Had Doncaster Rovers got through last night against Blackpool rather than lose in a sudden-death penalty shoot-out, that could well have been the fate awaiting Darren Ferguson’s men in the last 16.
The abandoning of the regional element from the third round onwards this season is one of several mind-boggling changes to the Checkatrade Trophy that have turned off supporters in their droves.
So, if Blackpool do pull a long trip out of the hat later this week then Doncaster may well feel to have dodged a bullet. Not that Ferguson was in any mood to be pacified following Doncaster’s 8-7 shoot-out defeat.
“I am disappointed to be out,” said the Rovers’ manager, a winner of the Trophy as both a player and manager. “This is a tournament I hold in high regard, but we are out and that is disappointing.
“The reason for that is an abject first half. There was a lack of urgency and a lack of tempo. The second half was much more what I expected and if we had played like that in the first half we would have probably gone through.”
The huge swathes of empty seats at kick-off underlined once again the folly of those changes made to a competition that began life in 1983 as the Associate Members’ Cup.
Academy sides being invited and the tinkering of rules that saw penalty shoot-outs introduced in a group stage that no one wanted in the first place served merely to make record low crowds a regular occurrence.
Managers, too, have been quick to voice their disapproval at the changes, but Ferguson has stood resolute in his belief that the competition has value.
Those words were, eventually, backed up by Rovers’ deeds, but only after those lame first-half efforts that had so upset Ferguson.
If Doncaster could take the wrong option in those opening 45 minutes, they did. Only the heroics of Marko Marosi in the home goal together with some less than clinical finishing from Gary Bowyer’s men prevented the damage being fatal.
Marosi pulled off a stunning double save to deny, first, Will Aimson and then Armand Gnanduillet in the 12th minute.
By then, the Slovakian goalkeeper had already kept out a Mark Yeates effort so it was no surprise when the Seasiders did break the deadlock midway through that one-sided first half.
Gnanduillet did the damage, the striker firing in after an intelligent knock-down from Mark Cullen had caught the home defence flat-footed.
Rovers continued to struggle and were grateful when Gnanduillet was unable to capitalise on excellent play from Danny Philliskirk before Yeates shot straight at Marosi when well placed.
Ferguson’s response at the interval to his side’s lifeless efforts was to make a double substitution. He also gave up his vantage point at the back of the stand for a place on the touchline. It did the trick. Just seven minutes had been played in the second half when the hosts drew level.
Niall Mason, collecting the ball wide on the right flank, picked out Williams with a wonderful cross that the striker buried past Dean Lyness with a bullet header.
Paul Keegan came very close to winning the tie for Rovers with his 80th-minute free-kick flying inches wide of a Pool post.
Will Longbottom also had a great chance from a Liam Mandeville cross, but his header lacked power to trouble Lyness, who later flapped at a corner but Baudry could not capitalise.
Blackpool also had chances in the second half with Cullen firing just wide and Gnanduillet going equally close with a flicked header from a corner.
Mathieu, one of those two half-time substitutions, also did brilliantly to block a goalbound effort from Gnanduillet, and Bright Osayi-Samuel was offside when touching the ball into the net after Cullen’s effort had been blocked.
Both sides being unable to finish off good approach play in a frantic finale meant penalties were needed to settle the tie in front of the 1,549 crowd.
The standard was largely excellent, most of the 18 takers finding the corner of the net. Unfortunately for Rovers, Jordan Houghton and Longbottom were denied by Lyness.
With only Yeates missing for Blackpool, it meant heartbreak for Doncaster. “The quality of the kicks was very good,” added Ferguson. “It is always unfortunate to go out on penalties and it was the first half that let us down.”
Doncaster Rovers: Marosi; Mason, Wright, Garratt (Baudry 46); Calder, Keegan, Middleton, Evina (Houghton 46); Beestin, Williams (Mandeville 72), Longbottom. Unused substitutes: Jones, Marquis, Walker.
Blackpool: Lyness; Nolan, Aimson, Higham, Osayi-Samuel (Cameron 78); McAlister, Yeates, Cain (Roache 84), Philliskirk; Cullen, Gnanduillet (Redshaw 71). Unused substitutes: Boney, N’Guessan.
Referee: D Coote (Notts).