Preston North End 1Â Doncaster Rovers 3: GrantÂ McCann's side power past Championship opposition into FA Cup fourth round
Doncaster Rovers powered into the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time in nine years with a superb performance against Championship side Preston North End.
Goals from John Marquis, Tom Anderson and Mallik Wilks saw Rovers deservedly triumph at Deepdale.
Cup progression aside, there was a real opportunity for Rovers in this tie to see just where they currently are in pecking order.
In their stride, brimming with confidence, scoring goals for fun and preventing them at the other end, they arrived at Deepdale to face a more than solid Championship outfit.
Preston boss Alex Neil named a strong side, making two changes from the defeat at Rotherham United on New Year's Day, ensuring plenty of second tier quality for Rovers to test their mettle against.
It was a test they relished.
They demonstrated that defensive resolve with real aplomb, rebuffing waves of Preston attack with little fuss, either with commanding headers from Andy Butler and Anderson or stepping into the path of passes.
But arguably their most pleasing attribute was the manner in which they counterattacked, breaking out of the middle of the pitch with incisive, quick passes to sweep up the field dangerously and in good number.
The start to the game certainly helped their efforts.
With just five minutes on the clock Matty Blair surged past Andrew Hughes to the byline in his side's first real foray into Preston territory.
The auxiliary right back stabbed a cross to the back post where Marquis rose and powered a header past debutant Preston keeper Michael Crowe.
The pattern of the game was set at this point - Preston enjoying the majority of the possession but Rovers looking to move the ball quickly and strike on breaks.
Mere moments after taking the lead they produced on such break with Herbie Kane touching the ball out of defence, Alfie May galloping forward and sending clear Mallik Wilks, who drilled a low effort narrowly wide.
Preston's Andrew Hughes smashed a brilliant volley from the edge of the box but Ian Lawlor was equal to it. The hosts were looking to work the ball down the flanks - particularly the left - and it took a smart block from Danny Andrew to prevent a cross from the lively Lukas Nmecha from finding a team mate.
While the hosts were building a head of steam, Rovers almost doubled their advantage when Marquis rose and powered a header, only for Graham Burke to hook off the line.
Mallik Wilks curled a loose ball narrowly wide of the post as Rovers continued to threaten on the break while Preston were struggling for clear cut chances.
They were almost gifted the leveller when Ben Whiteman sliced an attempted clearance over his shoulder only for Ian Lawlor to produce a brilliant reaction save.
And Preston came even closer on the stroke of half time when a Hughes piledriver beat Lawlor but rattled the post.
Preston sent on Alan Browne at the break in a bid to revive their fortunes but Rovers looked the more threatening in the early stages of the second halfÂ '“Â particularly Wilks.
He latched onto a short pass back and rounded Crowe but hit the sidenetting from a tight angle with Marquis arguably better placed.
And moments later he blazed over the bar '“Â again with Marquis in space '“Â after racing onto a pass from Ali Crawford.
But ten minutes into the second half the hosts levelled when Hughes outmuscled Butler at the back post to head home Paul Gallagher's corner.
Preston initially pushed after equalising and it took a fine double save from Lawlor to keep out a Darnell Fisher header and Daniel Johnson's follow-up.
But Rovers rallied superbly and again looked the more threatening side.
Substitute James Coppinger '“Â a real livewire following his introduction '“Â twice went close to putting Rovers back in front.
But it was an unlikely figure who edged them ahead. Butler looped a header on goal from a deep Danny Andrew free kick, the ball sailing over Crowe's head and sparking a scramble with Anderson just getting enough on the ball to take it over the line.
Preston should have levelled when Alan Browne rose unmarked at the back post but somehow headed wide.
But Rovers had the final say. Wilks raced towards a long ball forward and got a vital touch with his header to beat on-rushing keeper Crowe and slot into an empty net.
It was nothing more than Rovers deserved, showing that when it comes to the pecking order, they are not badly placed at all.
PRESTON: Crowe; Fisher, Huntington, Storey, Hughes; Ledson (Barker 60), Johnson; Barkhuizen, Burke (Browne 46), Gallagher; Nmecha (Maguire 74). Subs not used: Rudd, Earl, Clarke, Woods.
ROVERS: Lawlor; Blair, Anderson, Butler, Andrew; Crawford (Rowe 85), Whiteman, Kane; Wilks (Sadlier 89), Marquis, May (Coppinger 64). Subs not used: Marosi, Horton, Lewis, Greaves.
REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire)
More to follow