THE END-OF-SEASON mayhem across town just over six years earlier was a timely reminder to Doncaster Rovers that it is never over until its over.
That particular theatre of the absurd was played out west at Brentford’s Griffin Park in a 17-second stoppage-time extravaganza that saw Rovers hastily dispense with their play-off tickets to grasp League One title-winning medals on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign.
Here at The Valley, Rovers’ 1,351 contingent were hankering for further spellbinding Spring suspense, although mindful that it would take something truly spectacular to come close to those epic events.
Tantalisingly, it was not too far away from arriving only for the heartache of penalties to floor Rovers.
If some Charlton supporters were to be believed ahead of the game then the tickets to Wembley were in the post after Sunday’s 2-1 win in Yorkshire – just as their Brentford counterparts thought that a top-two finish was theirs for keeps when Marcelo Trotta stepped up to take that infamous late penalty against Rovers on April 27, 2013.
There was a similar unmistakable whiff of confidence by the Thames as Addicks followers packed out their particular cathedral for the first time since 2012, emboldened by some comments that are unlikely to have passed by Rovers manager Grant McCann.
We will pick them off, insisted home striker Josh Parker with a discernible air of presumption. Quite bold considering that the Charlton forward had not yet found the net for the Addicks since moving from Gillingham in January.
Charlton manager Lee Bowyer’s declaration in the week that the club should be in the Premier League might also have brought a wry smile to his counterpart. The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
For those Charlton fans who renewed their vows with the club on a big night, the party was seemingly ushered in within two minutes after Krystian Bielik’s opening goal from the most teasing of centres from Josh Cullen, and talk of Wembley did not appear loose in a largely happy Valley.
The script was being followed to the letter as the home support turned their chatter to a re-run of Charlton’s 1998 play-off finale with Sunderland. All was well in SE7.
That it proved dangerous discourse said everything about the response of a Rovers side whose defiance will have gone down well with their manager, whose ability to upset the play-off odds represented a badge of honour in his playing career that featured three promotions and the shattering of some lofty rivals’ dreams.
McCann was entitled to stalk the touchline moodily in his dark overcoat early on when it had the makings of a long night, but he admirably kept the faith and he was royally rewarded.
A gorgeous touch from Herbie Kane soon set up Tommy Rowe for an emphatic leveller and the tie was in the melting pot again as party-pooping McCann suddenly got in the party mood.
‘No fear’ was the McCann mantra ahead of proceedings and edginess was the hosts’ domain for the rest of the half as a game that had started in comparative comfort took on a wholly different complexion.
‘Let’s see them home’ was the clarion call from the Addicks’ announcer ahead of the resumption, but nerves consumed most of the stadium and the poise of show came from those in away jerseys and McCann crossed his fingers.
Mercifully, and somewhat fittingly, Charlton’s defence was breached in the nick of time by a proud Doncastrian in Andy Butler as most of The Valley collectively sighed, but could have had few grumbles on last night’s on-pitch evidence when Rovers held their nerve.
It was the prelude to extra time – although Rovers had a couple of late chances to nail it before then – but there was still time for their leader of the pack John Marquis to announce himself belatedly.
Back on his South London manor, albeit on enemy Charlton territory, this man of Millwall stock finally rubbed the neighbours’ nose in the dirt from Mallik Wilks’s cross, but the away celebrations had barely died down before Darren Pratley provided the sting after Marko Marosi’s unfortunate slip led to an instant Charlton equaliser.
Penalties ensued as Rovers fans sang ‘we’re proud of you’ to their boys, but there was no dream ending.