BILLY Sharp scored a sublime goal on the most unimaginably difficult night of his football career but could not prevent Rovers from slipping to defeat against high flying Middlesbrough.
Sharp started, and skippered, the side just three days after his two day old son Luey tragically passed away.
He led out his team mates then led the whole Keepmoat Stadium in a minute’s applause to celebrate his son’s all too short life.
And 14 minutes into the match he provided the best tribute he could while wearing the red and white hoops by producing a piece of brilliance to put Doncaster ahead – a strike Boro boss Tony Mowbray described as a ‘goal from heaven.’
Debutant El Hadji Diouf flicked Ryan Mason’s pass high into the box and Sharp pulled away from his marker before powerfully and accurately sending a left footed volley over Jason Steele and in at the far post.
Sharp wheeled away into the corner and unveiled a special message for his son ‘That’s for you son’ on a t-shirt under his Rovers colours.
Referee Darren Deadman showed real common sense and heart to avoid handing out the customary yellow card.
Sharp’s goal punctuated a blistering opening 25 minutes for Rovers as they had by far the better of the play and restricted Boro to very little in terms of attacking threat.
But the visitors soon started to find their way into the contest, and their own attacks soon had Rovers on the back foot.
They made the good spell of pressure count with the leveller on the half hour mark.
Barry Robson latched onto a free ball, galloped forward to the left corner of the area and lashed a low shot past Sullivan at his near post.
Rovers struggled to find their foothold again and suddenly looked overwhelmed as Boro surged forward time after time.
Passes went astray and mistakes were made with Doncaster looking increasingly nervous – a worryingly common reaction to going behind this season.
Dean Saunders’ side looked to have survived the remainder of the first half but were hit with a sucker punch in the dying moments.
Scott McDonald sent impressive substitute Faris Haroun clear down the right and Marvin Emnes got in ahead of Richard Naylor and flicked home the low cross under Neil Sullivan who could not scramble back in time.
It was a bitter blow for Rovers, particularly in the timing, and they never really returned to the strides they reached in the first half.
The pace of the match told on Doncaster, particularly for Sharp and Diouf whose effectiveness waned after the break.
Nevertheless it was a promising debut for controversial Senegalese striker Diouf who showed the impressive trickery and passing which Rovers will be looking to benefit from.
Boro’s ascent into full control was completed 18 minutes into the second half when Richard Naylor felled the twisting and turning Tony McMahon, giving referee Deadman little choice but to point to spot.
Robson stepped up for the penalty and although Sullivan got his hand to the ball, the power of the shot ensured it could not be kept out.
It could have been worse for Rovers as Boro continued to push forward but the hosts managed to limit the damage and even threatened themselves in the later stages.
George Friend – pushed into a rejigged four man midfield in the second half – had a couple of long range efforts saved by Steele.
Rovers: Neil Sullivan, Pascal Chimbonda, Shelton Martis, Richard Naylor, George Friend, Herita Ilunga, Simon Gillett, Ryan Mason (James Coppinger, 59), James Hayter (Kyle Bennett, 59), Billy Sharp, El Hadji Diouf (Giles Barnes, 73).
Subs not used: Jonathan Maxted, James O’Connor.
Middlesbrough: Jason Steele, Tony McMahon, Rhys Williams, Joe Bennett, Justin Hoyte (Faris Haroun, 22), Stephen McManus, Barry Robson, Matthew Bates, Scott McDonald, Marvin Emnes (Merouane Zemmama, 84), Nicky Bailey (Julio Arca, 70).
Subs not used: Tarmo Kink, Bart Ogbeche.
Referee: Darren Deadman