CHAMPIONSHIP class told last night as Doncaster Rovers’ hopes of a stirring League Cup run were ended in clinical fashion by the early leaders of the second tier.
Unlike Leeds United – who succumbed in a first-round penalty shoot-out at the Keepmoat Stadium – Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town proved to be made of sterner stuff on a cold South Yorkshire night.
Trailing to a first-half strike from the lively Andy Williams, the Tractor Boys looked in danger of following Leeds out of the competition.
However, an equaliser just before the hour by Brett Pitman paved the way for a stirring finale from Ipswich who deservedly went through thanks to extra-time strikes from David McGoldrick, James Alabi and Ryan Fraser.
It mean the dashing of any hopes that the current Rovers crop might emulate their predecessors of 10 years ago by enjoying a memorable run to the latter stages.
Back then, the Yorkshire club came within 60 seconds of a first appearance in the semi-finals only for Arsenal to equalise and then subsequently triumph in a penalty shoot-out.
The disappointment of that rollercoaster night at Belle Vue was nothing like the feeling of crashing out last night.
But there was no mistaking a sense that Doncaster had missed an opportunity of progressing against an Ipswich side who had been second best until McGoldrick’s equaliser.
Making a mockery of their insipid display in the weekend loss at Port Vale, the hosts were by far the more cohesive unit and the more inventive in possession in that opening hour.
A key factor in that was how the midfield was able to get forward in decent numbers to support strikers Williams and Curtis Main.
James Coppinger, Richie Wellens and Richard Chaplow were the men providing that support and their presence meant the Ipswich defence could not focus all their efforts on Williams, which is how the summer signing from Swindon Town found himself all alone on 27 minutes when picked out by Cedric Evina’s left-wing cross.
Williams, scorer of the equaliser that had helped take Rovers through to the next round at the expense of Leeds, then did the rest with a textbook downward header that gave Dean Gerken no chance in the visitors’ goal.
Falling behind was slightly harsh on Ipswich, who had twice been denied by Thorsten Stuckmann in the early stages.
Josh Yorwerth and David McGoldrick were the unfortunate visitors to be kept out, and Pitman also had a gilt-edged opportunity to put McCarthy’s men ahead only to wastefully shoot wide with just the Rovers goalkeeper to beat.
Once ahead, however, the home side were transformed and it was only the quick thinking of Yorwerth that prevented Coppinger from tapping in a cross by Chaplow. Wellens also went close for Rovers, who for all their forward dominance in the final 20 minutes of the first half did have one late let-off when Pitman’s lob hit the crossbar.
McGoldrick then fired the rebound wide of the target and Pitman was again unfortunate just after the interval to see his thunderous shot saved brilliantly at his near post by Stuckmann.
Initially, Rovers’ reaction was positive as Williams brought a save from Gerken before Main fired wide from a free-kick. Wellens also attempted an audacious effort from the centre circle that had the Ipswich goalkeeper scrambling backwards.
Just before the hour, however, the visitors were level courtesy of Pitman reacting quickly inside the six-yard box as Rovers dithered and Stuckmann was unable to keep the ball out.
That set up a frantic final half-hour of normal time that saw the Tractor Boys gradually grow more and more dominant.
Billy Whitehouse did bring a save from Gerken, who was later relieved to see Main fire a free-kick high and wide from a hugely promising position.
It was, though, Stuckmann at the other end who ensured the tie went beyond the regulation 90 minutes with a string of fine saves. Rovers just about weathered a storm of late pressure but in the first period of extra time McGoldrick found sufficient space to convert a right-wing cross, James Alabi added a third and Fraser gave the final score a very harsh look.
Doncaster Rovers: Stuckmann; Taylor-Sinclair, Butler, Jones (Whitehouse 46), McCullough (Lund 19); Coppinger, Chaplow (Middleton 100), Wellens, Evina; Main, Williams. Unused substitutes: Mandeville, Marosi, McKay, Carberry.
Ipswich: Gerken; Emanuel, Yorwerth, Smith (Chambers 79), Kenlock; Toure, McDonnell (Fraser 99), Coke, Tabb; McGoldrick, Pitman (Alabi 70). Unused substitutes: Maitland-Niles, Sears, Benyu, Crowe.
Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).