Match analysis and highlights: Coventry win makes a mockery of Rovers' perilous position
Ifs, buts and maybes. It has been one of those seasons.
Let’s not beat about the bush here, Doncaster Rovers’ wholehearted display in their must-win clash with Coventry City made a complete mockery of the position the club currently finds itself in.
A relentless performance full of hunger and desire, when the pressure was really on, did not just keep the survival bid alive for another week at least.
But it also showcased a team that, quite simply, should be nowhere near the cliff edge it is currently hanging off.
After 44 games Rovers deserve to be exactly where they are. They have not been good enough.
But if they drop over the side into the depths of League Two they will only have themselves to blame and it would represent abject failure at every level of the club: players, management and also above that.
Because as Darren Ferguson’s men swarmed all over the Sky Blues in the first half and completed the job with minimum fuss in the second period, just a week after also ending Wigan’s 20-game unbeaten run, one has every right to question just how on earth Doncaster can play like this yet find themselves in such an atrocious position?
If only they had shown this sort of spirit, fight and determination earlier this year - or indeed under Ferguson’s two predecessors earlier in the season.
If only they had signed Tommy Rowe and Gary McSheffrey sooner than they actually did.
But for some awful finishing and, at times, schoolboy defending, Rovers would already be safe.
But for the collective failure of taking four points from a possible 48 following the win at Southend they would be well clear of trouble.
Maybe things might have been different had experience been added to the squad rather than removed from it in January, or had the in-form Luke McCullough not wasted his time with Northern Ireland over Easter.
Maybe there is another twist in the tale yet though.
Maybe, just maybe, Rovers are heading for yet another final day drama.
That they are still in with a fighting chance of keeping their heads above water is down to a team performance built on sheer endeavour, and also one of the best individual performances seen at the Keepmoat Stadium by a player wearing red and white in a long time.
The aforementioned Rowe epitomised Rovers’ renewed energy and vigour. He covered every blade of grass, pressed constantly, won the ball back regularly, linked midfield and attack superbly at the tip of the midfield diamond and, for good measure, scored the vital first goal of the game to settle a few early nerves.
McSheffrey was the provider of that goal before he jarred his knee and limped off, back to Scunthorpe United for a scan. With one goal and six assists to his name during his brief stay, Rovers fans will hope they have not seen the last of him.
That Rovers have come to rely so heavily on loan players is quite telling in itself. The depth of the squad has yet again been an issue.
Riccardo Calder, another who gave absolutely everything for the cause despite his temporary contract, sent the first shot just wide after some harrying from Rowe.
Coventry, who harboured very slim hopes of still reaching the top six, offered a threat going forward and McCullough had to make an important block to deny Adam Armstrong from close range.
There was an inevitable air of tension around the Keepmoat given the do-or-die context for the hosts, but there was a collective sigh of relief when Rowe met McSheffrey’s 21st minute corner at the near post and the ball nestled into the net.
The goal only served to increase Rovers’ already impressive work rate.
Remi Matthews had to make an important save with his legs to keep out Armstrong but for the rest of the opening period the visitors were completely smothered by Doncaster’s relentless pressing.
The home side pressed home their dominance by doubling their lead on 32 minutes when Nathan Tyson, on for McSheffrey, was released in the left channel by Cedric Evina and sent over a perfect cross for Andy Williams to head home his first goal in open play since mid-January.
Unsurprisingly, the second half became more about containing Coventry than pressing high up the pitch. The tempo dropped, but Rovers’ exceptional work ethic did not.
Andy Butler, a tower of strength at the back all afternoon, came close to a third when his header from a corner was saved by Reice Charles-Cook.
Coventry’s goalkeeper later had to divert a downward header from Tyson wide, while at the other end Matthews made a strong save low down to his left to keep out James Maddison.
If only Rovers had been as combative and clinical as this on a more regular basis.
But it’s not over just yet.
Maybe they can actually pull off the great escape.
Ifs, buts and maybes.
Rovers: Matthews 7, Lund 6, Alcock 7, Butler 8, Evina 6, McCullough 7, Coppinger 6, Calder 7 (Middleton 79), Rowe 9, McSheffrey 7 (Tyson 28, 7), Williams 7. Subs not used: Stuckmann, MacKenzie, Taylor-Sinclair, Mandeville, Stewart.
Coventry: Charles-Cook 6, Ricketts 5, Stephens 5, Martin 5, Phillips 5, Vincelot 5 (Gadzhev 58), Fleck 5, Jones 6 (Tudgay 58), Murphy 5 (Maddison 69), Rose 5, Armstrong 5. Subs not used: Lameiras, Lorentzson, Fortune, Addai.
Referee: Darren Handley (Lancashire)