A damp squib of a morning made way for glorious sunshine at the Keepmoat Stadium yesterday. It seemed fairly apt.
Doncaster have had some pretty gloomy days in their own backyard this season; the sobering defeats to Gillingham, Walsall and Peterborough immediately spring to mind.
But they signed off in the best possible fashion by seeing off sloppy Scunthorpe, securing what was a seventh straight win against the Iron and scoring five at the Keepmoat for the first time since that unforgettable night against Southend in 2008.
Yes, there have been some dark moments during a season in which Doncaster have undeniably underachieved.
A 13th-place finish, given the talent in this squad, is unquestionably below par.
But maybe, just maybe, there are brighter days ahead.
A big summer lies in wait for boss Paul Dickov, and the expectation from a hefty chunk of supporters that Doncaster should be challenging for automatic promotion, not just the play-offs, is not about to go away.
Of course, it is imperative not to read too much into what was effectively a dead rubber derby clash. The pressure was off and players’ minds, especially the Scunthorpe defenders it seemed, were well and truly wandering towards the beach.
But Rovers still produced the sort of vibrant display that has been all-too rare at home this season. There could be no ‘flip-flop’ accusations levelled at Dickov’s men after this performance, a much-needed pick-me-up after the previous weekend’s no-show at Notts County and one that offered some hope to a fan base that are entitled to feel short-changed by what they have seen at home this season.
Indeed as Nathan Tyson made off with the match ball, Rob Jones popped up with a trademark header and Harry Forrester produced the sort of dazzling display that he has failed to produce on a regular basis (he’s not the only one guilty of such a crime), there even felt like something resembling a feel-good factor again at the Rovers.
Too little, too late, some will say. But victory at least lifted some of the dark clouds that were beginning to form above the Keepmoat. At one point the South Stand sang Dickov’s name. Music to the manager’s ears.
There was a notable spring in Rovers’ step from the off, particularly from the ever-willing Tyson, the somewhat enigmatic Forrester and also James Coppinger.
The latter was employed in a more central role, supporting Tyson in a 4-4-1-1 formation which was perhaps an early indication of the sort of shape Dickov is toying with as a template next term.
Doncaster seized the initiative early on from a set piece, Kyle Bennett’s inswinging free kick from the left was glanced into his own net by the unfortunate Niall Canavan. The Iron defender, however, could console himself by the fact there was a much more comical own goal to come later in the proceedings.
The visitors lacked the early intention of their hosts but they should have been level when Gary McSheffrey hit the bar with the goal gaping.
Before the ball rolled invitingly for him in the box, the Iron might have had a case for a penalty too as Marko Marosi appeared to bring down dangerman Kevin Van Veen, just the sort of predatory, livewire forward Rovers need to invest in this summer.
Furman and Forrester, twice, went within inches of doubling the home side’s lead from distance before Tyson gratefully headed in his first of the afternoon. He was indebted first to Forrester, who slalomed his way from half way to the edge of the box, and then Bennett, who picked him out from the right with a perfect cross.
There was a freedom about Doncaster’s play that has rarely been seen at the Keepmoat this season and before half time they were three goals to the good, skipper Jones heading in Forrester’s corner in typically no-nonsense fashion.
If Rovers thought they were home and hosed they were in for a shock after the break though as the Iron, no doubt with Mark Robins’ half time words still ringing in their ears, enjoyed a far greater share of the game.
They were handed a lifeline in somewhat bizarre circumstances. Van Veen again made a nuisance of himself in the box and after the ball literally bounced off him and came back off the post it then cannoned off Andy Butler and into the net, despite the best attempts of Jones to keep it out.
United were galvanised and it was the visitors who looked most likely to score again when Doncaster were awarded a fairly soft penalty after Forrester went down under the challenge of Marcus Williams.
Tyson kept his cool from the spot to give Rovers a bit more breathing space. Soon it was take two from the spot after the impressive Forrester was upended in the box again, this time by Canavan. Tyson again made no mistake, this time smashing it past Luke Daniels.
Scunthorpe added a late consolation when Hakeen Adelakun’s free kick delivery was allowed to go straight in – a moment Marosi will want to forget – but it could not take the gloss off an all too rare convincing home win for Rovers.
What might have been a damp squib had turned into a fun final day but there can no disguising the shortcomings of the season as a whole. More so than ever before, Rovers now require swift, decisive action in building a squad capable of lighting up the Keepmoat more often.
Rovers: Marosi 5, Lund 6 (Wabara 74), Butler 6, Jones 7, Evina 7, Coppinger 7, Wellens 7, Furman 7, Forrester 8, Bennett 6 (Main 70), Tyson 8 (McKay 82). Subs: Bywater, Stevens, Whitehouse, Middleton.
Scunthorpe: Daniels 5, Clarke 5, Boyce 5, Canavan 5, Williams 5, Bishop 5 (Evans 81), McAllister 6, McSheffrey 6 (Syers 81), Adelakun 6, van Veen 7 (Wootton 82), Madden 5. Subs: Anyon, Townsend, Llera, Dyche.
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh (Lancashire)
Nathan Tyson rounded off an impressive personal campaign in style by netting his first hat trick since 2008 and taking his tally to 14 for the season – just one shy of the target that he had set himself. The striker’s work ethic and attitude has been a great example to the club’s younger players all season long and he should now be able to take a well-earned rest safe in the knowledge that his contract will be extended until 2016.
Scunthorpe were well on top at 3-1 down and the referee’s decision to award Doncaster a rather soft penalty, when they broke quickly and Forrester was sent tumbling to the deck, took the wind out of the visitors’ sails. Had the Iron scored the fifth goal of the game it would have set up a very tense finish.
Doncaster were relaxed, inventive and industrious in attack and it made for refreshing viewing at the Keepmoat, where they have so often struggled to break teams down. There is clearly a strong foundation in place and with some careful recruitment this summer, Rovers really have no excuse not to be challenging for a minimum top six finish next season.
It was a pleasing way to end, but also a little bit frustrating as well.
The game possibly summed up our season.
There was some really good football at times and we scored some good goals. But there were also some lapses in concentration when we conceded the goals and we switched off for 20 minutes after half time.
But I’m really pleased with the win and to score five goals in front of our fans.
It was disappointing to lose to our local rivals like that, especially when we brought as many fans as that.
I wish I could’ve given them half the players’ wages because we only gave them half a game.
You can’t think the job’s done. If you look at some of the other results today you can see we weren’t the only ones. But it’s important to take stock of the season as a whole and now we move on. We’ve got an opportunity to build something here.
Mr Kavanagh infuriated Scunthorpe’s bench all afternoon. There could have been no complaints about Rovers’ second penalty but the first one looked soft.