A DRAMATIC WINNER three minutes from time from James Jones secured a flattering victory for Crewe Alexandra in the cruellest of denouements for Doncaster Rovers.
The visitors had pegged Crewe back in the final quarter and deservedly forged a leveller when Tommy Rowe fired home from the spot in the 82nd minute after Select Group referee Lee Probert penalised Harry Davis for a tug in the box - the strike cancelling out Ryan Lowe’s 14th-minute opener.
Rovers justifiably scented a winner following a strong spell, only for a key development at the other end to enable the Railwaymen to pilfer three points and leave the visitors shattered.
Crewe went ahead early on when ex-Sheffield Wednesday marksman Lowe was on hand to clinically head home the opener after an excellent cross from Chris Dagnall.
Rovers, with Frazer Richardson making his debut after joining on a short-term deal, went perilously close to going behind in the first few minutes when Lowe almost got a telling connection to Zoumana Bagayoko’s dangerous centre.
The visitors’ first chance in quiet start saw Andy Williams see his scuffed low shot smothered by Ben Garratt and soon after, the Alex drew first blood through Lowe.
Midway through the half, Rovers twice went desperately close to a leveller, with Jon Guthrie almost putting the ball into his own net, with his miscued clearance clipping the bar following James Coppinger’s cross.
Rowe then spurned a glorious chance from close range, failing to convert with the goal at his mercy following an inch-perfect cross from Richardson.
The next to threaten was John Marquis, who saw his downward header flash wide before the Rovers striker did superbly down the left, beating Oliver Turton before delivering an inviting low cross across goal which just evaded the outstretched leg of Williams.
Moments before the break, Coppinger’s deflected shot flashed just wide.
Crewe fired the first salvo on the restart with Alex Kiwomya’s cross not dealt with by the Rovers’ rearguard, with Lowe cleverly teeing up James Jones, who blazed over when well placed.
Marko Marosi was soon called into action to beat away Dagnall’s fierce shot, with the ex-Barnsley forward getting away from the Rovers defence after latching onto a punt by Jones.
At the other end, home keeper Garratt was soon forced to show his mettle, making a stunning save to somehow claw away Matty Blair’s goalbound header after Marquis nodded the ball into his path following Richardson’s teasing centre.
The open nature of the game continued with Marosi doing well to beat away Dagnall’s diving header following a fine centre from George Cooper on 63 minutes.
Rovers made a double change twenty minutes from time with Riccardo Calder and Harry Middleton coming on for Richardson and Joe Wright respectively, with Darren Ferguson switching to a back three.
The visitors pressed forward in a dominant final quarter with Rowe’s deflected shot beaten away by Barratt before an almighty scramble in the box saw Rovers fail to bundle in a leveller following Rowe’s initial effort.
Rovers were finally rewarded when Probert spotted an infringement in the box and Rowe steered home coolly.
Soon after, Rowe fired into the side-netting as Rovers laid siege in their quest for a winner, only for a sting in the tail to arrive at the other end.
Bagayoko’s cross wasn’t cleared and the ball broke for Jones, whose low shot on the turn beat Marosi.
Crewe Alexandra: Garratt; Turton, Davis, Guthrie, Bakayogo; Cooper (Ray 79), Jones, Hollands, Kiwomya (Bingham 79); Dagnall, Lowe. Substitutes unused: Nugent, Saunders, Richards, Kirk, Ainley.
Doncaster: Marosi; Richardson (Calder 70), Wright (Middleton 70), Butler, Evina; Houghton, Blair, Rowe, Coppinger; Marquis, Williams. Substitutes unused: Etheridge, Mandeville, Beestin, Pugh, Fielding.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
Attendance: 3,830 (520 Doncaster supporters).