Wigan Athletic 2 Doncaster Rovers 2: Rovers denied as Wigan’s Barnett hits late equaliser

If you want late drama, go and watch Doncaster Rovers on their travels.

Doncaster Rovers Chris Brown celebrates with fellow goalscorer Theo Robinson after netting against Wigan Athletic.

Memories of the South Yorkshire club’s previous away fixture prior to last night’s trans-Pennine trip to Wigan will never fade for the 2,000 visiting fans who headed to Griffin Park for a never-to-be-forgotten final-day winner-takes-all League One promotion showdown at Brentford on April 27.

The events of their barmy spring day in the capital, when Rovers lifted the title, thanks to a 94th-minute strike from James Coppinger moments after Brentford missed a penalty which would have consigned them to the play-offs, were not quite replicated in Lancashire.

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But there was a heart-stopping finale all the same with a 90th-minute strike from Leon Barnett claiming a point for the Latics, who rallied from a 2-0 interval deficit to salvage something from a fluctuating night.

Incredibly, moments after Barnett – linked with Rovers earlier in the summer – struck, substitute Billy Paynter was within inches of winning it for Paul Dickov’s side with his header hitting the bar following Theo Robinson’s cross.

Despite everything, you suspect Rovers – who led thanks to first-half strikes from Robinson, his second in two matches, and Chris Brown – would have gladly taken a point beforehand.

The sides headed into the game with contrasting results last time out with Rovers having seen off Wigan’s Red Rose rivals Blackburn 2-0 on Friday night, while the Latics lost out at Bournemouth.

Ahead of the game, the most intriguing battle centred on two domineering North Country boys in Grant Holt and Rob Jones, which looked worth the admission money alone and first blood went to the former.

The ex-Norwich man beat Jones to Stephen Crainey’s centre to power a header over and just before the quarter-of-an-hour mark, the burly striker nipped in front of Bongani Khumalo following good interplay between Shaun Maloney and Emmerson Boyce but his near-post effort was blocked by Ross Turnbull.

Vociferous appeals from Latics fans for a penalty then fell on deaf ears after Holt went down under pressure from Reece Wabara before Chris McCann drew an impressive reaction save from Turnbull after bursting through on goal.

Some wing trickery from Maloney then saw his right-wing cross hit the outside of a post as Rovers endured another close shave.

While offering a semblance of threat through the pace of the lively Robinson, Rovers’ early goal efforts were token, with a header from Brown which floated over about the sum total and it was somewhat against the run of play when they took the lead on 25 minutes.

After his debut-night exploits against Blackburn, Robinson again dined out at the expense of Lancastrian opposition, showing predatory instincts to latch onto Brown’s flick-on following Jones’s booming free-kick and he held off Barnett before firing low past Scott Carson at his near post.

If that surprised the hosts, they were positively stunned two minutes before the break when Rovers doubled their tally, courtesy of Brown, complete with a head bandage after being in the wars earlier on in the half.

An inviting cross on the right from Khumalo was headed across goal by Jones with Brown reacting quickest to nod home – the prelude to a fair few boos among the home faithful.

The disquiet was even more pronounced at the half-time whistle leaving Latics chief Owen Coyle, in his first game in charge at the DW, with plenty to ponder.

In a bid to pep up his side, Ben Watson made way for ex-Rovers loanee Marc-Antoine Fortune with the 4-1-4-1 system the hosts deployed in the first period making way for 4-4-2.

Despite the changes, it was Rovers who posted the first second-half threat with Khumalo’s header hitting the woodwork after David Cotterill’s centre.

Wigan’s frustrated fans needed hope and they got it on 57 minutes when Maloney curled home a free-kick after Jones was penalised for a foul on Fortune.

The potential was there for a long final half-hour for Rovers, but some stout – if at times frantic defending – repelled the Wigan assault, with clear-cut chances largely failing to transpire.

That is until the clock just approached 90 with Barnett – who did not exactly have the best night defensively – firing home following a cross from Fortune.

There was still time for Paynter to go close to a famous winner before referee Carl Boyeson called time on proceedings and allowed everyone to catch their breath again.

Wigan Athletic: Carson; Boyce, Barnett, Perch, Crainey; Watson (Fortune 46); Maloney, McCann (Gomez 81), McCarthy, McClean (Beausejour 61); Holt. Unused substitutes: Nicholls, McArthur, Espinoza, Dicko.

Doncaster Rovers: Turnbull; Wabara (Paynter 90), Khumalo, Jones, Husband; Coppinger (Quinn 77), Wellens (Furman 51), Keegan, Cotterill; Brown, Robinson. Unused substitutes: Maxted, Syers, Duffy, McCullough.

Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorkshire).