Match Analysis: Home campaign ends on sour note as Exeter City expose some familiar Doncaster Rovers failings

The lap of honour came after the wrong result
The lap of honour came after the wrong result
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What could and should have been a day of celebration at the Keepmoat Stadium turned sour as Doncaster Rovers threw away their advantage in the League Two title race.

It started with a fanfare of flagwaving from the Black Bank. Optimism was high that Rovers - requiring four points from their final two games to be crowned champions - could recover from back-to-back defeats and at least keep their end of the bargain, regardless of results elsewhere.

Tommy Rowe in action against Exeter

Tommy Rowe in action against Exeter

At one point in the first half, when James Coppinger cancelled out Jordan Moore-Taylor’s stunning strike and with second-placed Plymouth Argyle trailing at home to Crewe, it looked like it might be Rovers’ day.

However, an impressive Exeter City side had other ideas and went on to show exactly why they have the second best away record in the division, claiming a deserved 3-1 win with second-half goals from David Wheeler and Liam McAlinden.

And the Grecians had rained on Rovers’ parade to the extent that only a few hundred home fans remained inside the ground for what, over the course of the whole season, was a well deserved lap of honour.

Sadly, Doncaster’s performance had been anything but one of prospective champions.

Top scorer John Marquis suffers in defeat. Pictures: Chris Etchells

Top scorer John Marquis suffers in defeat. Pictures: Chris Etchells

They struggled to get in behind a well-drilled Exeter defence and carve out the sort of opportunities that 26-goal frontman John Marquis has fed on all season.

They missed the composure and passing ability of Mathieu Baudry, often resorting to hopeful long balls.

And they reverted to the nervy, haphazard defending that saw them tumble out of League One a year ago, Joe Wright guilty of a silly handball that led to Exeter’s second goal and Craig Alcock losing concentration for the killer third.

As Plymouth recovered to beat Crewe and take over top spot, it meant emotions were running high in the stands for completely the wrong reason - one supporter in the West Stand even becoming involved in a slanging match with boss Darren Ferguson.

This was meant to be a celebration of a fine season. It turned out to be anything but.

BAD DAY

Ferguson called it one of the worst results of his managerial career.

It wasn’t helped by a very familiar failing - as Rovers once again fell behind and had to do it the hard way.

Coppinger quickly provided a lifeline, finishing excellently from a tight angle after a lovely cross from Tommy Rowe.

But it was the captain’s removal midway through the second half that arguably stunted the momentum Rovers appeared to be garnering, as Ferguson threw on three strikers from the bench and his team lost a sense of shape and purpose.

One of Doncaster’s strengths this season has been their ability to relentlessly stick to their game-plan and grind teams down with it.

But there was more than a hint of desperation as a frontline of Marquis, Andy Williams, Liam Mandeville and Alfie May toiled unsuccessfully against Exeter’s well-marshalled backline.

The visitors had reclaimed the lead just after hour mark when Niall Mason made a brilliant block on the line to deny Joel Grant but Wright then inexplicably handled.

Ian Lawlor kept out Ryan Harley’s penalty, and his follow-up, but Wheeler scored at the third attempt.

And while Rovers rather laboured in attack, they gifted City a third goal in the closing stages when Alcock, the last man, was robbed by Watkins who then raced clear to tee up McAlinden for a straightforward finish.

WHAT’S GONE WRONG?

After a third successive defeat it’s hard to argue that Rovers have not switched off, at least subconsciously, since winning promotion.

It’ll now take a big effort to turn things round at Hartlepool, but stranger things have happened - just remember Brentford.

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