When was the last time you were really, truly confident and comfortable with a Rovers lead? Even five goals up in the play-off semi-final there was part of me that sat on edge until the 4th official signified how much time remained. It all stems from Telford of course, 4-0 up at half-time at Bucks Head seven years ago only to draw 4-4, and the sense of unrest and lack of confidence permeates until now and comes to pass on days like today.
Rovers began well at the Madejski Stadium with Jamie Coppinger forcing Adam Federici to get down to his right and make a good save. It would be the home side who made the break through though as they benefitted from the award of a contentious Reading free-kick. Ian Harte took the dead-ball and his delivery broke loose in the six-yard box with Matt Mills winning the race to poke it over the line.
A blow certainly, but Rovers were to react strongly and could have had a chance to level within minutes through a neat passing move, but one pass too many allowed Reading to clear from beneath their own crossbar. Before the half-hour mark though Rovers would be level; Coppinger out on the right delivered a perfectly weighted ball into the box and James Hayter was on hand to nod home the equaliser.
Buoyed by Hayter’s strike Rovers continued to push and Mustapha Dumbuya flashed a shot wide from distance. Reading almost scored on the break as Shane Long got in behind Rovers back-line, however Neil Sullivan stood up well to take the ball off the striker’s feet. Martin Woods brought a save from Federici with a deflected shot from distance, and then five minutes before the break Rovers took the lead. A free-kick from the Rovers right picking out Shelton Martis in the six-yard box and the Rovers’ centre-half nodded it out of Federici’s reach to give the visitors a 2-1 half-time lead.
If things looked good for the travelling Rovers fans at the break they would perk up even more five minutes into the second period as they further extended their lead. Dean Shiels won the ball from Harte on the corner of the area, carried it forward and drove a low shot into the far corner of the goal to make it 3-1. Unbelievably Rovers could have edged even further in front as Coppinger worked his way in from the right and drove the ball a cross goal, but it failed to find the net or a telling touch and the game would swing from that point.
There’s an odd paradox about Doncaster in that the further they and earlier they go ahead in a game the more inclined they look to throw it all away; it’s a theory that would begin to bear itself out from the hour mark. Simon Church, on as a substitute would make a telling impact on the game and his cross from the left was crossed from the home left was headed in off the post by Jem Karacan to pull The Biscuitmen back within a goal. There were still chances for Rovers, Brian Stock bringing another save from the Reading ‘keeper, but the boot was now very much over the top of a blue stocking foot.
Sullivan saved from Andy Griffin. Church headed over a cross from Harte. The pressure was mounting and then quarter of an hour from time Reading were given a free-kick in what is known in Berkshire as Harte Territory. The full-back duly stepped up and found the top corner to level the match. Three points looked set to become one for Rovers, and then typically two minutes from time, one became none.
Reading broke down the left through Noel Hunt, and though both he and the two Reading men looked offside there was no flag. Hunt continued and his cross was stabbed home by Church to effectively win the game for the home side. Rovers almost sprung a surprise in the final minute of added time as a deep free-kick fell between Joseph Mills and Shelton Martis, but the latter could only drive it into the side-netting. Defeat from the jaws of victory. A distracted Abu Hamza could hold a lead better.
Reading line-up (4-5-1); Adam Federici; Andy Griffin, Matt Mills, Zurab Khizanishvili, Ian Harte; Jobi McAnuff, Jem Karacan, Jay Tabb (Noel Hunt), Brian Howard, Hal Robson-Kanu (Michail Antonio); Shane Long (Simon Church)
subs not used: Alex McCarthy, Shaun Cummings, Alex Pearce, Chris Armstrong
booked: Noel Hunt
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya, James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, Joseph Mills; Brian Stock, Martin Woods, John Oster (Sam Hird); Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels (Byron Webster); James Hayter
subs not used: Gary Woods, Wayne Thomas, James Chambers, Mark Wilson