A 50th-minute goal from Hull born Sonny Bradley saw second-placed Argyle cut Rovers’ lead at the top to three points after triumphing in the division’s match of the season, with the Devonians having a game in hand.
A combination of wasteful finishing and inspired goalkeeping from Luke McCormick ensured that Rovers’ quest to go a calendar year without losing a home league game floundered as they suffered their first Keepmoat reverse in 23 games, dating back to last March.
The loss also ended a seven-match unbeaten streak for Rovers and Ferguson has challenged his troops to use the defeat as a motivational tool to finish the season strongly
Ferguson, whose side will be promoted if they triumph at Grimsby Town on Saturday and fifth-placed Stevenage lose at home to Barnet, said: “We dominated the game and I felt we were very good. But unlike us, we didn’t take one of the four incredible chances we had in the first half.
“We absolutely annihilated the team in second and we should have won by three or four (goals).
“Better finishing would have won us the game. But performance wise, I was pleased with my players. I feel if we get to that level in the last seven games and we get that bit of luck, it should be enough.
“The motivation is to win the league and make sure they (Plymouth) don’t. That is the motivation for the rest of the season.
“We go to Grimsby now and will take a massive support and have already sold 2,500 tickets. The one thing we have done well is always react well to a defeat. I don’t think I have to pick them up too much.”
Just as Rovers failed to secure a victory in front of a watching Sky Sports audience, Bradford City were also forced to reflect upon a televised defeat after being edged out 3-2 in their encounter at League One play-off rivals Scunthorpe United.
Matt Crooks’ 82nd-minute winner enabled Iron to leapfrog City into fourth place, with Bantams manager Stuart McCall left to rue his side’s fortune with a second-half barrage failing to breach the hosts’ goal.
Iron, by contrast, proved less profligate in front of goal, with an overhead kick from two-goal Ivan Toney cancelling out Bradford’s 2-1 interval lead – secured through quick-fire goals from Kevin Toner and Alex Jones – before Crooks sealed the comeback.
McCall said: “We went in 2-1 up at the break without playing particularly well. But straight after half-time, we lost a really poor goal.
“But we attacked and attacked and played a lot better second half and when you see some of the chances we have had, it is incredible that we have not scored.
“One of their boys was on the floor and the ball hit him and we have hit the bar and we hit their ‘keeper on the arm.
“It was just wave after wave. It was disappointing not to win, never mind not come away with a point, but that is football.”
It was also a weekend when League One leaders Sheffield United did not have things their own way after having to settle for a 1-1 draw at struggling Oldham Athletic.
Bolton’s victory at Shrewsbury Town cut the Blades’ advantage to four points, although Chris Wilder’s side can increase that buffer to seven points if they beat visiting Millwall tomorrow evening.
On his side’s efforts on a lamentable playing surface at Boundary Park, in which Jay O’Shea’s strike restored parity early in the second half after Tope Obadeyi gave the relegation-threatened Latics a surprise interval lead, Wilder said: “The quality was not there. Is that the conditions or a bit of an off day from us? Maybe a bit of both.
“It was a tough afternoon, but it was the sort of battle you have to overcome in a nine-month season. The pitch was tough for all the players.
“We had spoken to our players beforehand about the pitch, but I think they were surprised at just how bad it was. We showed character to get back in the game.”
Additional reporting: Richard Sutcliffe and Ricky Charlesworth