Analysis: A sour end to glorious season - Hartlepool 2 Doncaster Rovers 1

Rovers were given a hostile welcome at Victoria Park. Picture: Frank Reid
Rovers were given a hostile welcome at Victoria Park. Picture: Frank Reid
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The body language of Doncaster Rovers’ players said it all as the reality of their collective failure hit home.

After the final whistle, they stood in front of their admirably positive support at Victoria Park, struggling to hold up their chins and muster applause.

Darren Ferguson urges his team on. Picture: Frank Reid

Darren Ferguson urges his team on. Picture: Frank Reid

Stumbling upon the scene, an onlooker would likely have thought Rovers had joined hosts Hartlepool United in being relegated, such was the depth of their mood.

They knew they had messed up. They knew they had let themselves down. They knew they had let their supporters down.

It took just one minute of play for the opportunity to be crowned League Two champions was presented back to Rovers.

Leaders Plymouth Argyle fell behind at Grimsby Town inside 60 seconds, putting Rovers back on top as things stood.

James Coppinger looks to shake off close attention. Picture: Frank Reid

James Coppinger looks to shake off close attention. Picture: Frank Reid

A win for Rovers would have been enough to not have to worry about how Portsmouth were faring in their clash with Cheltenham Town.

Yet, while they led for 43 minutes over a side ultimately not good enough for the Football League, they failed to hold their advantage.

Putting it bluntly, they melted in the face of pressure and effectively handed the league title to Portsmouth on a platter.

So, in that instance, and in having failed over the final three games of the season to produce anything like their previous standards, the desolation on show in the aftermath was somewhat justified.

ROVERS STAR MAN: Matty Blair

ROVERS STAR MAN: Matty Blair

THE BIG QUESTION

It is a dilemma facing all associated with Rovers as they head into a summer of preparation for life in League One.

How much should they be judged on the final four matches of this season?

It would be foolish to write off the season based on how it was concluded.

John Marquis is clipped. Picture: Frank Reid

John Marquis is clipped. Picture: Frank Reid

Rovers strolled to promotion with a level of ease no one would dared to have predicted.

They played some brilliant football, swept teams aside and scored bags of goals.

For 42 games of the campaign there was no doubting they were the best team in the division.

But the fact they finished third in the table has certainly taken some of the sheen off what had been an incredible achievement.

And the manner of Saturday’s defeat at Hartlepool means there are now niggling doubts about certain aspects of this team heading into the closed season.

It raised doubts over the character of the squad - doubts that have been absent since the slide to relegation last season.

And they are doubts which need to be quashed early next term.

AN OPPORTUNITY LET SLIP

It has been easy to suggest that achieving the ultimate goal of promotion so early took away the driving force behind the Rovers team.

And it was easy to be sympathetic towards a group of players who had worked their socks off for eight months for being unable to produce the same level of performance once they had reached their target.

But the defeat to Exeter City - which knocked them off the top of the table for the first time in 17 weeks - should have been the one last wake-up call they needed.

The scenario for Rovers was simple: deliver one more time, beat Hartlepool, take care of your side of the bargain and see what happens elsewhere.

The disappointing factor was that while they led for almost half the game, they never really delivered.

The tempo was poor, passing was wayward, play was rushed.

Hartlepool were always going to fly at Rovers at 1000 miles per hour, given their desperate situation.

Rovers just needed to take the sting out of the game, stifle the situation and with their undoubted quality, twist the knife on their limited hosts.

Particularly so when Andy Williams hooked home from close range to put them in front just after the half hour.

But they failed to turn up in the second half and that was never likely to end well against an opposition for whom winning was the only option.

TURNING POINTS

Luke McCullough had been particularly poor throughout the first half and even more so early in the second.

He had greatly impressed on his return from injury but on this occasion was painfully sloppy in possession.

Him being brought off for Conor Grant was an obvious change but it significantly disrupted Rovers.

The structure of the midfield collapsed and Hartlepool swarmed through them. Control of possession was never reestablished.

The raucous crowd at Victoria Park played their part. And when Newport County were pegged back against Notts County, they roared their side on.

It gave Hartlepool renewed energy and that was when Rovers truly began to wilt.

When substitute Devante Rodney lashed in the equaliser after Padraig Amond had robbed Andy Butler in the box, it was clear the balance had fully tipped.

And there was no surprise when fearless youngster Rodney showed excellent composure to finish off a rapid counterattack to put Hartlepool in front.

Rovers were done, lacking any real drive to mount a fightback of their own. Their season was done too.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If just one headline was to be written about this season, it would be that Rovers won promotion.

Emotions are raw with how the season has been concluded but it really should not take away too much from a brilliant campaign.

Another positive summer - and early indications are that it will be - will quickly diminish the doubts.

So raise a glass to a brilliant achievement - and try to have some optimism.