Oxford United 2 Doncaster Rovers 2: Timely show of guts and determination take McCann’s men onto cusp of play-offs
Just a few short days ago plenty were questioning whether Doncaster Rovers had the stomach for the play-off race.
A few short days later, there are few doubts over their intestinal fortitude for the battle ahead.
It was not perfect, nor was it without nervy moments. But the 2-2 draw with a confident Oxford United outfit was exactly what Rovers needed.
It delivered a vital point which, coupled with a shock defeat at Walsall for closest rivals Peterborough United, has put Rovers firmly in the driving seat for claiming sixth place in League One.
But it also showed this Rovers side are far from finished this season. With a potential further three games to come beyond next Sunday, that is music to the ears.
A disastrous Easter weekend of two defeats and disappointing, nervy performances had supporters rattled and the doubters growing in number. They were throwing it away.
Travelling to face one of the form teams in the division, it could not be said that the nerves had evaporated completely.
But the manner of the performance showed they are indeed capable of controlling them.
Rovers dealt with a rampant opposition, horrendous conditions and their own off-moments to fight back for a key point.
They now know a win next weekend against Coventry City will guarantee the final play-off place is taken by them.
And it may yet not get that far with Peterborough needing a win in their game in hand at Portsmouth on Tuesday night to continue their fight.
LEARNING AS THEY GO
If this was any old end of season clash, both sets of supporters would have left hailing an entertaining, open game with plenty of breathless action.
But one set of supporters were always going to feel more than a little nervous at the game playing out in such a manner.
That it was so open in the first half was certainly due in a large part to Rovers' poor play in possession. There seemed an overwhelming desire to move the ball quickly, resulting in first time passes, plenty of which failed to find their intended target.
And when they reached the final third, there was all of a sudden hesitation, a need to take too many touches, which again saw possession lost.
Oxford looked more incisive and dangerous for much of the first half despite Rovers taking a seventh minute lead when John Marquis powered a header home from a Mallik Wilks cross.
Being caught in possession lead to Oxford’s equaliser, with wide man Marcus Browne springing beyond Matty Blair, powering into the box and finishing confidently through the legs of Marko Marosi.
It looked set to be a disappointing afternoon with the manner in which Oxford started the second half – storming out of the blocks and netting a disallowed effort inside a minute.
And they followed up with James Henry doubling the advantage after seeing his initial effort from a Gavin Whyte pass sloppily saved by Marosi.
Henry then produced a sublime finish mere moments later, lobbing Marosi only to see his effort ruled out for a handball in the build-up.
But just as it looked as though Rovers would be thoroughly overran, they settled, switching into a 4-1-4-1 system that gave them solidity and numbers in the right areas of the pitch.
Passing grew ever more composed and calm, allowing them to build strong attacks and commit bodies forward.
It brought the equaliser, with youngster Nico Jones turning into his own goal under pressure as he met Danny Andrew’s rasping cross.
And Rovers would ultimately look the more likely to snatch a winner with Wilks missing a pair of gilt-edged opportunities.
The improved second half performance showed renewed and timely resolve and guts from Rovers.
MARQ OF QUALITY
As timely as the show of fortitude was, so was the impact of Marquis in both goal and performance terms.
For a player who typically scores goals in bunches, his 24th goal of the season – and 20th in the league – will hopefully be the start of a fresh run at the ideal time.
But also there was also a fresh busyness about his performance, getting involved in the right areas and with real threat after a few recent showings where frustration was the primary feeling.
Marquis showing what he is all about again could not have come at a more opportune moment.