FOR the second time this season, Sheffield United went away with the derby spoils after a week dominated by Ched Evans headlines - as they ended another difficult week on a welcome note.
A few days after Evans’ release from prison last month, the Blades closed ranks before taking the field to claim three points in the televised clash at Bradford City on October 17 and once again, they secured some respite on the derby stage at the Keepmoat Stadium.
A frenzied spell just after the hour mark proved the story of the game with loan defender Patrick McCarthy receiving his marching orders after bringing down James Coppinger in the box, only for Harry Forrester to see his spot-kick blocked by Mark Howard on 63 minutes.
A minute later, the Blades went ahead with a magical curler from Jamie Murphy, the Scot’s third goal of the season, which settled proceedings.
Try as they might, Rovers, even with a numerical advantage, couldn’t hit back as the Blades claimed their first win in seven matches against their South Yorkshire rivals.
For Rovers, whose derby form was the saving grace of last season’s relegation campaign with a victory also recently pocketed at Valley Parade, this time there were no local bragging rights.
The result continued Rovers’ homesickness this term, with just one league victory, against Chesterfield on September 20, accrued since Sheffield Wednesday were toppled in March.
Rolling pockets of fog greeted both sets of players at the kick-off, with the Blades backed by a raucous 4,000-plus following who packed out the away end, with plenty of space available in the home sections.
After another week in which the Blades were in the headlines for the wrong reasons, the huge travelling contingent were in need of a lift, no doubt also mindful of how their side who failed to find the net in their last three outings, with their last league outing also seeing them cede local bragging rights to Barnsley.
It was a much-changed side who took the field than the one who bowed out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Walsall in midweek, with the only players who started against the Saddlers who lined up from the off against Rovers being full-backs Craig Alcock and Bob Harris and Chris Basham, restored to his normal position in central midfield after featuring at centre-back in the West Midlands.
On the bench for the Blades was new signing Che Adams, signed on Friday from non-league Ilkeston.
Rovers made four changes and lined up a new combination in the heart of defence, with Reece Wabara partnering Jamie McCombe and Liam Wakefield coming into the side at right-back and Enda Stevens starting at right-back.
Forrester also came in for Rovers, with Kyle Bennett on the bench, with Luke McCullough, on international duty for Northern Ireland on Friday in Romania, not making it back in time for the fixture.
The Blades edged the opening salvos with Stefan Scougall bundling an early effort wide, but the hosts found the feet and started to impose themselves on proceedings.
The first genuine chance fell Rovers’ way and it was a presentable one on 17 minutes.
A neat pocket of play involving Forrester and Curtis Main teed up Coppinger, whose powerful shot was beaten away by Mark Howard after United were undone by some quality approach work.
After a decent chance, the Blades faded and ceded the initiative to Rovers, with Richie Wellens pulling the strings in midfield and Paul Keegan busy alongside him.
The Blades were then forced into a change, with James Wallace, looking like he was struggling with injury, replaced by Michael Doyle.
A half-chance then fell the Blades way with Sam Johnstone clearing the ball, but left stranded out of goal, but from around 40 yards, Scougall’s effort lacked conviction and power and was cleared.
It was a little symptomatic of most of the visitors efforts in the first period, with the body language of Nigel Clough making clear he was not particularly enamoured by what he was seeing.
To their credit, the Blades fans kept their spirits up, although attempts at a couple of songs in support of disgraced forward Evans proved unsuccessful ones and were greeted with boos from the Rovers fans each time.
Rovers continued to probe, with their efforts appreciated by the crowd and Paul Dickov, but the half ended with the Blades producing their most meaningful spell of a disappointing first period.
Controversy massively reigned when trickery from Jamal Campbell-Ryce deceived Enda Stevens, booked earlier in the half, and he brought down the winger with the offence looking like it took place just inside the box.
But referee Hill awarded a free-kick right on the right-hand edge of the box and from the resultant free-kick, the ball was played to Doyle, whose fiercely-struck shot flashed just wide.
It provided a big talking point at the interval, but even accounting for it, the hosts could reflect on having the better of proceedings, with the Blades guilty of going through the motions for spells.
No doubt cajoled by a few heated words from Clough and his coaching staff, the visitors came out with much more conviction and tempo attacking their massed ranks of followers on the restart.
The Blades’ dominated territory in the opening 15 minutes of the half, with appeals for a penalty turned down when Campbell-Ryce’s crossshot hit Stevens, with the 4,250 away fans howling for a spot-kick.
The game then burst into life shortly after the hour mark, with Rovers spurning a golden chance to take the lead from the spot after United were reduced to ten men and incredibly, the visitors took the lead soon after.
Excellent approach play involving Main and Nathan Tyson sent Coppinger clear in the box with just Howard to beat, with a desperate challenge from McCarthy bringing himd down, with Hill showing no hesitation in brandishing a straight red card and pointing to the spot.
The drama continued with Forrester assuming spot-kick duties with his effort, at a nice height, beaten away by Howard and moments later, play switched to the other end, with the Blades taking the lead with a stunner.
The ball found its way to Murphy, much more prominent after a quiet first half and he cut in from the left before unleashing an unstoppable 25-yarder curler which flew past Johnstone.
It was a goal fit to grace any stage and was duly acclaimed by the travelling hordes.
Stunned into action and at least knowing they had almost half an hour to play with an extra man, Rovers sought a leveller with Main’s shot tipped over by Howard.
The pattern was set with the Blades dropping back bodies to relieve their defence and replying on the counter and it was the visitors who had the next decent opportunity, with Murphy, clearly with the taste for it, running at the home defence before firing a low shot a whisker wide.
United suffered a scare when sub Kyle Bennett’s shot hit a post as Rovers pressed for a leveller before McCombe’s header flew straight into the grateful arms of Howard, with it increasingly not looking like Rovers’ day.
The match ended in celebrations in the away contingent as the Blades ended their run of three games without a win with a sweet success.
Doncaster Rovers: Johnstone; Wakefield, Wabara, McCombe, Stevens; Coppinger, Keegan (Bennett 79), Wellens, Forrester; Main (J McKay 87), Tyson (Robinson 71). Unused substitutes: Marosi, De Val, P McKay, Whitehouse.
Sheffield United: Howard, Alcock, McCarthy, McEveley, Harris; Campbell-Ryce (Flynn 64), Basham, Wallace (Doyle 21), Scougall, Murphy; Baxter (McGahey 88). Unused substitutes: Reed, De Girolamo, Turner, Adams.
Referee: K Hill (Herts).