The Takeaway: A brilliant fight back from Doncaster Rovers at Peterborough United brings more frustration than joy
When this fixture was rescheduled, it brought a big smile to the face.
The mouthwatering prospect of a high-stakes clash between two promotion rivals inside the final fortnight of the campaign had been laid out on the table.
At the time of the announcement of the new date of their trip to London Road, Doncaster Rovers led Peterborough United by two points in the standings, having played two games fewer. They also sat six points off top spot in League One with three games in hand.
From that date until the one where the fixture finally took place, Rovers won just four of 20 matches. In contrast, Peterborough triumphed in 12 of 19.
And as they lined up against each other, Rovers trailed Posh by 22 points, hammering home the magnitude of their horrendous decline.
There were few smiles at the prospect of finally meeting Peterborough, despite their impressive recent record at London Road.
Yet, they departed with another notable result against Posh under their belts and the sort of smiles on faces that have been absent for some time.
Also, an unshakable feeling of frustration that there have been so few occasions when such heart, battle and determination have been present in the last three months.
Fighting back from two goals down to earn a point against a side who needed all three to secure promotion was a remarkable result.
But it only brought the big question of ‘what if’ when it came to Doncaster Rovers.
For the opening half hour of this fixture, it looked all set to be the sorry evening many would have predicted beforehand.
The gulf in class between the sides was frankly embarrassing with Posh dancing rings around Rovers, who simply could not lay a glove on them in both attacking and defensive terms.
The relentless attacking aggression displayed by Peterborough unsettled Rovers and they could not calm themselves down.
Peterborough strolled around the pitch before Joe Ward was given all the time in the world to pick his spot from 15 yards and hand the hosts a tenth minute lead.
Posh dominated with Louis Jones denying Jonson Clarke-Harris before Tom Anderson cleared off the line from Siriki Dembele.
But Rovers could only hold off the onslaught for so long. The ball was gifted to Peterborough 30 yards out and Jack Taylor pulled it back for Sammie Szmodics to slide a shot in past a scrambling Rovers defence.
It was time to fear the worst as booming fireworks erupted over London Road, set off by supporters keen to start their celebrations early.
Amazingly, they did prove to be premature.
On 38 minutes Fejiri Okenabirhie rifled home a brilliant strike from Jason Lokilo’s smart knockdown.
And with that one goal, Rovers were resurrected into the side they were at the turn of the year.
Driven forward by Lokilo - never better in Rovers colours - they attacked with confidence and endeavour to take a game that should have been dead and buried to an opposition that all of a sudden began to look shellshocked.
The introduction of Taylor Richards at half time strengthened their foothold in the contest and it became one of the most entertaining spectacles Rovers had been involved in for some time.
And just before the hour Richards struck, latching onto a cutback from Lokilo to fire home.
At that stage, it was anyone’s game. If anything, Rovers looked the more likely to go on and win it.
Lokilo was unfortunate not to cap his performance with a goal, denied twice by former Rovers loanee Josef Bursik.
But Louis Jones needed to be strong too, producing a phenomenal stop to keep out a close range volley from Mark Beevers that could hardly have been better struck.
All square would be how it ended, denying Posh the chance of promotion on the night and giving Rovers a much-needed shot in the arm.
They had spoiled the party and deservedly so. They had rattled one of the two best sides in the division despite being down to the bare bones following a brush with Covid-19 denying them four players.
They had ridden through an awful start to the game which left them 2-0 down and seemingly set for a thumping by a rampant opposition.
It was a thoroughly impressive result and 60 minute performance.
But there was quickly the reminder that it was too little, too late for Andy Butler’s men.
Memories of a meek, weak and brittle side are embedded in the forefront of minds. Thoughts of the heights reached come with those of a feeble and unimaginably poor decline. Of a missed opportunity.
Replicating the performance over the final three matches of the season will restore some pride in what has been an exceptionally difficult three months to stomach.
But banishing those thoughts of what might have been will prove impossible.