RESIDENT in the last-chance saloon they may be, but it is not yet kicking out time for Doncaster Rovers.
A splendid victory over a title-chasing side that was as wondrous as it was wholly unexpected has provided a serving of that precious commodity. Hope.
Not that there was a great deal of it before kick-off with Rovers without a win in 17 matches – you had to go back to December 12 for their last three-point haul at the Keepmoat – and pitting their wits against visitors who had forgotten what it felt like to lose.
Ironically, it was that same aforesaid December date when leaders Wigan had previously tasted defeat, some 20 games ago. Although it was much earlier on September 12 when they had last saw their colours lowered on the road in League One.
Away banker then? Not quite, with the collective ripping up of coupons probably heard across the land when Andy Williams confidently blasted home a seal-the-deal late third for Rovers.
Darren Ferguson’s famous father Sir Alex said: ‘Football, bloody hell’ in the immediate aftermath of Manchester United winning The Treble and those sentiments could easily have been muttered by Rovers supporters on an intoxicating Saturday afternoon.
Against a side from a town made famous for being the home of Northern Soul, Rovers ensured there was no last waltz in truly outstanding fashion.
Although amid the unconfined joy – and let us be fair, relief – at the final whistle after the hosts delivered a cathartic victory and savoured that winning feeling for the first time since January 2, there was an inescapable sense of ‘if only’.
If only Rovers had replicated anything like this performance on a consistent basis during their calamitous winless streak, then there is no way in the world that they would be in the terrible mess that they find themselves in at the wrong end of League One and staring down the barrel of a second relegation in three seasons.
Three points were won, but Ferguson’s side are still six points adrift of safety with four games to go, although the fact that they have the chance to inject further momentum as soon as tomorrow is a wholly positive thing. And Rovers did not have much positivity before Saturday.
It was an afternoon of redemption and somewhat fitting that a Doncaster lad in Andy Butler was at the centre of all things good.
The defender, whose quickfire brace of second-half goals turned the tide inexorably after Wigan had taken a flattering lead just before the break, has suffered more than most during his hometown club’s torrid New Year.
But the fates were smiling on the Balby-born centre-half on a poignant occasion when he remembered his late best friend Richard Hawcroft, whose birthday would have been on Saturday.
Butler, whose emotion was there for all to see, said: “It was quite an emotional day for myself really because of my friend as it would have been his birthday and I dedicate my two goals to him, and it was an important day for his family.
“I still miss him and teared up a little bit after the game.”
On a magnificent triumph, he added: “The win is such a massive relief; I think you could see that in everyone after the final whistle.
“A run like we have had is never nice. You walk around town with your head down.
“When Harworth Tower got knocked down this week, a few people spotted me and you don’t know whether to smile at them or not.
“A few of us live in the town and it is hard walking around with a smile on your face as you think people judge you in many ways.
“But the whole team sticks together and we have done all season; we win together and lose together and there’s never been a split. We made Wigan look an average side.
“But this is the quality we have got and we need to keep believing we can do that every game now until the end of the season.”
Rovers hinted at things to come during a first half in which they showed energy and derring-do in the face of something akin to a party atmosphere, which reigned in the well-populated away end.
Wigan displayed the classic trait of a side going up by taking an interval lead, thanks to a deft 41st-minute header from top-scorer Will Grigg after a surging run by speedster Yanic Wildschut, despite not being at anything like full pelt.
It was tough on Rovers, who knocked on the door several times, but their rewards were to arrive spectacularly.
The hosts laid siege at the start of the second period with the Latics on the ropes before being floored by a couple of haymakers.
The excellent Gary McSheffrey and Craig Alcock went close before Butler levelled with a downward header following a corner.
Jussi Jaaskelainen then superbly tipped over McSheffrey’s free-kick, but he was powerless to keep out Butler’s close-range effort that was bundled over the line after another corne.r Despite the ball being cleared, a goal was given.
Although Wigan poured bodies forward, Rovers held firm and substitute Riccardo Calder should have sealed it with a third, but that was duly administered by Williams. Rovers’ top-scorer blasted home from the spot for his first goal since January 16 after David Perkins was red-carded for bringing down McSheffrey as he bore down on goal.
It is not over until it is over.
Doncaster Rovers: Matthews; Lund, McCullough, Butler, Taylor-Sinclair (Evina 45); McCullough, Coppinger (Calder 68), Chaplow, Rowe, McSheffrey (Tyson 89); Williams. Unused substitutes: Stuckmann, Mandeville, Stewart, Middleton.
Wigan Athletic: Jaaskelainen; Daniels, Barnett, Pearce, Warnock; Perkins, Morsy (Davies 72), Power (Wabara 82), McAleny (Jacobs 40), Wildschut; Grigg. Substitutes unused: Nicholls, McCann, Morgan, Vuckic.
Referee: K Johnson (Somerset).