JUST when you thought the pantomime season was over, a thoroughly bizarre denouement provided the major talking point in a true theatre of the absurd at the Keepmoat Stadium.
A goalless spectacle came to life four minutes from time courtesy of a major faux pas from referee Richard Clark.
The Northumberland official booked Notts County forward Kwame Thomas as he was leaving the pitch for time-wasting ahead of being replaced by substitute Billy Daniels.
But in a situation of high farce, Clark then clearly realised that he had forgotten it was Thomas’s second caution and in a bid to mitigate for the error, he ordered replacement Daniels back off the pitch after coming on moments earlier. Amid the consternation, Magpies manager Shaun Derry was sent to the stands after a highly-charged protest.
It all provided a madcap episode to an evening of frustration for Rovers, who made all the running, but could not propel themselves into the top six.
On an evening when opportunity knocked for both combatants, with the prize on offer being a precious place in the play-off spots for the victor, a winning ticket could not be grasped.
The top six will have to wait for Doncaster and County, with the real Yorkshire winners on the night being Bradford City and Sheffield United.
Both would have been leapfrogged in League One if either side last night had claimed three points in what is resembling a bottleneck in the race for the final two play-off places.
For Doncaster, a third successive clean sheet on home soil in the league was one box satisfactorily ticked at least.
But while plenty more evidence of the defensive solidity that Paul Dickov’s side have shown since the clocks went back was provided, the lack of predatory instinct in the final third by a striking pool who are thoroughly honest in their workrate but hardly prolific at the Keepmoat this term was equally obvious.
Rovers’ central attacking triumvirate of Nathan Tyson, Theo Robinson and Curtis Main went into the game with a combined haul of three league goals on home soil this term – and on last night’s evidence, it was easy to see why.
It was a night when many elected to stay by the fireside judging by the sparse crowd and the moments of first-half warmth were certainly infrequent.
Separated in the table on goal difference only, the perception that two well-matched sides were taking the field was confirmed by a competitive half high on commitment, but not too much class. The best moment by a country distance belonged to ex-Leeds midfielder Alan Smith, who rolled back the years with a crashing 30-yard shot which shuddered the woodwork on 17 minutes and hit Stephen Bywater on the way back out before trundling away from goal.
Rovers, with Saturday’s hero Harry Forrester in an advanced role, spurned their most presentable chance not long after when James Coppinger nodded wide following Kyle Bennett’s centre.
Aside from that, there was not too much else, although the lead-up to the break saw two moments of brief action with Hayden Mullins’s header gathered by Bywater close in before howls for a penalty were rebuffed at the other end after Coppinger tumbled under pressure from Roy Carroll.
To their credit, Rovers upped the ante after the break, with Forrester particularly making a real nuisance of himself, but a breakthrough remained elusive.
Tyson rounded Roy Carroll, but saw his pull-back cleared by Mullins before Forrester slipped when he was about to let fly when well placed.
It was a night when one goal for either side looked likely to be enough and while Rovers displayed the intent, they could not find that killer cutting edge. This was confirmed in quick succession in the lead-up to the final 10 minuteswhen Roy Carroll saved Forrester’s low shot and followed up to block substitute Main’s effort.
Main was then played in by Bennett, but dithered in front of goal with Haydn Hollis blocking his unconvincing effort.
Then the high farce and after that, there was still time for Forrester to see a curler tipped over and Main saw a late effort blocked.
Doncaster Rovers: Bywater; Wabara, McCullough, Butler, Stevens (Evina 70); Keegan; Coppinger, Forrester, Bennett; Tyson (Main 72), Robinson. Unused substitutes: Marosi, McCombe, Wakefield, Middleton, De Val.
Notts County: Carroll; White (Dumbaya 63), Mullins, Hollis, Adams; Jones (Bajner 61), Smith; Jones, C Thompson, Hayhurst; G Thompson, Thomas. Unused substitutes: Pilkington, Murray, Daniels, Cranston, Santos.
Referee: R Clark (Northumberland).