Doncaster Rovers 2 Oxford United 2: Plenty of festive cheer at Rovers but this party never got going  - analysis

It felt like a Christmas party that never quite got going as Doncaster Rovers' winning run came to end against in-form Oxford United.

Sunday, 23rd December 2018, 6:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 4:00 pm
James Coppinger made his 600th Rovers appearance against Oxford United. Picture Scott Merrylees

But, despite shipping a sobering 97th minute equaliser, Rovers should not be lacking festive cheer.

Josh Ruffels' last gasp leveller certainly dampened the current feel-good factor at the Keepmoat Stadium.

But it should not detract from an excellent first half of the season and nor should it affect confidence levels ahead of this week's away double-header at Fleetwood Town and Gillingham.

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It might sound strange to say it after being just seconds away from a fifth straight win but Rovers were quite fortunate to come away with a point against an impressive Oxford side.

They got away with one. They didn't perform anywhere near their best.

Had Alfie May's 90th minute strike proved to be decisive then this game would have been filed firmly under the '˜winning without playing well' category and quickly forgotten about.

It was a memorable occasion only because it marked James Coppinger's 600th appearance for Doncaster.

But when the veteran's untimely slip allowed Gavin Whyte to equalise, cancelling out Ben Whiteman's first half penalty, there was a sense that things were not going to plan.

Oxford were slicker in possession, sharper in the final third. Ian Lawlor in the Rovers goal was kept busy all afternoon.

Doncaster, in contrast, were flat by their recent standards. Grant McCann's men were unable to get a grip on proceedings and rarely troubled Simon Eastwood in the visitors' goal.

Still, they would have danced the night away regardless had May's first first league goal of the season turned out to be the winner.

Instead Ruffels left them with a minor hangover, but it should not be one they can't shake off well before Boxing Day.

STEP UP IN QUALITY

Rovers had brushed aside Scunthorpe United in their previous outing and eased to victory at struggling Bristol Rovers the week before.

But in Oxford they faced a side high on confidence and whose league position seemingly belies the quality they possess.

Karl Robinson's team bossed the opening quarter and came closest to breaking the deadlock when John Marquis of all people had to clear John Mousinho's header off the line.

But, totally against the run of play, Whiteman stroked home from the spot after referee Alan Young ruled that Andy Butler was hauled down by Rob Dickie.

Marquis and Ali Crawford might have doubled that lead but, following the re-start, it was Oxford again who called the shots and eventually, thanks to Coppinger's slip, made it count through the impressive Whyte.

A draw looked the most likely outcome from that point, but nobody envisaged such late drama.

BEAT THE BEST

Behind a pleasing-on-the-eye Luton Town side and professional Sunderland outfit, Oxford were up there as one of the best teams to visit the Keepmoat this season.

Indeed, McCann said they were the best.

And therein lies the challenge for Rovers in the second half of the season: to start beating the best.

It could ultimately prove to be the difference between finishing sixth and seventh.

A points tally of 39 points from 23 games is a solid return and replicating that between now and May will get Doncaster close to where they want to finish.

But to seal a top six finish you get the feeling they will have to beat more of the teams around them in the table.

Out of the current top six Rovers have only managed to beat Luton so far.

The next opponents, Fleetwood, will provide a stiff test too. Rovers will need to show they are not just '˜flat track bullies' if they are serious about the play-offs.