There is a certain air of symmetry around Rovers last two away trips. Back to back 1-0 wins over other Rovers; Tranmere Saturday, Bristol tonight and both of which lifted Rovers in to second place in League One. And both victories have been secured thanks to a significant early goal. On Saturday it was James Coppinger; this time it was the scourge of Bristol Rovers himself; Paul Heffernan.
With Jason Price injured at Prenton Park on Saturday Sean O’Driscoll was forced into a rare starting alteration. While most thought he would opt for recent addition Stuart Elliott he went instead with the relative old hand of Paul Heffernan. It paid dividends almost immediately as with less than three minutes gone Coppinger laid the ball off for the forward and he volleyed home from fourteen yards. Three goals in three successive appearances against the Pirates for the man who used to ply his trade across the city at Ashton Gate. They must be sick of the sight of him.
For many a side it would have been backs to the wall for the following hour and a half; but not for Doncaster; its not our style; instead Paul Green almost doubled the lead. The midfielder latched on to Coppinger’s pass to force a save from Steve Phillips in the Bristolian goal. At the other end Neil Sullivan was proving of similar worth for Doncaster as he dealt first with a long range strike from Craig Disley and secondly with a corner from the home side.
As much as Sullivan saved the home side were also guilty of some wayward finishing; Rickie Lambert and Lewis Haldane both pulled efforts wide of the visitors’ goal, whilst Andy Williams was the last man of the half to be denied by Sullivan as the Scottish keeper blocked his close range effort. Doncaster defended strongly and were almost rewarded with a second goal before the break as Matt Mills free-kick fell to the feet of Stephen Roberts in the penalty-area; however the centre half’s effort had little momentum and was easily cleared off the home goal line.
At the start of the second half Rovers made a tactical switch as viva rovers’ own Mark Wilson came on for Stephen Roberts; Green dropping to right back and Mills moving into the heart of the back line. It appeared to do the trick as Rovers created a succession of efforts on goal as Coppinger, Heffernan and Brian Stock all came close but to be denied by some resolute goalkeeping and defending on behalf of Bristol Rovers. Late in the match there were chances for both sides as Josh Klen-Davies fired over Sullivan’s bar and Mark McCammon almost wrapped up victory with a far post header, but to be denied by the legs of Phillips.
A testy and nervous final minutes crept by without a goal and Doncaster were, for the second time in four days, heading home with three points and a 1-0 win. I said after the Carlisle defeat that how Rovers recovered from that result would indicate whether this was to be their year. Thus far all the signs are positive. Six points from three successive tricky away ties promise much. With two home games to come in the next week whether Rovers maintain their automatic promotion spot is now very much in their own hands.
Bristol Rovers line-up (4-4-2); Steve Phillips; Aaron Lescott, Craig Hinton, Danny Coles, Joe Jacobson; Sammy Igoe, Stuart Campbell, Craig Disley, Lewis Haldane (Josh Klein-Davies); Andy Williams (Sean Rigg), Rickie Lambert
subs not used: Byron Anthony, Anthony Pulis, Mike Green
booked: Stuart Campbell, Lewis Haldane, Joe Jacobson
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-1-2); Neil Sullivan; Matt Mills, Stephen Roberts (Mark Wilson), Adam Lockwood, Gareth Roberts; Paul Green, Richie Wellens, Brian Stock; James Coppinger; Paul Heffernan (Gareth Taylor), Mark McCammon (Stuart Elliott)
subs not used: Sean McDaid, Sam Hird
booked: Paul Green, Jamie Coppinger, Gareth Roberts