DONCASTER Rovers had to come from behind to preserve their unbeaten record in pre-season games in Saturday’s encounter against Bradford Park Avenue at the Horsfall Stadium.
The newly-promoted Blue Square Bet North side must have fancied their chances of claiming a prize scalp after opening up a two-goal lead early in the second half, but Dean Saunders side hit back to claim a 3-3 draw.
Although both sides had the chance to win the game after Rovers had drawn level, a draw was probably a fair result to an entertaining match.
With skipper George Friend being a late withdrawal, Rovers were forced to field a makeshift centre-back pairing of left-back Tommy Spurr, and first-year professional Liam Wakefield. They also played trialist keeper Ben McNamara.
The pitch was more like the one at Cleethorpes last Saturday than Grimsby in midweek and proved a great leveller.
Saunders had taken Kyle Bennett to one side during the warm-up and whatever he said had the desired result with the gifted 20-year-old often catching the eye.
He picked out Martin Woods with a superb through ball on eight minutes only to see David Cotterill head over when well placed from the midfielder’s cross.
He made amends, however, on 15 minutes, claiming his second goal in as many games.
Woods and Bennett were involved in the build-up to the move which saw Cotterill score from close range after getting on the end of left-back James Husband’s left-wing cross at the far post.
The home side drew level almost immediately, former Rovers’ junior Rob O’Brien drilling the ball low into the left-hand corner from a spot kick following an infringement by James O’Connor.
The former Football League club took the lead two minutes later - striker Danny Holland beating McNamara with a 10 yard angled shot to make it 2-1.
Rovers huffed and puffed for the rest of the half but apart from Bennett, and to a lesser extent Cotterill, they lacked anyone with a real cutting edge in attack.
Three games in eight days, allied to some intensive training sessions, appeared to have taken a toll on some of the Rovers players, several of whom looked to have heavy legs.
Saunders made just two changes at the start of the second half, David Syers and trialist striker Karl Hawley replacing Woods and veteran striker Robbie Blake, who is a couple of weeks behind the rest of the squad in terms of fitness.
The home side increased their lead on 49 minutes with last season’s top scorer Richard Marshall finishing off a slick move involving some neat one-touch football.
Syers had a shot blocked by ‘keeper Ben Highinson as Rovers looked for an early reply. Brian Stock, still at the club despite further speculation linking him with Burnley last week, shot well wide from just outside the six-yard box with a chance he would normally bury.
Rovers remained on the attack and forced trialist keeper Highinson into a couple of saves in quick succession.
Rovers’ pressure finally paid off on 58 minutes, Bennett shooting into an empty net after Highinson had come off his line to try and collect a risky back pass.
Bennett, who also troubled the Bradford defence after the goal, put Rovers back on level terms with a superb strike direct from a 25 yard free-kick on 76 minutes. Former Notts County striker Hawley had little chance to press his claims on his Rovers’ debut. He shot straight at the keeper with a weak effort from just outside the box.
Not a bad performance taking all the circumstances into account, but Rovers will have to lift their game as they step up in class at Rotherham tomorrow night.
Rovers: NcNamara, O’Connor, Wakefield, Spurr, Husband, Coppinger, Stock, M Woods, Cotterill, Bennett, Blake: Subs: (all played) Maxted, Brown, Mullen, Syers, Morgan-Smith, Hawley.