THE clock goes round – just ask Doncaster Rovers.
After being on the receiving end of a definitive penalty in the 13th minute of stoppage-time in a bitter 2-1 reverse in the previous meeting between these near-neighbours in February 2018, Rovers indulged in a spot of schadenfreude on Saturday.
Captain Ben Whiteman stepped up two minutes from time in front of the expectant Black Bank and was never going to miss from 12 yards out to nail the derby issue – and an iconic moment in the history of the Keepmoat Stadium was instantly logged in the memory banks of Doncastrians.
Karma for those unduly harsh late events at the AESSEAL New York Stadium just over 18 months earlier and for Kieffer Moore’s equaliser for the Millers in the sixth minute of stoppage-time in the derby rivals’ last fixture in Doncaster in November 2017.
When we do get it right, we are a very good team. We never feel like we are out of a game, which is testament to the boys.Ben Whiteman
Home fans may have feared the worst when a minimum of five minutes of added-time was signalled by the fourth official on Saturday, but they need not have worried. Not this time.
Rotherham United had long since clocked off, with their capitulation in the final half-hour representing a significant worry to their 3,392 followers.
For the third successive game, they conceded a painful late goal, but it was their uncharacteristically passive second half which was the real story for Paul Warne.
An after-match inquest saw Warne and his coaching staff issue a few home truths to the Millers’ players in a locked away dressing room.
Warne eventually emerged well over an hour after the final whistle to address the press and his concern was self-evident.
Losing in a derby is bad enough, but at least lose in the right way. Not on the back foot and in retreat, which the Millers were in a final half-hour in which Rovers were all over them like a cheap suit.
On Rovers’ redemptive derby moment against the Millers, delighted home captain Whiteman, who came to the fore in the second half to take ownership of the game alongside Ben Sheaf and the irrepressible James Coppinger, acknowledged: “When we played them at their place, it felt like a lifetime ago and all I remember from that game was big Tom (Anderson) getting his face smashed in and we did owe them one.
“We are still unbeaten and I think it shows the character of the team. We do not know when we are beaten. In the second half, we came on really strong and looked really fit and we are growing in confidence and long may it continue. “We are a young team and I think that’s showing with no fear.
“We knew what they were going to do. Disrupt us and try and bully us. In the first half, we were too sloppy, but we were different class in the second half.
“When we do get it right, we are a very good team. We never feel like we are out of a game, which is testament to the boys.”
On his coolly-taken spot-kick, he added: “I have been in this situation before in the play-offs and against Oldham (in the FA Cup) and I was confident.
“You can see what it meant with Copps doing that lap on the pitch to celebrate and doing it in a derby makes it extra-special.”
Rovers did it the hard way, but that has been their wont this season. They came from behind for the fourth league game this season and emerged with their unbeaten record still intact and it is not too bad a habit to have.
What was particularly impressive on Saturday was that they did not panic.
Second-best in the first hour to a Millers side who were comfortable – perhaps too comfortable for their sakes – Rovers stayed on message and persisted and their substitutions worked a treat, unlike their visitors’ changes.
Brought on at the interval, Niall Ennis mixed it with Millers centre-halves Richard Wood and Michael Ihiekwe and proved a real handful and eventually wore the visitors’ backline down with his energy, fight and brio.
It should have come as no surprise that when a stressed Ihiekwe fatally erred for his penalty concession late on with a shirt tug on an opponent that Ennis was the name on the back of the jersey.
Just after the hour mark, the introduction of Kieran Sadlier, who slotted in seamlessly, also proved the most canny of moves, while by contrast, the exit from the fray of Millers’ holding midfielder Shaun MacDonald left the visitors exposed as Rovers started to bypass their rivals with some lovely one-touch passing moves.
Jon Taylor, handed his full debut against his former club – and offered a few token jeers but little else – started to find his wings and the narrative of the game changed.
Once the game started, the talk soon switched from Taylor to another winger in the Millers’ deadline-day arrival Jake Hastie.
The Scot stood out amid the derby morass with some quality set-piece deliveries in the first period, one of which eluded unconvincing home keeper Ian Lawlor before nestling in the net.
It was a lead which not too many could begrudge Rotherham of, but instead of going for the throat on the restart to bury the meek hosts, the visitors procrastinated and Rovers regrouped in magnificent fashion.
Coppinger, who else, was on hand to level midway through the second half, with his miscued downward shot from Ennis’s pullback creeping past Price.
The Millers veteran, who had earlier made a brilliant tip-over to deny Sheaf, then thwarted Taylor, Reece James and Ennis as Rovers sensed blood and this time it was finally their day.