Analysis: Vibrant display against Hartlepool just what Doncaster Rovers needed
Three points AND a good performance were required against Hartlepool United.
And it was exactly what Doncaster Rovers delivered.
By their own admission, standards had dropped in recent matches.
Sandwiched in between unconvincing wins against Colchester and Exeter, Rovers shipped four at Blackpool, threw away two points against Wycombe and went out of the FA Cup with a whimper.
So there was a genuine need for more control, composure and energy on Saturday - and Rovers showed all of those qualities to beat a plucky Pools outfit in dramatic fashion.
Liam Mandeville was once again the hero, popping up with a 90th-minute tap-in after good work from John Marquis.
But, unlike at Exeter last weekend, this victory was not down to an individual but rather a team who executed their pressing and passing game plan, in spells, as well as they have done all season.
After setting a lively tempo from the off, Rovers were full value for the lead given to them midway through the first half when Marquis - who had earlier seen a goal controversially chalked off for handball - superbly headed home James Coppinger’s left-wing cross.
Just seconds earlier, goalkeeper Ross Etheridge - a replacement for Marko Marosi who went off with blurred vision - had almost gifted Pools the lead moments after coming on.
Padraig Amond latched on to his stray pass but saw his curled effort bounce off the post and back into Etheridge’s grateful arms.
Rovers had control but surrendered it during the closing stages of the first half and, after needlessly giving the ball away, conceded a penalty when the otherwise impressive Mathieu Baudry bundled over Amond in the box.
The Hartlepool striker certainly made the most of it, and then sent Etheridge the wrong way to hand his side a scarcely-deserved equaliser.
The second period belonged to Rovers too and, although Pools threatened a late smash and grab, there was a slight air of inevitability about the winner.
Marquis had already squirmed two good chances, and Coppinger and Jordan Houghton saw decent efforts saved, before Mandeville turned Johnny-on-the-spot.
QUIRK OF FATE
When former Rovers captain Rob Jones came off the bench for Pools in the closing stages, you wondered what the footballing gods had planned.
However, the visitors’ reorganisation at the back appeared to play into Rovers’ hands as Marquis suddenly found space to latch on to a through-ball and square unselfishly for Mandeville.
Jones had headed a dramatic last-gasp equaliser for Doncaster at Hartlepool when these two sides were last in the same division. The rest is history as Rovers went on to win League One. Good teams score important late goals ...
“It’s getting to a point where teams could be beaten before they’ve even turned up.”
Those were the rather bold words of Matty Blair in the build-up to Saturday’s game - but Rovers’ vibrant performance backed up the confidence and belief that has snowballed on home soil.
Doncaster are now unbeaten in 12 league games at the Keepmoat - the kind of home form which is a prerequisite for promotion and also a refreshing U-turn on their recent failings at home.
The former Millwall striker is becoming a real favourite of the crowd and media alike.
He oozed character and quick wit in his post-match interview - slating the programme-writer who said he was 32 years old and referring to ‘Frenchy’ (Mathieu Baudry) and a very frank exchange with Pools defender Aristote Nsiala after the centre-back’s barge on Mandeville.
Darren Ferguson said last week Marquis ‘was exactly what this club needed’. He sure is.