Doncaster Rovers 1 Charlton Athletic 2: Unfancied Rovers can still gatecrash Wembley – match analysis
It has felt a little like Doncaster Rovers are the uninvited guests to the League One play-off party.
Hanging out in the VIP section are the former Premier League big boys – Sunderland, Portsmouth and Rovers’ semi-final opponents Charlton Athletic – all vying for their champagne moment at Wembley.
But, having squeezed in at the last minute, Rovers are not prepared to simply let the moment pass them by and slip out of a side door unnoticed.
Yes, they trail to Charlton after a first leg at the Keepmoat Stadium that went with the form book.
The Addicks were organised, imposing and assertive; everything you would expect from a team that has now won 11 of their last 14 games.
They also carried a serious threat in Lyle Taylor and Joe Aribo, who between them netted a quickfire first half double that left Doncaster punch drunk.
But thanks to Matty Blair’s 87th minute header the Rovers are still very much in the mix.
Charlton finished 15 points ahead of Rovers in the final league standings and, at times, that showed.
The visitors had that little bit more swagger and panache in the final third and their watertight defence appeared to be heading for an eighth clean sheet in their last ten games until Blair’s late intervention.
But, unlike their recent trip to Sunderland, there was no inferiority complex about the way Rovers competed, stuck to their game plan and simply refused to give up.
They face a very difficult task in turning the tie on its head in the return leg at The Valley on Friday night – where Charlton lost just twice in the league all season.
But guess who was the last team to win there? That’s right, Doncaster, in the FA Cup in December, albeit against a much-changed side.
It’s not over until it’s over and Rovers are still in there fighting.
HOW THE MATCH UNFOLDED
Charlton threw something of a curve ball at Rovers by lining up in a 3-5-2 fomation with Krystian Bielik playing as the right-sided centre back instead of in the holding midfield position where he shone in the 1-1 draw between these sides at the Keepmoat in March.
McCann relayed some early tactical information of his own as his team began the game in encouraging fashion, with a real eagerness not to allow Charlton time and space on the ball.
The Addicks' first serious attack on eight minutes ended with Josh Parker slotting home but the forward was adjudged to have fouled Andy Butler.
James Coppinger dragged a shot wide at the other end, while Herbie Kane and Butler did well to block attempts by Taylor and Aribo.
Both sides rather cancelled each other out during the early exchanges.
But Parker should have broken the deadlock after 20 minutes when Ben Purrington picked him out with a cross from the left and he guided his free header the wrong side of the post.
Rovers were being restricted to efforts from range and Coppinger, who was finding some useful pockets of space, brought a superb full length save out of Dillon Phillips with a shot that was heading for the bottom corner.
Moments later Danny Andrew's vicious curling free-kick from 30 yards out cannoned against the crossbar.
Now the game was starting to heat up.
Marko Marosi had to produce an excellent save low down to keep out Taylor, bailing out Paul Downing after the centre back's heavy touch allowed the Addicks' dangerman a sight of goal.
But it proved to be a very brief stay of execution as the away side stung Rovers with two goals in three minutes just after the half hour mark.
Firstly Taylor pounced from close range after Josh Cullen kept the ball in at the by-line and put it into a dangerous area.
Rovers fans felt Cullen was in an offside position but replays showed that he was onside and the cross that fell to him had flicked off the head of Butler.
There was nothing controversial about the second goal. It was just incredibly soft from a Doncaster perspective.
Taylor was able to play Aribo in all too easily in the right channel and the highly-rated youngster's shot lacked power but still found its way past Marosi who rather clothed his attempt to parry the shot.
The stuffing had been well and truly knocked out of Rovers.
Marosi, to his credit, prevented further damage before half time when the Slovakian got an important touch to a stinging effort from Albie Morgan.
Rovers, who emerged after the break without Coppinger, almost grabbed a lifeline five minutes into the second period when Butler's close range effort at the back post was blocked on the line by the impressive Cullen.
The hosts knew they would have to strike the next blow to stay in the contest and were eager to get on the front foot.
They kept on going, kept on playing, but lacked a little sparkle in the final third.
Kane shot wide from distance, Andrew caused consternation with another dangerous free-kick and from the resultant corner Butler headed wide at the back post.
Charlton fancied their chances of putting the tie to bed and Marosi had to keep out Parker's goalbound header.
They came within inches of scoring a killer third goal when a ball flashed across the area and Taylor just failed to connect.
But just moments later Rovers had a lifeline.
Wilks had switched to the left and his cross looped invitingly for Blair to pop up at the back post, beat his marker and send a downward header into the net.
Game on again. The Keepmoat faithful rallied and Rovers pressed for what had earlier looked like a very unlikely equaliser.
The closest they came was when the ball dropped for Wilks in the area but he could not keep his shot down.
For much of the second half it had looked like the tie was rather drifitng away from Doncaster. Charlton were in control.
But Blair’s goal changes everything. Rovers are right back in it.