DONCASTER Rovers’ promotion bid was left literally flagging at the Keepmoat after a cracking encounter against fellow promotion-chasers Charlton Athletic.
Each time they looked set for an important breakthrough up went a linesman’s arm to tell referee Ben Toner to rule against them.
This was especially the case in the sixth minute of stoppage-time when Ben Whiteman rattled the bar from outside the area and John Marquis met the rebound with a sweet curling shot that nestled in the far corner as Tommy Rowe got a slight, headed flick on it.
Manager Grant McCann raced down the touchline to celebrate only to see Toner rule no goal after consulting with his linesman, though left-back Ben Purrington appeared to play everyone onside. McCann was left with a booking, but that was not the only thing that had exasperated the Rovers chief.
Marquis had volleyed home from a cross from Mallik Wilks in the first half and Matty Blair had been pulled back after racing clear on goal when appearing onside after coming on after the break.
To compound matters, shortly after Lyle Taylor had struck a post Marquis’s diving attempted clearing header from Igor Vetokele’s cross-shot had given Charlton a 72nd-minute lead, which would have deflated opposition made of less resilient stuff than Rovers.
Wilks came to the rescue, firing the ball home inside Dillon Philips’s left-hand post five minutes after the own goal and the Charlton goalkeeper made fine saves down to his left to deny Marquis and Aaron Lewis as Rovers went for the knockout blow in the closing stages.
They had been put on the ropes by Charlton’s slick, attacking moves, especially in the first half, but that is when captain Andy Butler, renewing his central defensive partnership with former Walsall team-mate Paul Downing as Tom Anderson was sidelined by a concussion protocol, came to the fore.
Honours ended even, leaving fifth-placed Charlton still five points clear of Doncaster, who were joined in sixth by Peterborough, who have played a game more. It also left Rovers with just one point from their last three games and McCann to justifiably moan: “There was absolutely nothing wrong with the ‘goal’.
“I am disappointed for no other reason than five major decisions went against us, five one-on-ones.
“I know officials have a tough job, but to get five wrong is scary really.”
Denied the chance by referee Toner to bring computer analysis into the room after the game, McCann said: “We are lucky in that we can see things back. I understand that referees and linesmen have a very difficult job, but Tommy Rowe was onside when he flicked the ball in the net. He was being grabbed by Naby Sarr and the left-back was playing him onside. All managers in this league just want is consistency, but we did not get that. We got dealt a raw deal.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Blackburn Rovers loanee Downing, who says Doncaster must treat the run-in as a mini league and where they finish could influence his next career move.
Downing, who helped the Ewood Park club to promotion last season, said: “Their full-back clearly played everyone onside, but we did not get the rub of the green. We have to dust ourselves down and get ready for the trip to Wimbledon. There is a sense of disappointment in not winning at home. If we have aspirations of finishing in the top six we know we have to win some matches. We did not manage to do it, but we do not go into our shell.
“One of the reasons we have done so well is because we show character. We are a determined bunch and we want to improve. We deal with setbacks and come back stronger. Hopefully some decision will go our way in the games coming up.
“There are 13 games left and we will approach it like a mini-season. We have worked really hard to get where we are and we have just to step it up ever so slightly and hope that there is more to come from the group.
“Peterborough are on our tail so we have got to go to Wimbledon for the first of three games in six days and get three points.”
Doncaster Rovers: Marosi, Lewis, Downing, Butler, Andrew; Crawford (Blair 59), Whiteman, Kane (Rowe 77); Wilks, Marquis, Coppinger (May 77). Unused substitutes: Jones, Smith, Sadlier, Blaney.
Charlton Athletic: Phillips, Solly, Bauer, Sarr, Purrington; Bielik (Dijksteel 90); Cullen, Wiliams (Fosu 62), Aribo; Vetokele (Marshall 76), Taylor. Unused substitutes: Maxwell, Reeves, Pratley, Lapslie.
Referee: B Toner (Lancs).