AMID all the talk of knockout blows following Wayne Rooney’s much talked-about goal celebration, Doncaster Rovers were rather more concerned with landing their own telling punch in the League One promotion stakes last night.
Sadly what they received instead was another bloody nose, fresh from being dropped on the canvas in front of a big weekend audience against play-off aspirants Peterborough United.
The decisive act last night arrived in stoppage-time when visiting substitute Jonathan Obika drilled home the winner to create a little piece of history for Swindon Town, who ended their long wait for a first victory in Doncaster.
It may not have inflicted a mortal wound to Rovers’ play-off quest, but supporters and players, not to mention manager Paul Dickov, will be feeling decidedly sore this morning.
The ides of March have just passed, but Rovers are not enjoying a vintage month, a time of year when many footballing fates unravel.
Just two points from a possible 12 have been accrued so far, with work to do if Rovers are to remain in the play-off battle.
Dickov occasionally showed pugilistic tendencies in his playing days, and always possessed a boxer’s heart, never giving in. His pre-match call ordered Rovers to be mentally tough.
He cited the gutsy single-goal victory at Swindon just before Christmas as a template to follow and a source of inspiration.
He could not get a repeat of the famous result, with the cruel development at the climax somewhat untimely, given many aspects of Rovers’ performance will have pleased him after the nervy weekend no-show against Posh.
Last night’s crowd of 5,258 was under half of Saturday’s turnout, a season’s best Keepmoat attendance of 11,520 – many of whom took advantage of a cut-price ticket offer.
The diehards who stayed loyal saw improved fare, but a late twist in the tale.
A draw was on the cards after Michael Smith’s 54th-minute penalty cancelled out Curtis Main’s opener four minutes before the break, but Obika decreed otherwise.
After paying a hefty price for failing to get out of the starting blocks on Saturday, Rovers, employing a 4-2-3-1 formation, displayed noticeably more urgency and assertion against their high-flying rivals from the off.
Creating meaningful chances represented another thing entirely in the first half against well-drilled opponents comfortable on the ball and in their positions, but the intent was there and patience proved a virtue. The opportunity Rovers craved arrived on 41 minutes when Main, who had fired an early half-chance over, showed a real striker’s instincts to put Rovers in front.
It was the sort of predatory goal that Rovers have not scored enough of this term and require more of with the season approaching its business end.
Main showed alertness from close range to nip in front of Nathan Thompson and tuck away an inviting first-time low cross from the persistent Nathan Tyson – Main’s 10th goal of the season.
It was a half in which Swindon showed glimpses of why they are regarded as the best footballing side in the division, but their easy-on-the-eye style and probing approach could not cut through Rovers.
Just two moments arrived of note, with John Swift firing a low shot at Bywater and another meandering run from the ex-Rotherham loanee ended with the Rovers’ goalkeeper grasping his 20-yard effort.
On the restart, Rovers – pumped up by their opener – produced a storming start when Kyle Bennett saw a shot deflected wide and, from the resulting corner, Jonson Clarke-Harris saw his point-blank effort saved superbly by Wes Fotheringham.
At the other end, Bywater then produced a real horror moment, fumbling Ben Gladwin’s routine long-ranger which looked destined to trickle into the the net, only for the goalkeeper to regather on the line.
After getting away with that faux pas, Rovers were not so lucky soon after when Dean Furman was penalised for carelessly bundling over Gladwin in the box, with Smith restoring parity.
To their credit, Rovers kept going with Clarke-Harris and Main firing off target before Tyson warmed the palms of Fotheringham with a stinging strike.
Heading into the final 10 minutes, Swindon almost sealed the points, only for Bywater to atone for his earlier error, somehow keeping out Swift’s effort from close range following Smith’s low cross. But he was helpless to stop Obika’s angled drive winning it at the end.
Doncaster Rovers: Bywater; Wabara, McCullough, Butler, Stevens; Furman, Wellens; Tyson, Bennett (Forrester 70), Clarke-Harris (Robinson 70); Main. Unused substitutes: Marosi, McCombe, Evina, Middleton, Razak.
Swindon Town: Foderingham; Branco, Thompson N, Turnbull; Byrne, Stephens, Gladwin (Williams 69), Kasim, Toffolo, Swift (Obika 79), Smith. Unused substitutes: Johns, Rodgers, Ouldridge, Hylton.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).