Rovers let victory slip due to Harte’s set-piece guile

A RICHLY deserved draw against the Championship’s form team further fuelled Doncaster Rovers’ belief they can avoid relegation.

But with games fast running out for Dean Saunders’s side it could also be viewed as two points dropped.

The Welshman had challenged his side to win six of their remaining 12 games ahead of last night’s visit of promotion-chasing Reading.

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After taking the lead on the counter attack through Kyle Bennett, they were left frustrated that their endeavours in the second half did not earn the reward of maximum points.

For all their enterprise going forward they were guilty of poor marking at the back with the dead-ball mastery of former Leeds United full-back Ian Harte eventually creating an equalising goal for Alex Pearce on 50 minutes.

They were indebted to a number of fine saves from Carl Ikeme and the industry, flair and trickery of El-Hadji Diouf, who was a constant threat.

A fourth draw in five games does keeps their unbeaten run going and moves Doncaster above Coventry into third bottom.

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They are still three points adrift of safety, although with a game still in hand on those with their head just above water.

Reading move up to second after their remarkable run of eight straight victories was checked.

As early as the second minute Diouf was showing his class with a neat lay-off that set Rovers going.

But it was at the back where Doncaster were thankful for the intervention of the controversial Senegalese as he cleared Pearce’s header off the line.

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Pascal Chimbonda then rasped a drive narrowly over the bar as Rovers responded before an identical corner from Harte set up Pearce who somehow headed wide from three yards out.

Another neat flick from Diouf freed Bennett but he did not possess the same awareness of players in space and hurried a long-range shot wide.

No matter how much ambition Rovers showed going forward, the right-wing corners of Harte continued to cause devilment in their own penalty area. This time it was Mikele Leigertwood running onto a free header which he planted two feet clear of the crossbar.

Noel Hunt, from another set-piece by Harte, then headed wide after Jason Roberts had snatched at a shot from 16 yards that dug into the turf and span wide of a post.

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Reading were hammering on the door but it was Rovers who blew it down. Sensing the need to get a foothold in the game, Diouf dropped back into midfield to collect the ball and create the opening goal on 27 minutes.

He played a one-two with James Coppinger on the right before sending in a teasing cross that the lively Bennett steered home at the far post.

Ikeme then had to be alert to maintain Rovers’ lead with a fine reaction save to a close-range header from Hal Robson-Kanu, who had pulled away from Habib Beye to meet Jobi McAnuff’s driven cross.

Ikeme was then grateful that Jem Karacan’s instinctive stab in a goalmouth scramble went straight into his hands.

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Simon Gillett kept Adam Federici busy before the break with a stinging drive bu then Reading equalised five minutes into the second half.

The source was inevitable, a deep corner from Harte to the back post that a static Rovers defence had been warned about numerous times in the first 45 minutes.

Once again Pearce had it all too easy and this time he headed into the roof of the net from three yards out.

Rovers, though, were not easily rattled. A delightful one-touch move involving Chimbonda and Coppinger down the right got the home faithful to their feet, Giles Barnes hitting the side netting with the resulting chance.

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Fredric Piquionne, making his home debut, then glanced a header wide from Diouf’s corner.

Full credit to Doncaster, they continued to push against a side 20 places above them in the league, and they almost got their reward from Coppinger’s cross which both Piquionne and Beye failed to meet with the full contact that would have beaten Federici.

Reading, though, remained dangerous and Rovers had Sam Hird to thank for diverting Pearce’s shot off the line and around a post after Beye had afforded the Royals defender too much space.

They were also indebted to Ikeme in stoppage time when the goalkeeper pulled off a stunning save, high to his left, to deny Hunt and preserve the point.

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How they fare in two more home games in the next seven days this will determine whether this was a point gained or two dropped for Rovers.

Doncaster Rovers: Ikeme; Chimbonda, Beye, Spurr, Hird; Coppinger, Gillett, Bennett, Barnes, Piquionne; Diouf. Unused substitutes: Oster, Hayter, Lockwood, Robert, Ilunga.

Reading: Federici; Cummins, Harte, Pearce, Gorkss; McAnuff, Robson-Kanu (Le Fondre 65), Karacan (Tabb 65), Leigertwood; Hunt, Roberts. Unused substitutes: Andersen, Church, Cywka.

Referee: T Bates (Staffordshire).

Chris Hughton’s Birmingham City dropped to eighth in the Championship after a 3-1 defeat at Leicester.

Jake Buxton headed home Ben Davies’s free-kick deep into stoppage time as Derby grabbed a dramatic 1-0 win over neighbours Nottingham Forest at Pride Park.

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