Doncaster Rovers 1 Sheffield United 1: Blackwell and O'Driscoll on derby draw

ONE team often gate-crashes the play-off party and striker James Hayter sees no reason why it should not be Doncaster Rovers this season.

Not since a brief spell at the top of the old Second Division in the 50s have Rovers been in such a heady position.

Yet they blew the opportunity to become Yorkshire's top Championship club on Saturday, failing to capitalise on Sheffield United's bunch of strangers taking 45 minutes to acquaint themselves with each other.

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Hayter, brought in to lead the line when top scorer Billy Sharp was sidelined by a gentleman's agreement not to play him against his parent club, gave Rovers the ideal start.

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He smashed home the opener within five minutes after James Coppinger's initial shot following a quickly-taken short corner had been blocked into his path.

But Hayter admitted he could easily have had a hat-trick during that opening half only to see new Blades loan goalkeeper Steve Simmonsen pull off a great save at the foot of his left-hand post before the striker headed wide of an open goal as he arched back to meet another opportunity set up by marauding right-back James Chambers.

That came midway through the half, leading the massed ranks of Blades fans behind the goal to demand: "Blackwell, Blackwell sort it out."

The manager could only hold out his arms as if to say 'what can I do?' having been forced to field a back five that had made just 25 Blades appearances between them prior to the visit to the Keepmoat – and the most experienced of them, Jordan Stewart, with nine, out of position at left-back.

The pressure on Kevin Blackwell, unable to name a full bench of replacements due to injuries, was lifted by the Blades' resilient second half response, sparked by the invention that half-time substitute Glenn Little brought to the side.

The fightback was capped by James Harper's 85th-minute deflected equaliser after substitute Andy Taylor – a left-back whom Blackwell could have selected – launched a free-kick from halfway and the ball fell nicely for the midfield man following a couple of aerial challenges.

"It has left us disappointed," admitted Hayter, who could have won it in stoppage time only to blaze over the bar after being teed up by substitute Dean Shiels.

"We should have been out of sight by half-time and although it was nice to score I probably should have had a couple more, to be honest.

"To concede the way we did at the end was disappointing but we move on. We knew there would be a reaction from them and knew what to expect and I thought our defence did very well because, although they created a lot of pressure, we limited them to very few chances."

That could have been down to the Blades also being without their top scorer, Darius Henderson, due to a hamstring problem and losing Henri Camara, who had looked the most likely player to breach the Rovers defence, with a groin injury after 72 minutes.

Blackwell's limited resources were highlighted by the fact that he had to replace Camara with Taylor, initially moving little Stephen Quinn up front to partner Richard Cresswell before throwing Kyle Bartley, the replacement for injured Marcel Seip (hamstring), first from defence into midfield and then into attack.

"He probably thought he was Brian Glover," joked Blackwell in reference to the role played by the actor as a 'Bobby Charlton' games teacher in the film 'Kes' which the players had been shown as a bonding technique prior to the game.

However, it was left to Hayter, who had been quiet in midfield where Rovers' crisp passing would have overrun the Blades had it not been for the tackling and covering stint of Nick Montgomery, to rescue a point which keeps the Blades just outside the play-offs with Rovers a point behind.

The big test for Doncaster comes tomorrow night when they entertain leaders Newcastle United, a match Hayter is looking forward to with relish.

"We have always had a belief that we can do well and are a match for anyone in this division," he said.

"We have proved that already and we will be looking to continue our good run (three wins and three draws from the last six matches) against Newcastle. It will be nice to pit ourselves against the best team in the league and see how we fare.

"They nicked it with a late goal at their place after we missed a penalty with the score 1-1 so it would be nice to turn that result round on Tuesday. We are a match for anyone on our day."

Manager Sean O'Driscoll played down talk of his side moving into the play-offs, saying: "People get carried away with things, but this is only our second season in this division. For us to get in the play-offs we probably needed to win nine out of nine."

The Rovers chief, who said he would not have complained had the Blades been awarded a second-half penalty when Cresswell went down under a challenge from Chambers, added: "Tuesday night is going to be difficult because Newcastle are a class above everything else in this division. They have a big enough squad to rotate people while we have some tired legs out there. It's going to be difficult."

Doncaster Rovers: Sullivan, Chambers, Martis, O'Connor, Roberts; Coppinger (Mutch 89), Wilson, Oster, Woods (Hird 85); Emmanuel-Thomas (Shiels 78), Hayter. Unused substitutes: McDaid, Smith, Spicer, Lockwood.

Sheffield United: Simmonsen, Connolly, Nosworthy, Seip (Bartley 59), Stewart; Yeates (Little 46), Montgomery, Harper, Quinn; Camara (Taylor 72), Cresswell. Unused substitutes: Bennett, Fortune, Lowton.

Referee: J Moss (West Yorks).

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Billy Sharp

Did not play under a gentleman's agreement between the clubs but Rovers fans were quick to taunt the Blades supporters about having secured the services of their top scorer on a season-long loan deal from Bramall Lane.

Villain: James...

Depending on allegiances at the Keepmoat Stadium it was one or the other James – Doncaster Rovers' fifth-minute scorer Hayter or Sheffield United's late equaliser Harper.

Key moment:

Stoppage time: Striker James Hayter should have won it for Rovers but blazes over from 12 yards after being set up by substitute Dean Shiels.

Ref watch:

Jon Moss: Solid performance but may have thought Richard Cresswell had gone down too dramatically for a penalty.

Verdict

The Blades remain the top Championship club in Yorkshire but have more problems than Sean O'Driscoll's settled Rovers side.

Next game

Championship: Doncaster v Newcastle, tomorrow; Cardiff v Sheff Utd, Weds - 7.45.

Quote of the day

I'm thinking of showing them Morecambe and Wise before the next away game.

– Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell on his new motivational technique.

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