Faal and Ironside strike in second half as Doncaster Rovers beat Colchester United to avoid third straight league defeat
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Second half goals from strike pair Mo Faal and Joe Ironside put Rovers firmly back into the ascendancy after Joseph Taylor had cancelled out team-mate Zach Mitchell’s own goal just after the half-hour mark.
Over 200 miles and a three-hour coach journey may separate the sides geographically, but only goal difference separated them in the League Two table. Three points, in Rovers’ favour, is the difference now, and it could feel like an even longer trip home back to Essex for the 159 hardy souls who braved the freezing South Yorkshire temperatures.
Ironside and Taylor were also neck and neck in the League Two top goalscorers chart. Both are now on eight, but one striker will be leaving the Eco-Power Stadium happier.
Grant McCann made two changes to the starting 11 which suffered the heartbreaking late defeat at play-off chasing Crewe Alexandra on Saturday, with Richard Wood and Tommy Rowe - who scored the winner the last time these two sides met in April - replacing Zain Westbrooke and Luke Molyneux, who both dropped to the bench.
The Rovers manager had insisted his side were “a match for any team in the division” after that 3-2 loss and they certainly proved difficult for a vulnerable Colchester outfit who had lost their own previous two league contests.
Their attacking intent was evident after only 90 seconds as Owen Bailey drove at the United defence and slipped a pass into Rowe on the left but his enticing cut-back found a yellow shirt instead of a red and white one and the early danger was cleared.
Rowe, Jack Senior and James Maxwell were combining well down the left, while Tom Nixon was on a solo mission on the right to cause continuous problems for his left back.
The Hull City loanee danced his way to byline in the ninth minute and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Faal - on loan from West Brom - but the Gambian striker could not keep his header down.
Faal was clearly on the hunt for his eighth goal of the season as he tried a spectacular acrobatic effort shortly after following Doncaster’s second corner of the night, but it flew narrowly wide.
It would have been the League Two version of ‘The Garnacho’.
Rovers were asserting their dominance with the ball, while the visitors looked dangerous on the counter attack.
Senior, the former captain at FC Halifax Town, received treatment following a late challenge by Tom Hopper. But the defender seemingly shook it off to prove pivotal for the opening goal as his in-swinging corner struck the unfortunate Mitchell before bobbling into the back of the net.
It was the bizarrest of goals, especially as the move before was the best of the first half, which culminated in Maxwell’s fierce angled drive being tipped around the post by Tom Smith.
The Colchester goalkeeper, however, couldn’t do anything about Mitchell’s decisive touch moments later.
Senior’s assist was his final contribution as he failed, ultimately, to shake off the knock, and United seemed to take advantage of perhaps the uncertainty his departure left in the home side’s defence with Taylor - who had been expertly denied by Louis Jones moments before - firing in a snap low drive from the edge of the box.
All of a sudden, the visitors were in the ascendancy themselves and they should have entered half-time with a slender lead but Jones, unbelievably, produced a miraculously double save to thwart Taylor and Mitchell, who was looking to make amends at the right end.
The half-time interval certainly came at a convenient time for the home side and McCann’s message at the break clearly did the trick as Rovers regained their composure at the start of the second half.
One man who didn’t seem composed was Smith in Colchester’s goal who rushed out of his area on the hour mark to bring down Faal. With a few yellow shirts back, the referee, Ben Toner, deemed it not to be a sending off, despite the loud protestations from the home stands.
Smith, however, was largely untroubled again until he was picking the ball out of his net in the 73rd minute when Faal got the goal his performance deserved, connecting well with his head following a great cross from substitute Molyneux to find the bottom corner.
Molyneux then tried his luck from range but Smith produced a sprawling save to his right. However, there was nothing the visiting stopper could do to save Ironside’s 87th minute penalty - awarded after a tired foul in the box - which crashed in off the bar to seal the points.
The visitors should have grabbed a consolation in stoppage time but the outstretched leg of Jones denied Bradley Ihonvien, as Rovers celebrated a fifth home league win in six games.
Doncaster: Jones, Maxwell, Anderson, Wood (C) (Broadbent 90), Rowe (Westbrooke 70), Nixon (Molyneux 70), Bailey, Ironside, Senior (Olowu 42), Close (Biggins 90), Faal
Subs: Lawlor, Olowu, Molyneux, Broadbent, Biggins, Hurst, Westbrooke
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 10
Colchester: Smith, Mitchell, Kelleher, Dallison (Jay 88), McGeehan, Read, Chilvers, Egbo, Cooper (Greenidge 65), Hopper (Ihionvien 76), Taylor
Subs not used: Bandeira, Kennedy, Terry, Collins
Shots on target: 7
Shots off target: 7
Referee: Ben Toner
Attendance: 5,412 (159 away)