DONCASTER Rovers boss Dean Saunders had talked about turning the Keepmoat Stadium into a fortress this season in the build-up to Saturday’s home game against Crawley Town.
But his team will have to play better than they did against the Red Devils if they are to repel the majority of the League One hordes.
The two teams were two divisions apart this time last season but you wouldn’t have known that from watching the game, for there was little to chose between the sides for much of the 90 minutes and a draw would probably have been a fairer result.
The game looked to be heading that way until Crawley celebrated their first ever visit to the town with a late winner.
Rovers had defended well throughout with skipper Rob Jones, a deserved winner of the sponsors’ man-of-the-match award, leading the way.
And with keeper Gary Woods also showing up well, Rovers had looked like keeping their second clean sheet in three league games.
Especially after Woods had got down well to Nicky Ajose’s angled shot just before the winning goal.
But the Doncaster keeper could do nothing to prevent the Peterborough loanee grabbing the winner on 87 minutes.
The ball was played back to substitute Josh Simpson by Hope Akpan, who had cut in from the right, and the substitute unleashed a fierce shot from the edge of the box. It looked to be going wide until Ajose, either by accident or design, diverted the ball into the bottom corner.
Rovers had a couple of minutes of normal time and four minutes of stoppage time to force an equaliser, but it was the Sussex side who went closest to adding to the score.
Woods had to dive full length to his left to deny Crawley skipper Gary Alexander a goal right at the death.
Fair play to Crawley. They travelled north with a game-plan and on the day it paid off.
But it could have been a different story had Rovers made better use of the chances that came their way in the first half.
Paynter, the top scorer in League One with Swindon prior to his move to Elland Road, got on the end of David Cotterill’s right-wing cross but failed to side-foot the ball past keeper Paul Jones, who got down well to deny the striker.
Martin Woods put Paynter free later in the half only to see him shoot wide from the edge of the area with only the keeper to beat.
Crawley worked hard in possession but for most part they got little joy and it wasn’t until the closing stages of the half that they looked dangerous in the final third.
Jones and Jamie McCombe, who have quickly settled into a useful centre-back pairing, were both dominant in the air as well as showing some nice touches at times with the ball at their feet.
Full-backs Paul Quinn and Tommy Spurr also showed up well. The latter just failed to get on the end of an angled shot by Paynter, which was going wide, at the far post on 32 minutes.
Chances were fewer for Rovers in the second half and there was little evidence of the ‘shoot on sight’ policy of previous games with both Bennett and Cotterill having limited opportunities.
The crowd gave James Coppinger a great reception when he came off the bench to replace the struggling Chris Brown on 64 minutes - a clear sign they want the long-serving star to stay at the club. Supporters clearly hoped that ‘Copps’ could change things in the final quarter.
But apart from when midfielder David Syers had his close range header cleared off the line by left-back Mat Sadler, and McCombe headed over from the resulting corner - shortly before Crawley’s winner - they rarely threatened to score.
“We’ve got to roll our sleeves up and go again,” said Rovers boss Saunders, who has stuck by the side which won 3-0 at Walsall in the club’s opening game in the two subsequent matches.
“We couldn’t string the passes together like we’ve been doing. I think a few of them were looking a bit jaded out there after playing three games in a week.
“It was a tough game today. They aren’t a bad team and they’ll do alright this season.
“I’ve been pleased with how we’ve started the season - six points from our first three games.
“Today is a bit of a kick in the teeth but we’ve just got to get over it.”