, as when the entire defending team lines up on the goal line it is very difficult to score from an indirect free-kick, as this example earlier in the season against Telford shows.
However, showing determination and speed of thought, Kevin Gall wrestled the ball away from the goalkeeper and took a quick free-kick to Lee Johnson who scored, all while the defenders were continuing to argue about the decision. The entire defence switched off, including the keeper who was still holding the ball but let go of it. Some have pointed out since that it was technically an illegal free-kick as the ball has to be placed at least six yards out even if the offence is on the goal-line so it was taken from the wrong place, but it would not have made any difference and the goal was allowed.
Kevin Gall scored a fourth just after half time and the game ended 4-0. The cherry on the cake came in the 89th minute, when Chris Weale saved a penalty from Conference top scorer Paul Barnes, keeping Kirk Jackson in with a shout of the golden boot at the end of the season.
Lee Johnson’s goal is something that exemplified Yeovil’s speed and initiative which was a big feature of the team around that time. Gary Johnson liked to keep the game moving, ball boys and girls were expected to give the ball back immediately by operating a ‘multi-ball’ system at Huish Park, there was no time-wasting and the game was kept moving as much as possible. This often gave Yeovil the advantage as it is much easier to attack a team which has not had time to set its defence, and it often caught the opposition out in both the Conference and League Two.
On several occasions this led directly to goals, such as Andy Lindegaard’s first against in-form Morecambe in a very tight game in January 2002 that ended 2-0, the second in the 3-1 win at Rochdale, and the first in the 4-0 home win over Bristol Rovers. Yeovil re-started the game so quickly that the TV cameras often missed goals, including one of their first goals in the Football League at Rochdale. These are the clearest examples but even with corners and throw-ins it gives a huge advantage to attack a team that is not ready. It was noticeable in later years that the Glovers could be quite ponderous coming forward, and no matter how good the players are that you have, if you are slow coming forward then you give the opposition time to line up against you and ensure they are all in formation and marking who they are supposed to mark. Sometimes speed is the best advantage. The quicker you can be, the less prepared the opposition is and the more likely you are to find gaps and force mistakes, which was a big feature of Gary Johnson’s team in the 2002-2005 era.
Team that day: Chris Weale, Roy O’Brien (sub. Adam Lockwood, 60), Terry Skiverton, Colin Pluck, Darren Way, Lee Johnson, Andy Lindegaard (sub. Abdou El Kholti, 65), Michael McIndoe, Gavin Williams, Kirk Jackson, Kevin Gall (sub. Nick Crittenden, 74). Subs not used: Steve Collis, Chris Giles
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