As painful as it may have been to endure one more time, a three goal defeat featuring a goal in the last minute was probably the most apt conclusion to this season for Rovers. That it also took place without a number of key players – Friend, Stock, Coppinger – all unavailable owing to scheduled operations on troublesome injuries even more fitting. Its been a horrible second half of the season, and the main reason to be cheerful right now is that it has ended. Despite failing to win for more than two months, Rovers will be back for more in August.
Missed chances have been central to the prolonged nervousness during the Spring winless streak, and they too featured in Doncaster’s game at the Riverside. In the opening ten minutes Rovers had opportunities to take the lead, but John Oster skewed an effort wide, as did Franck Moussa when released by James Hayter. However, the home side soon began to impose themselves on the game and show the form which has taken them from the relegation places to mid-table safety in recent weeks.
Marvin Emnes forced Neil Sullivan into action with a shot from outside the area, and the Rovers keeper was called on again minutes after to save from Leroy Lita. Both these efforts coming after Andrew Taylor had put a shot wide of the far post. In the run up to half-time though ‘Boro made their pressure count with the game’s opening goal. From a free-kick just outside the area Barry Robson fired a low unstoppable drive inside Sullivan’s far-post.
In front at the interval ‘Boro continued in similar attacking vein at the start of the second half as Emnes turned his man at the top of the box to get in a shot, but Sullivan saved well down to his left. Rovers had chances too though firstly as James O’Connor hit an effort from the left channel, and then from the resulting corner Oster almost caught out Steele at his near-post. The biggest cheer for the travelling fans though would not be to herald a goal, but instead the introduction of Billy Sharp for a late season cameo. The Rovers forward was straight into the action, receiving the ball from Matt Kilgallon to hit a long-range strike, but Steele was behind it all the way.
Within minutes of Sharp’s arrival the ball was in the back of the net, though sadly for Rovers fans it was not Steele’s but Sullivan’s. Lita out on the ‘Boro left managed to get the better of Wayne Thomas to force his way inside and his low drive found the far bottom corner of the goal. Rovers attempted to pull a goal back quickly as Sharp fed Simon Gillett, but the midfielder sadly saw his effort blocked.
Instead the game’s remaining goal would go the host’s way as substitute Adam Reach rounded off the scoring in injury time; fed by Kevin Thomson, Reach broke through the middle to slot the ball past Sullivan. A disappointing end to a disappointing season. The summer couldn’t really come soon enough.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jason Steele; Justin Hoyte, Rhys Williams, Stephen McManus, Andrew Taylor; Barry Robson (Adam Reach), Richard Smallwood (Cameron Park), Kevin Thomson, Scott McDonald (Tony McMahon); Leroy Lita, Marvin Emnes
subs not used: Paul Smith, Tarmo Kink, Andy Halliday, Luke Williams
Doncaster Rovers (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya (Shelton Martis), Wayne Thomas, Matt Kilgallon, James O’Connor; John Oster, Simon Gillett (Dean Shiels), Mark Wilson; James Hayter, Franck Moussa (Billy Sharp); Jason Euell
subs not used: Jonathan Maxted, Sam Hird, Brett Lucas, James Husband