In the preview to this match we mentioned how the last match before Christmas has long been a happy occasion for Rovers. That this has continued to be the case is testament to two groups of people who kept plugging away for this fixture; the stadium ground staff for getting the game on, and the Doncaster players whose resolve finally secured a late, late winner to ensure those at the Keepmoat left in a more cheerful mood than that which has permeated messageboards and forums over the last few days. For now celebrate facts do not concern yourselves with rumours. Sean O’Driscoll is our manager and Rovers have beaten Middlesbrough.
Things didn’t start well for Rovers with a very makeshift defence forced by six injuries under pressure early on. David Wheater had already headed over from a corner before ‘Boro took a fourth minute lead. Julio Arca chipped a ball over the top of the Rovers defence for Marvin Emnes to pursue into the left channel. With Neil Sullivan coming off his line Emnes got to the ball first and held it up by the byline before squaring it inside for Scott McDonald who poked the ball home from six yards with Sullivan not yet back in position.
Rovers began to edge their way back in to the game but were being restricted to shots from distance. Brian Stock shooting high and wide from the edge of the box following one corner, James Hayter shooting wide from a similar distance. Midway through the half though Rovers drew level. Jamie Coppinger rolled the ball in to Billy Sharp from the right flank. Sharp on the corner of the box with his back to goal held the ball up before turning to his left and chipping a cross into the middle where it was met by the head of Hayter. The Rovers striker heading home a ball that for once was actually at head height to level the scores.
The remainder of the first half threw up few chances for either side, with neither ‘Boro or Rovers able to make corners count for anything. Emnes threatened for Middlesbrough from distance but his shot was only ever likely to threaten those in the South Stand. At the other end a Mark Wilson cross had Jason Steele stretching to take the ball away from Sharp.
Half-time brought a mid-game pitch inspection, but despite a steadily freezing field the match continued with Middlesbrough starting the better after the break. Leroy Lita threatened most for the visitors as he controlled a long ball forward and worked his way to the right of the penalty area before drilling a shot from a tight angle which Sullivan did well to turn over the bar.
Rovers were not about to sit back though and they began to push ‘Boro at the other end of the field creating chances for Hayter and Stock, the former seeing his effort saved by Steele, the latter miscuing horribly. Middlesbrough were having the better of possession but the chances were still falling Doncaster’s way. Joseph Mills, on as a substitute, cut in from the left and brought a save from Steele, whilst moments later John Oster fired over. Sharp too was threatening for Rovers as he got his head to a cross from Coppinger, but again Steele saved.
The visitors had a couple of late chances of their own, firstly as substitute Tarmo Kink threatened to knock things out of line. Kink drove forward and hit a firm shot from the edge of the area but again Sullivan was on hand to beat the ball behind. Boro’s best chance came the way of their one former Rovers man as an angled ball in from the right found one-time Doncaster loanee David Wheather all alone seven yards out. Thankfully for the hosts the centre-half tried to cushion a volley goalwards rather than stick his head on the delivery and could only hook the ball tamely over Sullivan’s crossbar.
Late in the game and Rovers came as close as either side to winning it as Sharp got the ball on the right and muscled his way to the byline before pulling the ball back for Dean Shiels. The sub lifted a shot goalwards that looked to be dipping under the bar only for Steele to arc backwards and turn it behind. With time running out came that rarest of things, one to tell the grandchildren about, an injury time Rovers winner. Shiels corner from the right was cleared to the feet of Sam Hird whose shot was blocked. The ball spun free to Brian Stock just outside the area, the captain dummying one effort to shoot before hitting a low shot that somehow squirmed through the crowd and out of the grasp of Steele to find the bottom corner of the goal. Cue great celebrations in the South Stand to the annoying predictability of Tom Hark.
The final whistle sounded within a minute of the goal to secure a much needed pre-Christmas win for Rovers. The festive joy added too with the knowledge that infamous moany fan Geoff had left his back row perch long before injury time and will probably have whinged about the 1-1 draw he’d seen all the way home. Mind having said that he probably still think Rovers beat Swansea 1-0 in their last home game so when he looks at the table he’s likely to be none the wiser. Football eh? Merry Christmas.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; Shelton Martis (Byron Webster), Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, Dennis Souza (Joseph Mills); Mark Wilson, John Oster, Brian Stock; Jamie Coppinger (Dean Shiels), James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, Waide Fairhurst, Robbie Clark, David Healy
Middlesbrough line-up (4-4-2); Jason Steele; Justin Hoyte, David Wheater, Matthew Bates, Joe Bennett; Gary O’Neil, Julio Arca (Tarmo Kink), Kevin Thomson, Scott McDonald (Barry Robson); Marvin Emnes, Leroy Lita (Kris Boyd)
subs not used: Danny Coyne, Seb Hines, Tony McMahon, Mikael Tavares