IF Doncaster Rovers had to cherry-pick opponents to face at home, Notts County would be close to being at the bottom of their preferred list of options.
After denting Rovers’ League One automatic promotion hopes in a 1-0 victory late on in the 2012-13 season, the Magpies ended their dreams of Wembley last night to maintain their 100 per cent sequence at the Keepmoat and record their third straight win there.
Their match-winner was also someone who had dined out at Rovers’ expense at the Keepmoat in the recent past in Liam Noble, who struck a brace for former side Carlisle United in a 2-0 win which jolted Doncaster’s promotion bandwagon in April 2013 – shortly before his current club’s league triumph.
Noble fired home a well-drilled low shot 16 minutes from time to settle the issue last night, although their victory proved somewhat controversial with home fans aghast when Rovers were denied an opener on 68 minutes following a hotly-contested decision.
Kyle Bennett, who comfortably provided Rovers’ best moments on the night, cut inside before firing home a low shot past Roy Carroll.
But referee David Webb, after consulting with a linesman, ruled out the effort, deeming that Curtis Main, who had seemingly strayed into an offside position, had interfered with play in blocking Carroll’s sight of the ball.
It looked a borderline decision, with salt rubbed into the wounds by Noble’s strike, which continued Rovers’ poor seasonal sequence on home soil as the 2007 Football League Trophy winners bowed out of the competition in front of a crowd of just 2,570.
Just when Rovers were starting to press down on the accelerator after a run of one defeat in eight matches, they have again hit a bump in the road at a familiar trouble-spot, the Keepmoat, where they have won just once since March 22.
Rovers came into the game in good heart after a run of five successive away games which had seen them go undefeated – how they must wish they could play every match at the minute away from their home.
It proved the most frustrating of nights for all those of a Doncaster persuasion, with – Bennett aside – their attacking edge decidedly blunt.
Continuity had yielded its rewards for Rovers in their previous five matches, with a virtually-unchanged line-up going unbeaten.
But no doubt mindful of a crammed schedule, Paul Dickov showed his pragmatic side by making five changes, but with the insurance of mainstays Richie Wellens, James Coppinger and Paul Keegan on the bench.
Among those handed a chance to impress was Mexborough teenager Elliott Whitehouse, handed a full debut in midfield.
Both sets of players were greeted by a sparse crowd, swirling wind and persistent drizzle from the start and there was little to set the pulses racing in a forgettable first half.
There was plenty of perspiration but little inspiration on show with both sides, batting against the elements, seriously struggling for rhythm.
But the best moments belonged to Rovers and Bennett.
His first threatening effort was somewhat inadvertent with his shot taking a wicked deflection and veering towards the net, only to hit the unwitting Carroll in the face.
The second was a rare moment of quality just before the break with his curling free-kick drifting just off target with Carroll rooted to the spot.
Early on, Bennett, in a central role, had briefly enlivened proceedings when he threaded the ball to Harry Forrester, whose shot was easily held by Carroll.
At the other end, County mustered a couple of half-decent chances with Hadyn Hollis bundling the ball wide following Noble’s free-kick. Soon after, Jake Cassidy hooked the ball off target.
On the restart, Notts started to assert themselves more, with Noble’s shot deflected wide.
At the other end, Rovers failed to get going, with Dickov calling for the cavalry of sorts a few minutes after the hour with Wellens and Coppinger coming on.
Midway through the half, the craved-for breakthrough looked like it had arrived for Bennett, before the decisive act was played by Noble.
Bennett saw a free-kick saved as Rovers desperately sought a leveller, but the closest they came was when a cross from Coppinger flew towards goal, but Carroll was on hand to thwart him.
Doncaster Rovers: Johnstone; Wakefield (McCombe 90), McCullough, Butler, Evina; Whitehouse (Coppinger 63), De Val, Forrester (Wellens 63), Bennett; Main, Robinson. Unused substitutes: Marosi, Keegan.
Notts County: Carroll; Dumbuya, Laing, Hollis, Adams; Hall (Traore 75), Smith (C Thompson 89), Noble; Petrasso (G Thompson 75), Cassidy, McLaughlin. Unused substitutes: McKenzie, Pilkington.
Referee: D Webb (Co.Durham).