Doncaster Rovers have hit the buffers as game in hand is wasted

So vibrant in the middle months of the season, Doncaster Rovers appear to have hit the buffers.

With the teams sandwiching them busy at Wembley this weekend, two dropped points did not cost Doncaster their fifth place in League One, but their 0-0 draw with relegation-threatened Northampton Town was a game in hand wasted.

The drop-off in results pre-dated manager Darren Moore jumping ship for Sheffield Wednesday. The good news is that when it comes to the league table, no one is punishing them for it but they need to find a spark if a promising season is not to peter out.

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They huffed and puffed under sunshine and pleasant blue skies, and looked better for the changes interim manager Andy Butler made, particularly the introduction of James Coppinger, but their football lacked the sharpness of earlier in the season.

SUBSTITUTE: James CoppingerSUBSTITUTE: James Coppinger
SUBSTITUTE: James Coppinger

They were very lucky not to lose, Ryan Watson keeping a corner from on-loan Rotherham United winger Mikel Miller out of Doncaster's net with his back.

Rovers went into the game with two wins in eight matches, the Cobblers two in 16, and it reflected in a low-quality first half when the relegation-threatened visitors were equals.

It took 24 minutes for an incident of note, Tom Anderson's near-post header forcing an excellent Jon Mitchell save at a corner.

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The others he had to make from Taylor Richards and Reece James were very routine, both lacking power and accuracy, James's thanks to a deflection.

Matt Smith had tried to make something from the base of midfield and centre-back Joe Wright played a couple of raking passes, but by and large there was little inspiration for Rovers, even with Fejiri Okenabirhie back to provide a much-needed focal point at centre-forward.

The withdrawal before the half-hour of Scott Robertson through injury at least allowed James to be more effective, pushing him from the left wing to play alongside Smith whilst Elliot Simoes went wide from the hole to accommodate substitute Richards.

It made little difference to the flow of the game, though, and Northampton, who had started the better without creating chances, started to do so late in the half, Peter Kioso heading wide at a corner and Shaun McWilliams shooting narrowly off target after good play down the right.

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Ryan Watson ended the half with a shot which went wide of Louis Jones's goal as his bench appealed for a penalty from the deflection it took on its way out.

Coppinger, unsurprisingly left on the bench after a 90-minute midweek shift, lifted things when he came on for the second half, James dropping into left-back as Doncaster went 4-1-4-1. it took all of 85 seconds for him to have Mitchell scrambling across his goal, although he dealt with it easily enough when he got there.

The majority of the second half was played in Northampton territory, yet it never really felt like a goal was coming. Simoes shot wide and James's deflected effort was held.

When Louis Jones punched another Miller flag kick away, Smith carried the ball upfield but his tired pass to Jason Lokilo allowed a tackle. Smith was soon withdrawn a minute later.

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Richards curled wide after a patient build up and when he fouled outside the area after Simoes took two defenders on only to be tackled by a third, expectations were raised that Coppinger's free-kick could not meet, hitting the wall.

The Cobblers had the best chance, foiled by their own centre-forward at a 63rd-minute corner.

It was a forgettable afternoon.

Doncaster Rovers: Jones; Halliday, Anderson, Wright, John (Coppinger 46); Smith (Gomes 72), Robertson (Richards 27); Lokilo, Simoes, James; Okenabirhie.

Unused substitutes: Balcombe, Amos, Greaves, Horton.

Northampton Town: Mitchell; Kioso, Horsfall, Jones, Mills; Hoskins, Sowerby, McWilliams (Morris 57), Miller (Marshall 74); Edmondson (Rose 61), Watson.

Unused substitutes: Harriman, Bolger, Jones, Berry.

Referee: T Nield (West Yorkshire).

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