Doncaster Rovers: Enough in previous meetings with Charlton Athletic to be optimistic for play-offs
If it has not been hard enough for Doncaster Rovers to battle their way into the play-offs, the challenge ahead will be even more taxing.
Charlton Athletic were not only one of the form teams in League One as the regular season drew to a close, they have been one of the most dynamic and energetic to deal with as they have hit their stride.
Rovers have enough experience of the Addicks this season – with Sunday’s first leg set to be the fourth meeting between the sides this term.
And they will be fully aware of the threats Charlton possess from the previous three meetings – the first one in particular.
The trip to The Valley in November was, to that point, the worst performance from Rovers of the season – one arguably only eclipsed by the defeats to Luton Town and Accrington Stanley.
That day Charlton exposed a vulnerability in Rovers’ defensive line and ruthlessly exploited it to ensure once they got on top, they would not relent.
Rovers had started much the better and probably should have been ahead in the first 15 minutes. But it would not last.
Lofted balls were consistently played into the gaps between centre halves and full backs, allowing mobile players Lyle Taylor, Joe Aribo and Karlan Grant to get in behind.
Tom Anderson in particular was targeted with direct balls over his shoulder that he struggled to deal with.
The first goal conceded came from a corner, at the height of Rovers’ problems with defending set pieces that would be rectified soon after.
The psychological blow of another goal conceded in such a manner visibly deflated Rovers and allowed Charlton to run roughshod for the rest of the half before seeing out the game in incredibly comfortable fashion.
The second goal caught the defence napping again with Grant – now with Huddersfield Town – heading home after Taylor was allowed to work space for a cross on the left.
There may have been more than half a game of football to go but Rovers were done, and that was the most disappointing factor of the afternoon.
A month later came a second trip to The Valley, this time in the FA Cup, and it thankfully acted as a palate cleanser for what had come before.
In front of a paltry crowd, a much changed Charlton side offered far less of an opposition and Rovers strolled to a comfortable win, demonstrating a good professionalism in difficult conditions.
The return fixture at the Keepmoat mirrored the first meeting to an extent, though was far more competitive throughout.
Charlton started like a train and could easily have been two or three goals up inside the first 20 minutes.
But Rovers settled very well and were impressive on the counter.
It was also a day when they demonstrated the remarkable battling qualities which have helped them into the top six.
They recovered from falling behind on 72 minutes to level four minutes later and should have won the game in the dying moments, but for a controversial offside call that has never been fully explained.
Experience will tell Rovers to expect a tough test across the two legs.
But it will also provide confidence they can get the job done against the flying Addicks and reach Wembley.
Defeat came on one of their worst off days of the campaign. Victory may have been against a makeshift Charlton line-up but it required professional, composed heads.
And in drawing, Rovers showed themselves more than capable of pushing Charlton to the limits, after taking their best shots over the final 20 minutes.