Valiant Doncaster Rovers suffer penalty heartache in play-off semi-final at Charlton Athletic
'We're proud of you.’
The chant that rang out from the away end at the end of extra time spoke volumes and could not have been more deserved.
Doncaster Rovers fought without fear, battled with real endeavour and showed tremendous character.
They took a play-off tie no one expected them to win as far as it could possibly go.
But it just was not to be for Doncaster Rovers.
The size of the task on their visit to The Valley always looked a colossal one. Only, you would not have known it with the manner in which Rovers approached it.
They pushed and pushed, demonstrating a work rate worthy of such a do or die occasion.
And they got the win on the night they needed.
But when it came down to penalties, they had gone as far as they could go.
If the damage was done in a first leg won 2-1 by Charlton Athletic, it was only worsened when Krystian Bielik headed the hosts further ahead with just two minutes on the clock.
Skipper Tommy Rowe drilled Rovers level on the night only eight minutes later, setting up a battle in which the visitors were rarely off the front foot.
Just when it looked as though their efforts would go unrewarded, Andy Butler powered in a header to draw the tie level and set up a period of extra time where the intensity levels refused to drop.
Rovers would go ahead for the first time in 190 minutes of the semi-final through a deft header from John Marquis.
But quick as a flash Charlton were level with a scrambled effort from substitute Darren Pratley.
It ensured two exhausted teams were taken to the penalty spot.
And misses from Marquis and then Rowe would ensure a defeat in the most heartbreaking of manners.
The air of expectancy around The Valley was palpable well before kick-off. Outside there appeared to be few nerves among a Charlton fanbase that had smiles on their faces.
And as the stands filled up in the build-up to the first whistle, the noise grew and grew. A party was underway in south London.
Rovers' job was that of chief party-poopers as they looked to ensure sixth place was not indeed the peak of their achievements in a brilliant season.
But their start could hardly have been more disastrous.
In a scenario where staying in touch was vital, Rovers quickly found Charlton slipping away as Bielik powered a header beyond Marko Marosi with just two minutes in the clock.
With the noise inside The Valley only increasing, Charlton looked rampant and flooded forward with Rovers seemingly unable to hold onto the ball.
Albie Morgan slammed into the sidenetting after a rapid break from half way before Anfernee Dijksteel tested Marosi with a shot from distance.
But then came the lifeline. Herbie Kane produced the most deft of flicks forward which Rowe ran onto and smashed a low shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
The noise level in The Valley dipped and Rovers rose. They began to play the ball with real confidence, producing the sort of zippy passing triangles that brought so much success earlier in the season.
Rovers began to show the composure on the ball they needed, not rushing things and biding their time.
And when out of possession, they pressed superbly to force errors from the hosts in the middle of the park.
What was lacking were the clear cut chances they so sorely sought.
Ben Whiteman curled wide and James Coppinger drew a save from Phillips after jinking his way across the face of the area.
Rovers though continued to take the initiative, with Danny Andrew heading wide from a Wilks cross.
Attacks for Charlton broke down all too easily but they showed their threat late in the first half when Josh Cullen fired over the bar.
The pattern of the game continued in the second half with Rovers looking to force the issue.
Herbie Kane caught Tommy Rowe off guard with an early cross and the skipper could only turn his header wide.
Clear cut chances for either side proved harder and harder to come by.
It looked as though Charlton had put the game to bed in the dying moments when Parker slid in to meet Taylor's drilled cross but he poked wide at the near post.
Rovers were not done however and, just as they had done in the first leg, they grabbed a vital late goal.
Butler rose at the back post to meet an excellent corner from substitute Ali Crawford and power in a header to force extra time.
Charlton produced their best period since the opening moments of the game as they showed renewed vigour and threat in the first half of extra time.
But after big pressure from the hosts, Rovers caught them out.
Alfie May carried the ball to half way and fed Wilks who dinked a cross to the back where Marquis was unmarked to simply nod in from close range.
But before Rovers could even begin to absorb their lead, Charlton struck back with Prately turning in from close range only a minute later.
It went to the spot, with Chris Solly, Josh Cullen, Lyle Taylor and Joe Aribo for Charlton and Ben Whiteman, Kieran Sadlier and Ali Crawford for Rovers all scoring before Marquis saw his penalty saved.
Naby Sarr was also denied by Marosi but Rowe sent the final spot kick well wide to hand Charlton the win.