DONCASTER ROVERS are all but mathematically consigned to League Two football for the first time since 2003-04 following this afternoon’s shattering 3-1 loss at relegated Crewe.
The defeat leaves Rovers three points behind the side just outside the drop zone in Fleetwood, who play Walsall on Bank Holiday Monday.
But due to the Lancastrians’ vastly superior goals difference, their safety is all but assured, regardless of the outcome of their game against the Saddlers with Rovers destined for the bottom division.
Rovers, decent in the first half, but squalid and unconvincing on the restart, could have few complaints on the day with goals from Callum Ainley, Marcus Haber and sub Bradden Inman giving Crewe their first win in 16 matches - and only their second in 25 games in a torrid campaign.
The triple haul of strikes overturned Tommy Rowe’s 28th-minute opener, with wretched defending very much proving Rovers downfall.
The first half saw Rovers, backed by a raucous following of 861 supporters, dominate in the main and enjoy plenty of territory and possession and they were decent value for a 28th-minute lead given to them by the classy Rowe.
Unfortunately, an awful defensive howler from Cedric Evina ensured that the Alex went into the interval on level terms, with teenager Ainley profiting from the full-back’s terrible mistake to prod the ball past Remi Matthews two minutes before the break.
Rovers, who made one change with Nathan Tyson replacing Gary McSheffrey, had a scare on ten minutes when Callum Saunders, son of ex-Doncaster manager Dean, latched onto James Jones’s punt forward and was through on goal, only to tamely fire wide of goal.
But the visitors soon got into their stride with Rowe almost in on goal after a lovely exchange with Andy Williams before the visitors survived a penalty scare when Saunders went down in the box following what looked like a clumsy and needless push from Craig Alcock, but referee Lee Swabey was unmoved.
Darren Ferguson’s side had the better of it, by and large and managed to forge a breakthrough with neat interplay setting up Rowe, whose crisp low shot took a deflection before flying past Ben Garratt.
Rovers’ only concern was some fitful defending at times and Marcus Haber spurned a chance to level just after the half-hour, failing to get a telling connection with a clear sight of goal before the grateful Matthews scrambled across goal and gathered.
Good work by Rowe then picked out James Coppinger ten yards out, but unfortunately his firm header was straight at Garratt before Crewe had the final word of the half, with Rovers - and more especially Evina - architects of their own downfall.
A counter-attack saw Zoumana Bakayogo find space on the left flank before delivering a routine low cross into the box, with Evina criminally dithering before attempting to chest the ball back to Matthews with Ainley gleefully nipping in to steer home a gift.
Rovers, who made an interval change with Aaron Taylor-Sinclair replacing Mitchell Lund at right back, had the ball in the net early in the second half when Tyson coolly steered the ball home, but any celebrations were caught short by an offside flag, with the call looking a close one after the visitors pressed.
Straightaway, play moved to the other end, with Saunders’ seeing an effort blocked with the loose ball finding its way to Haber, whose angled effort from close in was saved by Matthews as both sides strived for a second goal.
That arrived three minutes before the hour mark following more rank-band defending from Rovers.
Bakayogo raided down the left and his pull-back found the unmarked Saunders, whose shot was diverted invitingly into the path of Haber, in splendid isolation, and he made no mistake - after his earlier two misses - lashing the ball past Matthews.
It was a hammer blow to Rovers and again self-inflicted.
Andy Williams curled an effort wide as the visitors sought a way back, but Crewe, with Harry Davis catching the eye, held firm.
Despite having enough of the ball, Rovers lacked quality throughout the second period and conviction.
Their best situation came when Rowe’s slide-rule pass sent sub Liam Mandeville clear, but he inexplicably attempted to pull the ball back to a non-existent team-mate, instead of firing a shot on goal and Crewe cleared.
Rowe drilled an effort wide before Williams headed over following an inviting Stewart cross, but Garratt was not tested on each occasion, before Taylor-Sinclair was off target with a header under pressure from Oliver Turton.
Crewe sealed it late on, courtesy of a clinical low strike from substitute and top-scorer Inman.
Crewe Alexandra: Garratt; Turton, Davis, Guthrie, Bakayogo; Fox; Jones, Bingham, Ainley (Udoh 81); Haber (Ray 85), Saunders (Inman 73). Substitutes unused: Richards, Nugent, Cooper, Kirk.
Doncaster Rovers: Matthews; Lund (Taylor-Sinclair 46), Alcock, Butler, Evina; McCullough; Coppinger, Rowe, Calder (Stewart 72); Williams, Tyson (Mandeville 72). Substitutes unused: Stuckmann, McKenzie, Middleton, Pugh.
Referee: L Swabey (Devon).
Attendance: 4,403 (861 Doncaster supporters).
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