A HAT-TRICK of consecutive wins has left Doncaster Rovers in festive mood over the Yuletide period, but boss Darren Ferguson will also have welcomed his side’s untypical Scrooge-like defending.
Ben Whitman and Alfie May both claimed their sixth goals of the season in a 2-0 home victory over Rochdale, which saw Rovers rack up three consecutive clean sheets in the league for the first time during Ferguson’s two-year tenure.
Indeed, not since Christmas 2014 have Doncaster enjoyed such a miserly run and it has helped the Keepmoat club climb into the top half of League One for the first time since early September.
Ian Lawlor deserved another shut-out with a couple of strong saves, but Rovers were rarely breached otherwise and, after hovering above the drop zone for much of the campaign, can now look forward to 2018 with renewed optimism.
Against a Rochdale team still without a league win on the road this term, the home side got off to the best possible of starts when Whiteman opened the scoring in the fourth minute.
The on-loan Sheffield United midfielder rifled a 20-yard half-volley into Josh Lillis’s top-left corner after May and John Marquis had harassed the visitors’ defence.
Keith Hill’s men rallied as Lawlor kept out a Matt Done effort with his feet and Andrew Cannon somehow lifted a two-yard chance over after being picked out at the far post by Ian Henderson’s right-wing cross.
But May doubled the hosts’ advantage on 27 minutes when he beat Lillis from 12 yards with the help of a hefty deflection off Kgosi Ntlhe after racing on to Jordan Houghton’s ball through the right channel.
After the break, Lawlor denied Henderson and first-half tactical sub Calvin Andrew in quick succession, diving low to his left to parry away the former’s fierce drive and then recovering to gather the latter’s close-range follow-up. Just before the hour, Joseph Bunney also poked wide with only the Doncaster keeper to beat from seven yards.
Cannon, meanwhile, fired past an upright late on, but Ferguson’s men racked up three wins on the spin for the first time since mid-March with little trouble.
Doncaster Rovers: Lawlor; Mason, Butler, Baudry, Garratt; Houghton, Whiteman, Rowe; Coppinger (Blair, 61); Marquis, May (Mandeville, 83). Unused substitutes: Marosi, Alcock, Longbottom, Ben Khemis, Wright.
Rochdale: Lillis; McGahey, Daniels, Ntlhe, Done; Cannon, Camps, Keane (Andrew, 31), Rathbone, Bunney (Davies, 64, Adshead 82); Henderson. Unused substitutes: McNulty, Williams, Thompson, Moore.
Referee: R Joyce.
Steve Morison’s long-awaited first goal of the season saw Millwall earn a 1-0 win over London rivals QPR in the Championship.
The 34-year-old striker looks set to enter the new year with renewed vigour after his second-half header saw Neil Harris’s side successfully build on their fine Boxing Day draw with Sky Bet Championship pace-setters Wolves.
The hosts’ victory also handed Ian Holloway an unhappy return to his old club.