Doncaster Rovers 2 Barnsley 2: Derby thriller provides grounds for optimism

Rovers clear the ball from danger
Rovers clear the ball from danger

Back in November, as the storm clouds gathered above Oakwell, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers played out a powder puff goalless draw.

Almost right on the final whistle, the heavens opened.

John Ryan strode purposefully into the Portakabin press room to explain his shock resignation, followed shortly by under pressure Tykes boss David Flitcroft.

Three weeks later Flitcroft was sent packing with his team bottom of the league. Doncaster, meanwhile, were embarking on a nine-game win-less streak.

Yep, winter was pretty bleak in South Yorkshire.

But on the evidence of Saturday’s fiery and frenetic derby, spring may yet prove to be a time of rejuvenation and renewed hope for both of these clubs.

You would have got long odds on both Rovers AND Barnsley surviving relegation after their sterile stalemate earlier in the season.

Indeed, with the Reds still languishing five points from safety, those odds will still be pretty long - and probability would suggest at least one of the region’s clubs will slip through the net come May.

That dog eat dog factor was only too evident at the Keepmoat Stadium as both sides went full throttle not just to boost their own survival hopes, but also in an attempt to hammer a nail into one of their nearest but not so dearest’s relegation coffin.

The outcome was a brutal, blockbuster of a game. It may have lacked quality in certain areas but this was an old-fashioned, blood and thunder derby that had everything the previous game at Oakwell did not: incident, controversy, goals and more than your fair share of fearsome 50/50s.

The combat began off the field when a smoke bomb was set off in the Barnsley end seconds after kick off. Passions were running high.

Metaphorically speaking, it lit the blue touch paper for a breathless encounter, one with a sting in the tail, one that showcased the renewed spirit of both of these clubs, one that - when the dust settled - even the most die-hard fans from both sides will probably admit a draw was a fair result.

And even after the game had finished the sparring between these two battle-weary sides was not over - as both managers attempted to trade psychological blows.

Barnsley began the brighter, but there had been little in the way of goalmouth incident when Rovers goalkeeper Sam Johnstone allowed the ball to bounce in the area, allowing Nick Proschwitz to beat him to it and tap into an empty net just before the half hour.

Moments later Doncaster were denied a certain penalty.

James Husband had his legs swiped from beneath him by former Rovers midfielder Martin Woods but referee Andy D’Urso - just a yard away - inexplicably turned his back on the action. Play on he waved, as a 100mph first half prepared for another twist.

When Martin Cranie headed home Woods’ corner, Doncaster appeared to have a mountain to climb. Only D’Urso had spotted a foul that no one else in the ground had.

It was the cue for Rovers to take control of the game, and the home side were back level right on half time when another goalkeeping error, this time a dropped cross from Luke Steele, allowed James Coppinger to gratefully tap home.

The goal galvanised Doncaster, who burst out of the blocks upon the restart.

Mark Duffy drew a stunning save out of Steele from a free kick and fired another low effort straight at him.

The warning signs were there, and on 55 minutes Rovers made their pressure pay. Chris Brown laid a ball to Coppinger, whose placed effort seemed to take a deflection before nestling in the corner.

But an absorbing contest was not over yet. Barnsley refused to lie down.

Proschwitz forced Johnstone into two smart saves, first from distance and then with a downward header, before Peter Ramage’s header came back off the bar.

When Jack Hunt dragged a late effort wide, Barnsley’s collective slumped shoulders suggested Rovers had done enough. Maybe the home side thought they had.

And, in a bizarre twist of fate, it was Proschwitz - a player Paul Dickov enquired about signing before landing the suspended Billy Sharp - who popped up in the 89th minute with a potentially vital equaliser, emphatically turning home Chris O’Grady’s cross.

“That’s two points dropped for Doncaster,” Danny Wilson pointed out post-match.

“I’d rather have the points on the board than games in hand,” proclaimed Dickov.

This relegation fight looks set to go down to the wire. Doncaster need to cut out conceding late goals, Barnsley the soft goals.

But, on the evidence of their latest meeting, both clubs have got plenty of fight left in them.

And whatever those odds are - of Doncaster and Barnsley both being in next season’s Championship - well it certainly doesn’t look as daft a bet as it did back in November.