From joy to devastation in 12 months - remembering Doncaster Rovers' final day disaster at Leicester City

There are not many greater contrasts in final day fortunes for a single club than those of Doncaster Rovers in 2013 and 2014.
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On April 27, 2013, they won the League One title after 18 seconds of injury time madness at Griffin Park, when Brentford missed a penalty that would have taken the Bees up automatically at their expense and Rovers broke up to the pitch to score the winner and leapfrog Bournemouth into top spot.

One year and six days later, Rovers were in a similarly high stakes encounter.

That one, on May 3, 2014, did not go so well.

CChris Brown, Enda Stevens and Gabriel Tamas leave the pitch at Leicester dejected after Rovers' relegationCChris Brown, Enda Stevens and Gabriel Tamas leave the pitch at Leicester dejected after Rovers' relegation
CChris Brown, Enda Stevens and Gabriel Tamas leave the pitch at Leicester dejected after Rovers' relegation
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Championship survival had looked a mere formality for Rovers after a memorable win at Leeds United in March.

With seven games to go, they were eight points clear of the drop.

As matters would transpire, Rovers would only need two points from those final seven matches to survive.

But after beating Leeds - their fourth win in six matches - Rovers lost their next four, including the next game against relegation rivals Birmingham City, which would prove incredibly damaging when all was said and done.

Paul Dickov remonstrates with referee Paul Tierney after the gamePaul Dickov remonstrates with referee Paul Tierney after the game
Paul Dickov remonstrates with referee Paul Tierney after the game
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Nerves grew, anger began to bubble in some, while others remained optimistic that Rovers surely could not throw away such a strong position.

A draw at Millwall broke the losing run. Rovers’ cause was hindered by a red card for Abdoulaye Meite just before the break.

"I'm immensely proud of the players, especially the second-half performance,” said manager Paul Dickov.

"You talk about players putting bodies on the line for the club and for the fans and their team-mates and I had that in abundance in the second half.”

Dean Furman slides in on Lloyd DyerDean Furman slides in on Lloyd Dyer
Dean Furman slides in on Lloyd Dyer
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Though Rovers battled admirably, Meite’s dismissal was a ready made excuse as the pressure continued to mount with two games to go.

By this point, their seven point cushion had been deflated to just one.

Rovers closed their home campaign with an expected 3-1 defeat to play-off chasing Reading. The season was going to the last game.

Birmingham entered the final week occupying the final relegation place, a point behind Rovers and with a game in hand. But they lost at home to Wigan Athletic, keeping Rovers in the driving seat.

Leicester celebrate winning the Championship titleLeicester celebrate winning the Championship title
Leicester celebrate winning the Championship title

The road ahead was far from smooth however.

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Hosting Rovers on the final day of the season were champions Leicester City - a win for whom would take them past the 100 point mark for the campaign.

Dickov’s presence in the Rovers dugout was an interesting note, and one that certainly seemed to be more than a mere sideshow as the afternoon wore on, despite his attempts to play it down.

After the Reading defeat he said: "Now it's all down to the last match against my old club, who won't be doing us any favours.

“But I'm still confident we can avoid going down.”

At the start of that final week of the season, Dickov stood with the Free Press sports desk, enjoying a drink or two at The Star Football Awards.

Paul Keegan, Paul Quinn and Jamie McCombe of Doncaster look dejected after relegation is confirmedPaul Keegan, Paul Quinn and Jamie McCombe of Doncaster look dejected after relegation is confirmed
Paul Keegan, Paul Quinn and Jamie McCombe of Doncaster look dejected after relegation is confirmed
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He was incredibly relaxed and exuded confidence about how the next few days would pan out.

“We’ll be fine,” was uttered on several occasions, always with a smile and the steely look that suggested questioning the assertion was not wise.

Dickov signed off that evening with the same and there was little doubt among the group that he at least was convinced of Rovers’ survival.

That day at Leicester was warm. The sun was shining and the home fans were in party mood with the trophy presentation to follow the game.

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Of course, it was a much more nervy occasion for the away supporters clustered in one corner of the magnificent King Power Stadium.

But they were in good voice, joined by former chairman John Ryan, who had quit earlier in the season with he and his fellow owners no longer seeing eye to eye.

And Rovers were greeted with warmth by Leicester supporters.

Dickov was serenaded even more warmly by them than the fans of his own club - his 20 goals which helped the Foxes into the Premier League in 2003 fondly remembered.

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As the game kicked off and ambled on, it was hard not to feel that Leicester really did not want to play a part in relegating Rovers that day.

A side that had won two thirds of their games to that point and were clearly far too good for the level showed little of that against Rovers. They were stuck in first gear and showed little desire to shift up.

Rovers had sought to contain them, with Dickov opting for a 5-4-1 system that packed the back line with defenders who had performed well, including Meite, Gabriel Tamas and Lucas Neill.

It also left Billy Sharp on the bench.

Sharp had spent the second half of the season back on loan with Rovers but had not replicated his previous form at the club. Nevertheless, with Rovers’ Championship status hanging by a thread, it seemed a strange decision to leave him out.

The game moved on as a stroll.

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And when Bolton Wanderers went ahead against Birmingham on 57 minutes, the away end erupted. Amazingly, chants about staying up spread around the King Power. Leicester fans were delighted for Dickov and his side.

Dark clouds began to appear somewhat on 75 minutes however.

The tricky Riyad Mahrez looked to beat James Husband and dart into the box but was brought down and referee Paul Tierney pointed to the spot.

It did not take replays to show the foul was not inside the box. Replays did show however that despite Husband’s lunge of a tackle, he never got near to connecting with Mahrez.

David Nugent rolled in the penalty. The thread keeping Rovers in the second tier frayed a little.

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But it was bolstered again within moments when news filtered through of a second for Bolton against Birmingham.

The Blues hit back two minutes later, sending the nervous energy sky rocketing again. At that stage, a goal for Birmingham would have been enough to keep them up and send Rovers down.

Dickov threw on Sharp, Enda Stevens and Harry Forrester in quick succession, trying his hardest to push for an equaliser that would have made Rovers’ advantage more tangible.

The seconds ticked by at an agonisingly slow rate, each one taking Rovers closer to survival but each one seemingly taking longer to pass.

Added time arrived.

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And then, in a moment that will stick with me for the rest of my life, so did news that Birmingham had levelled at Bolton. I turned to my colleagues and could barely get out the line ‘Birmingham have equalised.’

A hush fell over the King Power. The party was halted. You could see on the pitch that the Rovers players knew what had happened.

There was nothing left in them to try to push for an equaliser of their own in those final few seconds, when time all of a sudden had seemed to speed up once again.

At the final whistle they slumped to the floor.

Leicester’s celebrations were muted, out of respect and what genuinely seemed like sympathy.

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The party would soon be back on once Rovers had retreated into the bowels of the stadium.

Dickov and player of the season Chris Brown both spoke to the media afterwards. Neither wanted to be there, particularly Brown whose eyes remained red and his voice never got above much more than a whisper.

The contrast from a year earlier, when the hard working striker leapt around the pitch at Griffin Park, could not have been more stark.

Dickov effectively closed himself off from the outside world until pre-season, unable to talk about the manner in which his side were relegated.

Rovers headed back to League One in heartbreaking fashion.

They have yet to return to the Championship - that last day at Leicester remaining one of the great ‘what-if’ moments in the history of the club.

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