DONCASTER Rovers boss Sean O’Driscoll feared the club’s battle against relegation would go down to the last weekend of the season.
But the point gleaned from their last home game of the season against visiting Leicester City saw Rovers finally cross the finishing line ahead of South Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United, who had finished with a late spurt, in the race to retain Championship football.
Given that the Blades also had to settle for a point at home to derby rivals Barnsley, Rovers would have been save even if they had drawn a blank against the Foxes.
It is not often that directors, management and players do a ‘lap of honour’ after the last home game of the season when a team is set to finish just above the relegation zone, as Rovers are.
But it was right that they did, for in the circumstances survival should be judged as a success.
“I know coming into the last two or three games knowing that we could still go down is not what people expected at the start of the season,” said defender James O’Connor.
“We got off to a good start and would have gone second (overnight) had we beaten Leeds at home in mid-September, and we were as high as seventh after we won away at Portsmouth a couple of months later.
“But, as everyone know, injuries have hit us hard in the second half of the season and that has had an adverse affect on our results.
“This is a tough league and to have stayed up given what has happened is a massive achievement. Hopefully we’ll be able to relax now in our last game of the season at Middlesbrough on Saturday.”
It would have been perfectly understandable had the players been a little apprehensive in the dressing room prior to the start - especially as the Foxes had beaten them 5-1 at the Walkers Stadium back in December.
It was a performance which impressed many visiting fans that day and there will have been some surprise that Sven Goran-Eriksson’s side look destined to finish around mid-table.
For the first half hour or so there was only one team in it.
The Leicester midfield - in which former Rovers favourite Richie Wellens was a vital cog - ran like a well-oiled machine whereas Rovers struggled to get out of first gear, and their own half, at times.
It says much for Rovers’ improved defensive qualities of late that the Foxes were limited to just a couple of chances.
Rovers started to find their feet in the latter stages of the half, but will still have been pleased to go in at 0-0 at the break.
Rovers were forced to make a change during the interval with striker Jason Euell, the two-goal hero of the midweek draw at Oakwell, picking up an injury and being replaced by injury-plagued striker Steve Brooker. At first glance the enforced substitution looked to have done nothing to boost Rovers’ chances of their first win in 11 games.
But that didn’t prove to be the case and within five minutes of taking to the field the former Port Vale and Bristol City striker had scored what will do down - especially given the unfortunate Brooker’s circumstances - as one of the most popular goals of the campaign.
Brooker, who has made just one start since joining Rovers in the 2009 January transfer window, got on the end of a long free-kick by keeper Neil Sullivan, held off a defender and decided to try his luck from just over 20 yards, giving keeper Chris Weale no chance.
As O’Connor made it clear after the game, it wasn’t only the fact that Brooker had given Rovers the lead but that he had had to battle through tremendous personal adversity to get back playing first-team football.
“Steve’s had dreadful luck with injuries since he’s been here, what with having had three operations and other little niggles, and a lesser man might have thought about packing it in,” he said.
“But he’s continued to work hard every day in and he always believed that he could still play at this level.
“I’ve always rated him a good player ever since I played on loan for Port Vale.”
Certainly the goal, and other aspects of Brooker’s play will have got people thinking what might he achieved at Rovers had he not been so unlucky with injury problems .
With Brooker out of contract in the summer, and Rovers likely to baulk at a new deal given his lack of games, this could well have been his last home game for the club.
Apart from when substitute Diomansy Kamara shot over when well placed, the Foxes rarely looked like threatening an equaliser until they did draw level on 76 minutes.
Their play, not helped by several substitutions, lacked its earlier cohesion and Rovers looked the better side for most of the half.
But their was nothing wrong with Leicester’s football in the build-up play which led to Ayegbeni Yakuba’s 11th goal of the year for the Foxes.
Rovers man of the match Ryan Mason went closest to splitting the two teams with a long-range effort which Weale, relieved to see the ball clear the bar for a corner, couldn’t hold.
But in the general scheme of things it didn’t matter.
Saturday was all about Rovers retaining their Championship status for a fourth season - a feat which shouldn’t be under-estimated given their financial circumstances - and in the end they achieved it with something to spare.
THEY realistically didn’t have anything to play for but with the quality of players they’ve got in their side they were never going to come here and make it easy for us.
The players were really focused in the build-up but for some reason we struggled to get into the game in the first 30 minutes.
They controlled the game and had most of the ball, but we coped well and restricted their chances.
I thought that we finished the half better and got on top in the last 15 minutes.