NO wonder it proved to be a bittersweet afternoon for former Doncaster favourite Gareth Roberts.
The Welshman’s sweet 55th minute strike was his first for the Rams, but it condemned Rovers to defeat on his old stomping ground.
And that loss dented the club’s relegation fight having ended their impressive five-game unbeaten run.
Ironically it was Roberts’ first goal since netting for Rovers against Peterborough back in March 2010, shortly before he made the switch to Pride Park to embark on a new chapter in his career.
And what a goal it was as well. A lovely flowing move unpicked the hosts’ defence as Roberts rifled into the bottom right-hand corner to leave his old club with a mountain to club.
“It’s hard because I’ve still got a lot of friends at Doncaster and there’s still a lot of the lads I used to play with here,” admitted Roberts.
“I know most of the staff here, even the club chef came out to see me. I’m still in touch with a lot of people here.
“I really, really hope they can get themselves out of trouble. If they dig in then then hopefully they can get out of trouble.
“They’ve got some big games coming up, but they’ve got some big players, so they can get out of it.
“They’ve got the fighting qualities to do it, but I thought we were the better team and dominated the match.
“It was a great feeling to score and it was a vital goal as well, to go 2-0 up was important.
“But it’s all about the team getting the result and not me at the end of the day.”
Rovers boss Dean Saunders made one change to his starting line-up with centre-back Shelton Martis in having recovered from a groin injury, as Sam Hird dropped to the substitute’s bench.
Keeper Gary Woods was also included on the bench as defender Adam Lockwood dropped out of the squad.
But from the start it looked as though the hosts were feeling the affects of their battling draw at home to Reading on Tuesday night.
And the Rams, boosted by a fine 1-0 home win against Nottingham Forest in midweek, showed why they still have play-off aspirations
As early as the eighth minute striker Callum Ball drilled a left-foot shot at keeper Carl Ikeme.
Five minutes later the visitors were in front. A hopeful punt up from keeper Frank Fielding caught out Martis and Theo Robinson pounced to net his tenth goal of the season.
Ikeme darted off his line, badly misjudged his race to win the ball, and Robinson coolly lobbed him to put the Rams ahead.
The keeper made amends in the 28th minute, saving well from Roberts’ goalbound volley, before Rovers nearly equalised after some excellent play from their skipper El-Hadji Diouf.
The Senegalese striker whipped the ball back from the tightest of angles on the byline, but striker partner Frederic Piquionne directed his powerful header straight at Fielding.
Robinson dragged a left-foot shot wide of the target as Nigel Clough’s team pushed for a second goal, then another ex-Rover player, midfielder Paul Green, fouled Diouf and the former Bolton hitman curled a free-kick over the bar.
Martis produced an important block to get in the way of Green’s shot a minute later to keep Rovers in the contest.
Five minutes after the restart Robinson headed straight at Ikeme at the back post, before Roberts combined well with Craig Bryson and picked out the corner with his bullet drive.
However, Diouf latched on to a back-header from Giles Barnes and lashed beyond Fielding to give Rovers hope with 23 minutes remaining.
But even the introduction of John Oster and James Hayter late in the action couldn’t help the hosts snatch a leveller.
In fact it was the Rams who finished the stronger. Debutant Tom Naylor had a shot deflected over from one of Ben Davies’ testing corners, while Green had the ball in the back of the net with four minutes remaining, only to see his goal ruled out for offside.
“Derby came here and stopped us playing,” admitted Saunders. “That’s a compliment in one way, but we’ve got to get round it.
“We certainly got better when we changed our system, but it’s not about systems, it’s about turning up and winning a battle first before you can play.
“We certainly never won the battle. You can’t play unless you win the battle.
“They’ve done to us what we do to teams. We’ve stopped all sorts of teams playing who used to think we can beat Doncaster.
“Now all of a sudden teams are looking at us and thinking never mind how we’re going to play, let’s stop Doncaster. That’s what happened in this one.
“There were good results for us [in other matches involving fellow relegation-strugglers] and not too much damage done. It’s only a point we lost.
“But if we could have won the game we could have got that little bit closer safety as early as possible, which would have been nice.
“However, it’s going to go a bit longer I’m afraid. We’ve not just all of a sudden become a very good team from where we were.
“I have to accept sometimes that it’s going to take longer than I wanted, but what I can’t accept is every body not being as determined and switched on as we are as a staff.”