How we reported Doncaster Rovers’ triumph over Leeds United in the 2008 League One play-off final

Fifty years. It had been half a century since Doncaster Rovers had played in the second tier of English football.

Monday, 25th May 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 11:50 pm
The Rovers side celebrate with goalscorer James Hayter. Picture: Marie Caley

Standing in the way of a glorious return, capping the most wonderful resurrection from the depths of despair, were the fallen giants of Leeds United.

What played out over 95 minutes at Wembley will go down as one of the greatest days in Rovers history.

Here, we bring you our match report from that day in May 2008, written by former Free Press sports editor Peter Catt.

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Paul Green on the ball against Leeds. Picture: Marie Caley

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It can’t get much better than this. Or can it?

Every time Rovers have been asked to step up to the plate on the big occasion in recent years they have emerged triumphant.

The Britannia Stadium in 2003, the Millennium Stadium in 2007 and now they can add Wembley 2008.

James Coppinger and Richie Wellens celebrate with the play-off trophy. Picture: Marie Caley

Getting out of the Conference was a massive step but this was the greatest occasion of all and Rovers showed their ecstatic fans once more that when they are given the chance to perform on the big stage they are not found wanting.

The atmosphere was awesome but Rovers refused to be fazed and stayed in the zone and just like last year in Cardiff they made a whirlwind start.

They could have been two goals in front in the first 11 minutes but were foiled by the brilliance of 6ft 3in Danish keeper Casper Ankergren.

James Coppinger burst through in the 10th minute and shaped up to try and hammer the ball past him but the great Dane came dashing off his line and dived full length to palm the ball away from his feet.

Ankergren came to the rescue again a minute later and this time only his fingertips kept out James Hayter in an almost identical situation after the man who was to go on to be Rovers’ matchwinning hero had raced through on the opposite flank.

Each time the Leeds keeper’s timing had to be spot on otherwise the outcome would have been a goal or a penalty and each time he got it right.

United were struggling to cope with Doncaster’s movement in attack at this stage with the interchangeable front six constantly swapping roles one of the significant and effective features of Sean O’Driscoll’s reign

The normally impassive Rovers boss was looking unusually animated himself when crucial decisions went against his team in the early stages.

It was perhaps just another sign of the importance of the all or nothing occasion.

Although much later O’Driscoll told me he had been playing up just for the television cameras and it is never easy to tell when he is joking.

It had been a terrific start by Doncaster and Leeds looked in danger of being overwhelmed.

But they gradually settled to their task to gain a foothold in the game which became more a battle of wills with both sides only too well aware of what was at stake.

United could not quite match Doncaster’s slick passing style of play but they began to enjoy more possession and had little spells of pressure without really looking truly menacing for the rest of the half.

Fingernails had already been bitten down as far they would go among some members of the crowd when the half time whistle came but the drama and tension did not ease off after the interval.

Doncaster fans had been outnumbered and outshouted by their counterparts in white, yellow and blue for most of the first half.

But all that changed with Hayter’s goal two minutes after the interval and the supporters from South Yorkshire really found their voice.

It was a goal worthy of settling any Wembley occasion.

A bullet-like header with piercing accuracy and incredible velocity, that even Ankergren had no hope of saving, as he swooped on a corner from Brian Stock.

There was a mixture of disbelief and euphoria all over the cavernous stadium.

Little Doncaster in front against mighty Leeds.

Non league nonentities from not so long ago one up against a side once feared throughout Europe at the greatest stadium in the land.

Could it be true? Could it last?

As the second half progressed and seemed to last 45 hours instead of minutes it began to dawn on both sets of fans and the players that the answer to both questions was in the affirmative.

Rovers were just not going to give it away.

They had had enough of that at Cheltenham and didn’t want to endure the pain again.

Leeds tried their hearts out but Rovers’ resolution was rocklike with former Elland Road keeper Neil Sullivan collecting everything no matter who came charging at him including a heart stopping back header from cool as a cucumber Paul Green deep into injury time.

Four minutes time added on was signalled.

More than five minutes were played.

And then, as the end mercifully came, the contrasting emotions were there for all to see.

Tears of sadness and tears of joy.

Rovers fans and players went wild with delight along with a chairman who dared to dream.

And the quiet man of the Keepmoat. The man with principles, and an unswerving belief in the beautiful game, went for a well earned cup of tea.

Team: Sullivan, O'Connor, Mills, Hird, G Roberts, Green, Stock, Wellens (McCammon 72), Coppinger (Guy 86), Price (Lockwood 80), Hayter.

Unused subs: Smith, Taylor.

Ref: Andy D'Urso (Essex).

Att: 75,132.

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