WITH their side having won just once on the road all season, those hardy folk who follow Doncaster Rovers away from home have not had much to smile about since that never-to-be forgotten promotion-clinching afternoon at Brentford 11 months ago.
A five-goal hammering at Bournemouth proved a real low, as did the back-to-back visits to Middlesbrough and Reading that saw Paul Dickov’s men concede eight times inside one miserable autumnal week.
And the less said about last August’s visit to Charlton Athletic – when a downpour brought an abrupt abandonment in the second half with Rovers 3-1 ahead – the better, especially as the rearranged fixture saw them lose 2-0.
Any Doncaster fans who thought those episodes were as frustrating as it gets, however, were proved wrong last night courtesy of a truly baffling decision by referee Tony Harrington.
With Dickov’s battlers having kept promotion-chasing Burnley at bay in the first half, hopes were growing among the 431 fans who had travelled to Turf Moor that a precious point could be theirs.
That was, though, until Harrington handed the Clarets the lead with a nonsensical penalty award just a minute into the second half.
When James Coppinger leapt between two claret and blue shirts to head the ball behind for a corner, no-one in the home ranks appealed. But that didn’t stop Harrington from pointing to the spot to the bemusement of not only the Rovers players, but also those from Burnley.
Replays showed that there had been precious little contact between Coppinger and Ashley Barnes, who it was revealed after the match had been pushed in the eyes of the official.
After the inevitable – and justified – protests had subsided, Sam Vokes stepped forward to clinically beat Sam Johnstone from 12 yards and set Burnley on their way to a victory that was sealed when Junior Stanislas added a second 15 minutes from time.
For Rovers, the frustration was evident at the final whistle as several players made their point to Harrington. Such a reaction was understandable with the official’s decision having undone all the hard work that Doncaster had put in against a Clarets team who are now within touching distance of promotion.
For much of the first half, Rovers had been on the back foot against a team boasting the only remaining unbeaten home record in the Football League.
As a result, Johnstone had been by far the busier of the two goalkeepers. His flying saves to keep out Stanislas were particularly impressive, while the Rovers man also bravely kept out Scott Arfield just before the break.
It was the second time the former Huddersfield Town man had gone close, his curling effort on eight minutes having passed inches over the crossbar.
Doncaster, despite largely being on the backfoot in the opening 45 minutes, did have an opening of their own midway through the half when Chris Brown headed narrowly wide from a Mark Duffy cross. It meant that as the second half got under way, Rovers still harboured hopes of extending their unbeaten run to five games. Those hopes, however, were blown away by Harrington’s penalty award and Vokes’s clinical finish from the spot.
Going ahead clearly settled Burnley down, the hosts’ increasing anxiety in the closing stages of the first half having been betrayed by how rushed their play had become. In contrast, the sweeping style that has characterised much of the Clarets’ play this term returned as Stanislas curled a free-kick just wide.
Ashley Barnes then had two chances in as many seconds, the first blocked and the second blazed over.
The January signing from Brighton almost made up for that glaring miss with a thunderbolt of a strike on 69 minutes that Johnstone turned away acrobatically. Rovers’ on-loan goalkeeper was finally beaten from open play six minutes later, a delightful pass from David Jones releasing Stanislas who did the rest with a cool finish.
The game was up for the visitors but, credit to Dickov’s side, they never gave up and fashioned two chances of their own in the closing stages.
First, David Cotterill curled a free-kick on to the crossbar from 25 yards that had Tom Heaton well beaten.
Then, after the ball broke to Chris Brown 10 yards from goal, the Rovers striker drilled a low shot that Heaton claimed at the second attempt.
As the final whistle blew and James Husband was the first to make his point to Harrington over the penalty award, the only plus for Doncaster was they remained eight points clear of trouble.
Burnley: Heaton; Baird, Shackell, Mee, Jones; Arfield, Duff, Marney, Stanislas (Kightly 88); Barnes (Treacy 89), Vokes. Unused substitutes: Cisak, Long, Wallace, Edgar, Lafferty.
Doncaster Rovers: Johnstone; Coppinger, Quinn, Meite, Husband; Duffy (Robinson 68), Wellens, Keegan (Furman 82), Cotterill; Sharp, Brown. Unused substitutes: Turnbull, McCullough, De Val, Stevens, Ferguson.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).