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Analysis: Blackburn Rovers 1 Doncaster Rovers 0
IT is unlikely One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson or any anyone else at Ewood Park on Saturday would have been Up All Night replaying the highlights of this one.
A classic it most certainly was not.
But then this was never about Rovers putting on a show for their star guest.
This was all about them, One Way or Another, getting the three points.
As anything less than victory would have been viewed as a major disappointment following the magnificent performances that yielded a win at Leeds United and an FA Cup draw with Manchester City.
With the weight of expectation resting heavily on their shoulders Gary Bowyer’s young team deserve huge credit, then, for getting the job done. But my word they did not make it easy for themselves.
After an excellent first-half display in which their sharp and attractive football saw them create and waste a host of chances, Rovers had only Rudy Gestede’s emphatic headed finish on the stroke of half-time to show for their superiority.
The big striker’s second goal for the club – and his first at home – ultimately proved to be the winner. That, in the end, was harsh on struggling Doncaster.
As Paul Dickov’s spirited side, roared on by more than 800 supporters including celebrity fan and non-contract player Tomlinson, penned Rovers back deep into their own half in a second period that was in complete contrast to the first.
And in four nerve-shredding minutes of injury-time Donny twice went agonisingly close to snatching the equaliser their dramatic transformation after the interval deserved.
But on both occasions they were denied by returning hero Paul Robinson.
Had the fit-again former England goalkeeper not shown incredible concentration levels and reflexes to save from Alex Peterson and Richie Wellens, the outlook at the start one of the biggest weeks in Rovers’ season so far would have been markedly different.
Instead they go into Wednesday’s cup replay at City and Saturday’s crucial Championship clash at top-six rivals Nottingham Forest in high spirits.
But it goes without saying they will have to play better than they did after the restart here if they are to get anything from either the Etihad Stadium – as fanciful as that sounds – or the City Ground.
Rovers can, however, take encouragement from how they went about their business before the break.
Bubbling with confidence, they should have been out of sight inside the first 15 minutes. But Tom Cairney twice wasted golden opportunities, dragging the first one wide after strong hold-up play by Gestede and somehow side-footing the second one over after Ben Marshall had skipped past Luke McCullough and laid the ball on a plate for the onrushing midfielder.
It was Doncaster’s first visit to Blackburn in 45 years.
McCullough will certainly not want to return in a hurry after the going over he was given by the rejuvenated Marshall, who crossed for Jordan Rhodes to head over before testing Ross Turnbull with a swerving, dipping long-range drive.
But the influence of Marshall and Cairney waned after the opening period and, after Gestede flicked on for his recalled strike-partner Rhodes to draw a low stop out of Turnbull, Rovers never went close again.
Crucially, however, they had a lead to protect.
It was a lead which owed everything to Rhodes’ desire initially to chase down a raking, diagonal ball from Adam Henley and then his vision to stand it up to the back post for Gestede to rise superbly above debutant Abdoulaye Meite and head home.
Doncaster, now without a win in 10 games, could have had no complaints had they been further behind at that stage.
But whatever their manager – former Rovers forward Dickov – said in the dressing room certainly had the desired effect.
That said, a cross-shot from James Coppinger aside, Robinson was not truly tested until right at the death.
That is when the 34-year-old called on his class and experience to palm away Peterson’s header from point-blank range before getting down low to his left to prevent a Wellens curler from creeping in.
Robinson’s heroics drew the praise of Tomlinson after the match and ensured his team moved to up eighth, their joint highest position of the campaign to date.
While there remains plenty of room for further improvement there is no doubt about it – Rovers are moving in the right direction.
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