Match report: Doncaster 3 Hartlepool 0

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IF Doncaster Rovers were a racehorse they would be leading at the final bend - and looking like they might just be about to kick-on for home.

At around 4.40pm on Saturday, with 10 minutes to play at the Keepmoat Stadium, Billy Paynter planted a firm head on James Husband’s pinpoint cross as Rovers cantered to victory against form team Hartlepool.

Up the road on Town Moor, almost in unison, the last race of the Jumps season at Doncaster Racecourse gave fans of the fences one last hurrah.

And while the champagne corks were no doubt popping at the race track, Rovers produced a bubbly performance which only enhanced the prospect of them doing exactly the same come the end of an intriguing League One season.

Top of the table Doncaster still have 11 big hurdles to jump in the promotion stakes. The champagne remains firmly on ice.

But on the evidence of this performance, they are about to sprint for home as they turn into the final straight.

For those who chose football over fillies at the weekend, Rovers delivered a thoroughbred performance.

Handicapped by a less than perfect pitch, against a Pools side unbeaten in seven whose early pinpoint passing belied their lowly league position, this had all the makings of a difficult afternoon.

But buoyed by a dramatic midweek win at Shrewsbury, workmanlike Rovers first set up a solid base and grew more into the game as it wore on, before picking off their plucky opponents with a touch of class in the final third.

After a shaky month or so, Doncaster once again looked like the well-oiled machine that has nudged the club ahead of the bunched up chasing pack.

On a day it was difficult to select a man of the match, with several outstanding candidates, this was a victory grounded in teamwork and togetherness.

But what has often made the difference this season, particularly in tight games, is the individual quality that Doncaster possess.

That quality, to score a goal out of nothing or provide a precision pass or finish, came to the fore again.

And the good news for Rovers fans is that their matchwinners, like Iain Hume, James Coppinger and David Cotterill, all seem to be moving up a gear as the finish line fast approaches.

Hume’s first ever league goal at the Keepmoat, as he skipped past his man before drilling low past the busy Scott Flinders, provided a portrait of just that type of quality.

But the relentless striker, who was given a breather by Brian Flynn just after the hour mark, was not the only one to impress.

Coppinger also turned back the clock with a string of intricate touches and continued clever movement.

When he poked home from close range after Husband’s shot was half blocked, it was a goal that was just reward for a fine display.

It also took the sting out of a spirited Hartlepool side who just seconds earlier could have equalised if Charlie Wyke had kept his header down from Evan Norwood’s outswinging corner.

By this time Rovers had the bit between their teeth, eager to improve their goal difference which could yet prove so vital in the final standings.

They were driven on by their two wide men, one a seasoned campaigner, the other a spritely teenager with the game at his feet.

Cotterill and Husband, both direct in their style and cultured in their delivery, are hitting form at just the right time.

Cotterill first picked out McCombe, whose looping header was superbly tipped over the bar by Flinders, before his expert deliveries from the right then saw chances go begging for Paynter and Rob Jones.

The lively Paynter, however, was not to be denied.

And he had Husband, who had been a constant menace on the left all afternoon, to thank for an inch perfect cross which he met with a delightful header to seal another confidence-boosting win.

Moments before Paynter’s clincher, veteran Steve Howard had headed Horwood’s deep cross against the outside of the post.

Fine margins perhaps. But there was a noticeable chasm between these two sides at both ends of the field.

While Pools appeared bright but also brittle, Rovers look to have stepped out of their mini-blip, refreshed and re-focused ahead of the final run-in.

It was not just their attacking players that shone in the gorgeous March sunshine either.

Jones looked back to his convincing best as he repeatedly towered above his man to head away danger, Paul Quinn continued his recent good spell with another marauding display, while Gary Woods put his recent errors to one side and was competent in his handling.

Rovers hit their straps on Saturday - now they must make sure they don’t fall at the final hurdle.