Analysis: Doncaster Rovers 1 Stoke City 2 - Rovers lose tie but win over the doubters

Doncaster Rovers' Nathan Tyson (left) celebrates with Cedric Evina after equalising against Stoke City
Doncaster Rovers' Nathan Tyson (left) celebrates with Cedric Evina after equalising against Stoke City

Sadly, Doncaster Rovers will be absent from tonight’s FA Cup draw.

But they could at least claim a moral victory, of sorts, after taking Premier League Stoke City all the way in an absorbing third round clash.

Doncaster's Nathan Tyson equalises against Stoke

Doncaster's Nathan Tyson equalises against Stoke

Reflecting on a one-off cup tie, it might sound strange to say it was not all about the result on Saturday.

Usually, that is the only thing that matters. Just make it into the hat, they say.

But for a Rovers side that failed to turn up in front of an inflated Boxing Day gathering against local rivals Scunthorpe, in their last home game, getting the right sort of performance mattered even more.

And in front of the biggest Keepmoat Stadium crowd for almost five years (13,299) - and probably the noisiest since the ground opened - they delivered exactly that.

So the Potters might have booked a place in the last 32 thanks to classy goals from Peter Crouch and Jon Walters - and also a fair share of good fortune.

But Doncaster should take great heart and confidence from the way they competed against Stoke’s ‘second string’ stars.

It was not just a case of competing either. Rovers had more than enough chances to at least earn a replay.

Two of the best of those opportunities came in stoppage time as Darren Ferguson’s men simply refused to allow Stoke an easy passage.

Nathan Tyson, who had earlier cancelled out Crouch’s opener, turned and fired over from close range, before Andy Butler got underneath Curtis Main’s excellent cross and headed over from point blank range.

However, the gasps of disappointment from a thoroughly entertained crowd turned to roars of appreciation at the final whistle, which must have been music to Ferguson’s ears.

When his side return to League One duties at home to Gillingham next weekend, they might take more than a bit more confidence with them. They might take a few more fans with them too.

Because, unlike Boxing Day, the wavering Rovers supporters who are choosing not to turn up week in week out had this time seen what their team under Ferguson are all about. And after witnessing this kind of display, one that lacked absolutely nothing in terms of spirit and desire, they might just be tempted to come back for more.

“I’ve not been for a while and I was really impressed,” one fan told me after the game.

He won’t have been alone. Although things did not get off to the best of starts for Rovers.

The home side actually looked fairly settled during the early exchanges and recorded the first serious attempts on goal too. Cedric Evina tested Jakob Haugaard’s handling with a shot from distance and then Andy Williams’ header from Evina’s cross had to be dealt with by Jack Butland’s deputee.

But gradually Stoke began to see more of the ball and it was not long before they converted that possession into a goal.

Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, who might have still been getting his breath back from a foray into the final third, was beaten too easily by Joselu whose cross from the right was expertly flicked home by Crouch.

For a very small period after that goal you feared slightly for Rovers. Stoke pushed out their chests and for Doncaster it was a case of hanging on in there at 0-1 for a while.

However, they did better than that. Much better.

Just ten minutes after falling behind they were back on level terms - in almost unimaginable fashion.

Luke McCullough, not known for his ball carrying ability, set out from his own half, kept running, saw a gap, kept going, and all of a sudden found himself in the box.

He stayed cool to square it perfectly for Tyson, who saw his first effort superbly saved by Haugaard but pounced on the rebound to prod Rovers level and send three sides of the Keepmoat wild with delight.

Thorsten Stuckmann had to get down to keep out a shot on the turn from Mame Diouf, while at the other end Williams appeared to rattle City centre back Philipp Wollscheid with his sheer persistence. A 1-1 scoreline at the break was very fair.

Rovers began the second period with more purpose than the visitors and went close through Conor Grant from just outside the box.

The hosts had a good case for a penalty when the marauding Alcock looked to be hauled back in the box by Diouf.

Stoke’s main threat was on the counter attack and when Rovers surrendered possession deep in City territory, they found themselves in trouble. Charlie Adam led the breakaway, fed Walters, whose cross was met by Diouf’s header. Stuckmann was at full length to keep it out but somehow Crouch contrived to put the rebound over with the goal at his mercy.

The contender for miss of the season was a massive let-off. But within 60 seconds Rovers shot themselves in the foot and fell behind again.

Stuckmann’s dreadfully scuffed goal kick was seized upon by Crouch and the ball eventually fell to Walters who unleashed a stunning shot from 25 yards into the top corner.

Rovers again responded well to going behind and came within inches of an equaliser when a half cleared corner reached Alcock who smashed a shot just wide.

Ferguson’s men simply refused to throw in the towel during a rousing finish. Andy Butler headed Richard Chaplow’s cross onto the bar, before Tyson and Butler saw their glorious stoppage time chances come and go.

Rovers had lost the tie, much to their disappointment. But this display should have won over several wavering fans.