ALL that was missing late on Tuesday night at the Keepmoat Stadium was Jim Bowen crowing: ‘Come and have a look at what you could have won…’
A third round trip to Manchester United was the prize Doncaster Rovers cruelly missed out on by losing to Ipswich Town in the Capital One Cup.
If ever a club could have done with the lift of a glamour tie, it is Rovers after a difficult start that has yielded just one goal in four league outings and an injury list that appears to be growing by the week.
No wonder, therefore, the disappointment was palpable among any stragglers still hanging around the Keepmoat half-an-hour or so after Ipswich’s 4-1 extra-time win.
In that respect, it was perhaps fortunate that Bowen was not on hand to utter one of his many Bullseye catchphrases – especially as that sense of dejection had been made more acute by how close Doncaster had gone to winning the tie in normal time.
Still, the silver lining on that black cloud for anyone whose loyalties lay with the South Yorkshire club was the much-improved performance that had given the early Championship leaders such a fright before class eventually told courtesy of three unanswered extra-time goals.
Abject and lifeless at Port Vale just four days earlier, Paul Dickov’s men were transformed to leave the Scot hoping that a standard has been set for the coming weeks and months.
“Maybe over the course of 120 minutes, Ipswich’s extra quality meant they deserved to go through,” said Dickov.
“But for the majority of 102 minutes, we more than matched a team with top Championship players in it.
“People say they made changes but those players are in a Championship squad for a reason and that is because they are very good players.
“The aggression of our play was good. Our front two were excellent, and really set us off. They were a catalyst for everything.
“Some of the football we played in the first 15 minutes of the second half was excellent. It really put us on the front foot. The performance was totally different to Saturday.”
The challenge now, of course, is to take that improvement into the weekend visit of Fleetwood Town. Injuries, however, could be a problem with Rob Jones and Luke McCullough forced out of Tuesday’s tie within 45 minutes.
With Danny N’Guessan and Paul Keegan already out along with Harry Forrester and Nathan Tyson, it means Rovers, with one of League One’s smaller squads, are already struggling for numbers.
That much was evident on Tuesday with the bench featuring a number of youngsters. One plus is Gary MacKenzie will return against Fleetwood at the heart of the defence but that still leaves Dickov having to juggle resources.
“I might have to get my boots out,” joked the Doncaster chief. “Seriously, it is a little bit worrying. But we will see how they are.
“Looking at how they felt when coming off to how they felt at the end of the game, they felt better within themselves. That is a good sign.
“Luke has damaged his knee in a block tackle. Jones looks to have damaged his neck. We don’t know how long it will be.
“He did something similar against Preston last season. After six or seven days, it settled down. He came back in after that.
“As for Gary MacKenzie, we made the decision on Monday to leave him out because of a few knocks and niggles.
“Rather than have him on the bench and risk him having to come on against Ipswich, with Saturday in mind it was the right thing to do.”
Just how quickly Jones and McCullough recover could determine whether Doncaster return to the transfer market ahead of the window closing on Tuesday.
Dickov, who revealed Keegan and N’Guessan are “close” to a possible return, added: “We have up until Tuesday for the window so we will wait and see how things are. We do need to get them back.”