WITH a cash windfall of around £1m banked and the unwanted record of never having knocked out a team from a higher division since returning to the Football League in 2003 finally banished, Doncaster Rovers have enjoyed a fun ride in the FA Cup.
Manager Grant McCann’s side have won plenty of friends along the way, too, with an attacking approach that means Rovers proudly stand as the joint top scorers in this season’s competition along with Manchester City.
Yesterday, however, a journey that had begun 98 days earlier at Chorley’s Victory Park and promised a possible first quarter-final appearance in the club’s history was ended by Crystal Palace.
First-half goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Max Meyer did the damage for the Eagles in front of a sold-out Keepmoat Stadium.
The consolation for McCann was not only a battling performance from his side, but also the cash windfall that includes £125,000 for joining AFC Wimbledon, beaten on Saturday by Millwall, as the last representative from the third tier to go out.
“The Cup run has been great,” said the Rovers chief. “You saw the crowd for this game and the momentum the Cup has generated for us.
If we can get some more of those fans back to help us in the league then that is great. Financially it has also helped the club.Doncaster Rovers’ manager, Grant McCann
“If we can get some more of those fans back to help us in the league then that is great. Financially it has also helped the club.”
An illustration of what Doncaster were up against came via the expensive array of talent that could be found on Palace manager Roy Hodgson’s bench.
The total transfer outlay for Christian Benteke, Cheikhou Kouyate et al came to £68m, a sum in stark contrast to the £250,000 or so that had been spent putting together the entire Rovers matchday squad of 18.
A fifth of that outlay brought James Coppinger north from Exeter City way back in 2004 and the hope ahead of Doncaster’s biggest game in years was that the venerable veteran could inspire an upset to go with the third-round win at Championship outfit Preston North End.
The reality, however, was rather different with Palace cruising into the last eight on an afternoon when Rovers could not be faulted for endeavour, but were found to lack the composure to hurt the Premier League side.
This was particularly the case in a first half that saw McCann’s men get themselves into promising positions only for a rushed pass or poor execution to prove their undoing.
Even Coppinger, usually the coolest of heads amid the 100mph fare on offer in League One, was not immune to snatching at a pass when an opening arose.
Faced with the chance to play John Marquis down the left hand channel during the first half, the 38-year-old was too hasty and his delivery sufficiently over-hit for Scott Dann to be able to shepherd the ball comfortably behind.
Coppinger was far from alone in trying to force matters with Herbie Kane and Ben Whiteman also culpable.
The upshot was the League One outfit attempting far too many ‘Hollywood’-style passes when a simple lay-off would have sufficed.
It was a shame, as Palace’s defence did have several iffy moments in those opening 45 minutes – not least when trying to lay the ball back to goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, often at the expense of a corner.
Rovers were better after half-time and had a good early chance when Alfie May headed over from a Paul Downing knockdown. Had May left the ball top scorer Marquis would surely have converted from two yards out.
Other than that, though, Palace rarely looked in trouble once two goals to the good, both moves having been examples of how keeping it simple can be the key to success.
The first on eight minutes saw Luka Milivojevic, outstanding throughout, intercept a loose Rovers pass before laying off the ball to Jeffrey Schlupp, five or so yards inside the Palace half.
He set off at a cracking pace and, after riding an attempted challenge from May, found his path to goal blocked by Downing on the edge of the home penalty area.
Schlupp did not even break stride before drilling a pinpoint shot into the bottom corner that Marko Marosi simply had no chance of keeping out.
Hodgson’s men doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time. Townsend exchanged passes with Milivojevic before heading across goal for Meyer to convert from close range.
Conceding so late on was a huge blow for Rovers, but there could be few complaints with the London club having created the much better chances of the opening 45 minutes.
Dann had headed over when well placed, and Downing had been fortunate not to give away a penalty when his outstretched hand cut out a drilled cross from Patrick van Aanholt.
”I was pleased with my group and the boys can go home with their heads held high,” said McCann, the mastermind of a run that earned Rovers more than £500,000 in prize money along with another £250,000 for being shown live on BBC1 yesterday.
“The goal just before half-time took some wind out of the boys’ sails. We were better second half and had a bit more authority. We were a bit too lacklustre in the first half.”