“Rout! Rout! Rout! Rout!” chanted Matt in the seat next to me about twenty minutes in to the game. At that point he was well within his mind to do so; Rovers were already 2-0 up and a chipped ball through to Coppinger had found the midfielder alone in a space left deserted by Vale a defence that appeared to have given up the ghost already; abandoning their duties and fleeing the scene of the crime like a low paid security guard being harassed by a gang of hoodied youths.
That, as far as Vale were concerned at least, was the nadir of this game. Far from providing Matt with his rout Rovers stepped off the pedal and coasted before they really should have done. Vale were allowed back into the game almost apologetically as an angled ball into the Rovers penalty area was not properly cleared and Danny Whitaker just beat Neil Sullivan to it to poke home an unexpected goal for Vale and the start of an uncomfortable afternoon for Rovers.
It had all started so well for Doncaster too as they grabbed their now customary early goal; this time after eleven minutes as Jamie Coppinger’s cross was cleared to the wrong man in Vale’s eyes, falling to Paul Heffernan. The striker controlled the ball and volleyed it toward goal striking the crossbar and bouncing down into a position that the linesman indicated was over the line; a decision met with little protest from the home players. The second goal came just six minutes later again as Coppinger received the ball in the Vale area and leathered it in the direction of the goal. Instead of the net it nestled in the midriff of Mark McCammon but the Barbadon forward thankfully turned and placed it in the bottom corner for 2-0.
Rovers almost restored this initial two goal advantage late in the half as Paul Green hit a long free-kick from the right back position into the Vale area where it was met by the head of McCammon, beating Joe Anyon in the Vale goal but not the crossbar. 2-1 at the break but the complacency Rovers displayed rather than capitalising on their early momentum had led to a pretty uneventful half of football despite the three goals.
Rovers continued to create chances after the break but to give uncomfort to the 8,000 in the Keepmoat Stadium they just could not find the breakthrough. Ten minutes in it looked like they had as Green squared the ball across to McCammon at the back post who eventually bundled the ball over the line only for the linesman to indicate the big man was offside. There was further frustration midway through the half as Rovers struck the bar for a second time without scoring; Gareth Roberts inswinging free-kick from the right was met by Matt Mills, but the defender’s header was brilliant turned onto the woodwork by Anyon.
The introduction of Stuart Elliott with twenty minutes to go brought a little more pace and fluidity to Rovers attack and the Northern Ireland international came as close as anyone to grabbing the illusive third goal as he cut inside and struck an effort across goal only for Anyon to get down and parry it to safety. Despite their efforts Rovers were living on the edge; and they came close to toppling off it in the final quarter of an hour as Chris Herd found space in the Rovers box and hit the foot of the post. Storm weathered; panic over, Rovers emerged with three points; although it probably should have been acheived much easier.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-1-2); Neil Sullivan; Paul Green, Matt Mills, Adam Lockwood, Gareth Roberts; Richie Wellens, Brian Stock, Mark WIlson; Jamie Coppinger (Sean McDaid); Paul Heffernan (Gareth Taylor), Mark McCammon (Stuart Elliott)
subs not used: James Hayter, Sam Hird
Port Vale line-up (4-4-2); Joe Anyon; Paul Harsley, Krystian Pearce, George Pilkington, Jason Talbot (Paul Edwards); Chris Herd, Robin Hulbert, David Howland (Luke Rogers), Danny Whitaker; Marc Richards, Kyle Perry
subs not used: Mark McGregor, Danny Glover, James Lawrie
booked: David Howland, Kyle Perry