Doncaster Rovers 3 Southend United 0: No FA Cup distraction for fluent Rovers

John Marquis.
John Marquis.
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Any scouting report that Roy Hodgson looks at from this Doncaster Rovers performance should contain these three words: confident, fluent and focused.

The former England manager brings Crystal Palace of the Premier League to Doncaster on Sunday afternoon for an FA Cup fifth-round tie that will be screened live on BBC Television.

Even in the proud history of this South Yorkshire club it will be quite the occasion; a first last-16 tie in the competition in six decades, Premier League establishment in town and Gary Lineker peering down from the makeshift studio.

But any notion that such a prospect would prove a distraction for Grant McCann’s side was erased by a performance full of purpose and conviction.

Footballer’s recite the line ‘one game at a time’ as if it is biblical scripture, but even wily veterans like Rovers’ James Coppinger would have been forgiven for having one eye on Sunday.

Southend on a Tuesday night in the bread and butter of the league lacks the same allure.

Yet Rovers greeted the challenge full on, to leave any watching Palace scout under no illusions as to the dangers that lie in wait for Hodgson’s boys come Sunday.

Doncaster dealt with Southend professionally, seizing the initiative early on and then refusing to panic when the second goal eluded them until eventually cruising to victory. The excitement of the FA Cup aside, last night’s three points moved sixth-placed Doncaster four points clear of the chasing play-off pack with a game in hand still in their possession.

Their opening goal was so well executed it was as almost as if it was in slow motion.

Southend failed to properly clear a left-wing corner and when the ball found Coppinger on the corner of the area, he turned one man and dinked a floated cross right into the centre of the six-yard area where John Marquis was on hand to nod across Southend goalkeeper Ben Bishop.

As Rovers took charge, Herbie Kane became more influential. A dummy inside his own half turned a simple pass out of defence into a swift counter, his first touch a searching ball in behind the defence that found Mallik Wilks, but he could not match the subtlety of the build-up and scuffed his shot at Bishop.

Alongside Kane in midfield, Whiteman and Ali Crawford were also imposing themselves, and with those three pulling the strings, Coppinger and Wilks lurking on either wing, and the predatory Marquis through the middle, Southend spent much of the first half chasing shadows.

That they went into the break trailing only 1-0 owed much to Bishop’s alertness; clawing away a dipping free-kick from Crawford, and good fortune, the ball striking the crossbar and bouncing down on the line from the resulting corner after an unwitting contribution from Wilks before Shrimpers defender John White hooked it clear.

The pattern continued after the break, Marquis cutting inside on the egde of the area and forcing Bishop into a smart save.

There was always a danger such profligacy would come back to haunt Rovers and it nearly did when right-back Aaron Lewis failed to deal with a hanging cross that he could only head into the path of Simon Cox. But as the veteran striker shaped to shoot Lewis atoned by getting his body in the way. Cox sent another reminder to Rovers of how fragile their lead was with a shot that sliced wide before, on 56 minutes, Doncaster got the two-goal cushion their play deserved.

It was their lively loan duo that delivered, Liverpool’s Kane again selling his marker with a swerve of the body and releasing Wilks with the space he had opened up. The Leeds United prospect did the rest from 15 yards, a couple of stepovers to deceive his marker and a stabbed shot that beat Bishop at his near post.

Marquis had two chances to put a seal on the win. First he struck the crossbar with a stooping header from Danny Andrew’s inswinging free-kick, then after Wilks’ shot had been parried, Marquis’ effort on the rebound was blocked on the line by Dieng.

Marquis was involved though when they did confirm the three points, unselfishly squaring the ball to Kane to bundle into the empty net after the Rovers captain had been released in behind the tormented Shrimpers.

Palace will be no such pushovers, but they have been warned.

Doncaster Rovers: Marosi; Lewis (Blair 65), Downing, Anderson, Andrew; Crawford, Whiteman, Kane (Smith 77); Coppinger (Sadlier 67), Marquis, Wilks. Unused substitutes: Jones, Butler, Rowe, May, Sadlier.

Southend United: Bishop; Bwomono, Moore, White (Turner 46), Hart; Klass (Kightly 57), Mantom, Dieng; McLaughlin, Cox, Humphreys. Unused substitutes: Smith, Lennon, Wabo, Kelman, Hutchinson.

Referee: A Backhouse (Cumbria).