Match analysis: Blackpool 1 Doncaster Rovers 1

Blackpool vs Doncaster Rovers - James Coppingers lets fly despite the attention of Nathan Eccleston
Blackpool vs Doncaster Rovers - James Coppingers lets fly despite the attention of Nathan Eccleston
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When the powers that be at Doncaster Rovers set in motion the re-signing of Billy Sharp, they knew full well they were getting much more than a reliable goalscorer - but they will have been delighted to see him living up to that side of the bargain.

There may have been some doubt about whether the returning hero did actually touch the ball home from David Cotterill’s free kick to equalise but dissenting voices would only ruin the script.

Ultimately, the game will be remembered for Sharp marking his return in the perfect manner.

But well before his 85th minute equaliser, the impact of Sharp’s Rovers return had already been clear to see - and the club hierarchy will have been equally as delighted as they were to see him score.

For a variety of well-publicised reasons, the recent history of Rovers has been characterised by falling attendances, growing disillusionment and a sense of impending doom when it comes to Championship status.

The announcement of Sharp’s return lifted the mood almost immediately, sparking a renewed positivity that seems certain to continue at least until after Tuesday’s game with Charlton.

There was an increased buzz from the away section at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.

Despite being battered for more than two hours with a biting wind that brought rain washing into the stands, Rovers’ support was in excellent voice throughout, even after the late hammerblow of falling behind.

On Tuesday night, the impact of Sharp’s return will be tested on the Keepmoat stage but after Saturday we look set for a memorable night.

In terms of performance, Sharp’s own mirrored that of Rovers - dogged, battling but somewhat lacking in quality.

What was also apparent, as should have been the case all along, was that Sharp’s mere presence would be enough to ensure Rovers could coast to survival.

There was no repeat of the terrific performance that saw Rovers convincingly beat Wigan the week before.

The elements certainly did not help on that front.

Rovers spent the first half with their faces into a ridiculously strong wind making it very difficult for them to find and fluidity in the opposition half.

And even when the side with the wind at their backs got on the ball, producing a killer pass required something very special.

Blackpool were much the better side in the first half, showing a great deal of improvement from the hopeless-looking outfit that slumped to nine defeats in the last ten games.

With the sacking of Paul Ince earlier in the week, a response was expected from the hosts, especially with livewire Barry Ferguson now at the helm.

And the Tangerines obliged with plenty of energy, particularly down the left through Nathan Eccleston and Jack Robinson.

Forward pairing Steven Davies and Michael Chopra looked to have the number of the Rovers back line from the off, consistently beating the offside trap with Bongani Khumalo and Abdoulaye Meite slow off the mark.

Chopra in particular should have put Blackpool in front when sent clear but rushed his attempt and sent a tame effort straight at a grateful Ross Turnbull.

Eccleston almost gave his side the lead midway through the half when he drilled a shot that dropped just wide.

There was always the feeling that if Rovers could survive until the break, they would have an excellent chance of taking something from the game.

And survive they did despite struggling for possession throughout the first half, particularly in the final third.

It took until the half hour mark for them to really threaten with Chris Brown failing to turn a header on target from Gabriel Tamas’ searching cross.

They went much closer with another quality delivery as half time approached.

James Coppinger’s searching cross was met by Sharp with a diving header and the effort went agonisingly close to beating Gilks in the bottom corner.

The expectation of better fortune for Rovers in the second half came to fruition.

Coppinger in particular was much more involved, finding Brown and Sharp regularly.

The wide man also tested Matt Gilks himself with a pair of long range efforts.

Brown really should have given his side the lead with the most gilt-edged of chances.

He did appear well offside when collecting a ball over the top from Paul Keegan but nevertheless lashed his shot well over the bar under no pressure from close range.

Blackpool were given a fresh energy boost with the introduction of new signings David Goodwillie and Andy Halliday off the bench.

The hosts began to threaten once more but this time they made the pressure count.

The ball was tossed around the box after a Robinson delivery and while Davies failed to connect with his shot, Halliday lashed home past Turnbull.

To the credit of Rovers and the supporters, heads never dropped and there seemed plenty of assuredness the equaliser would come.

And it did five minutes from time.

Substitute Cotterill curled in a low free kick from the left, Sharp threw out his left leg and Gilks watched on statically as the ball sneaked inside the post.

Sharp wheeled away in celebration before exchanging knowing smiles with the Welshman as they decided who deserved the congratulations.

Cotterill - struggling for form and confidence this season - will probably feel slightly aggrieved that Sharp stole a much needed moment in the spotlight from him but he will be aware of what the goal meant.

The script dictated that Sharp would score a decisive goal on his return to the club.

It may not have been played out in the most entertaining way, but the audience was left more than satisfied.