DONCASTER Rovers ended 2012 in style by equalling their club record of away league games without defeat dating back over 60 years.
Rovers stretched their unbeaten away record to 11 games after avenging a 3-1 defeat against the Lilywhites at the Keepmoat Stadium back in early October.
The Lancashire side looked but a pale shadow of the team that night in the return, with the Rovers back-four coping much better with the threat posed from set plays than they had done on home soil.
The club’s 3-0 victory equalled their biggest win of the season at Walsall on the opening day of the campaign back in August.
But for striker Billy Paynter having what looked a clear-cut penalty claim rejected, Rovers could have won even more convincingly against a Preston side now without a win in their last eight games.
Stevenage will be a tough place to try and break the record on Saturday week, though you wouldn’t bet against them on this sort of form.
But before they travel to Broadhall Way for the first time in the Football League, Rovers have back-to-back home matches against Sheffield United and Colchester United this week where they will be looking to lay the ghost of the 4-1 defeat by Coventy in their last game at the Keepmoat.
Rovers needed a stoppage-time goal to beat Oldham at Boundary Park on Boxing Day, but the result looked to be a foregone conclusion much earlier in Saturday’s game.
They got off to a flying start with the versatile David Syers, who had come off the bench to grab the late winner against the Latics, celebrating his first league start for nearly two months with a first-minute goal.
With Preston loanee Iain Hume ineligible to play as part of the deal, and former Preston favourite Chris Brown and veteran Robbie Blake both picking up injuries the previous day in training, midfielder Syers again found himself filling in up front alongside Paynter.
He produced a finish worthy of any of the club’s recognised strikers from Cotterill’s short corner, volleying the ball home with an angled effort from the edge of the six-yard box.
“It’s a move that we work on in training and it led to me getting there before my man,” he told The Star. “I was trying to help the ball on to the back post and I probably got under it slightly more than I intended to but when things are going your way you take that bit of luck because that’s not always going to be the case during the season.
“It got us the start that we wanted and led to a really good performance. I’m delighted with the goal and everything that happened after it.
“As well as the goal lifting our spirits it will have also have damaged their morale as will have the booing by their fans at half-time.
“We scored at exactly the right times in the first half and the second to kill them off.”
Rovers doubled their lead on the half-hour with Cotterill scoring his ninth goal of the season direct from an angled 20 yard free-kick.
“We had a routine that we’ve worked on in training that we were going to use from the free-kick but their players were in the wrong place for us to do it,” said Syers. “So he decided to whip the ball in and obviously he’s found the top corner of the net and he’s done it so often this season you can’t just keep saying it’s luck.”
As was to be expected, the home side started the second half with all guns blazing and camped in the Rovers half.
But they were mainly restricted to long-range efforts and keeper Gary Woods was rarely troubled - a 25 yarder by Preston midfielder John Welsh which he had covered being a rare effort on target.
Having weathered the storm, and seen Paynter denied a penalty, Rovers were awarded a spot kick on 76 minutes after Kyle Bennett had been fouled in the box when trying to go past a defender.
It was easily Bennett’s best game since being rushed back earlier than the club would have liked after six weeks on the sidelines with a medial knee ligament injury.
He looked to have got his swagger back and he also went past more players in typical style than in recent games.
He wasn’t the only one to impress in midfield, however, with the James Harper/Paul Keegan pairing showing up well.
Harper was far more involved than in some recent games. He looked to spread the ball wide at the right times and regularly barked out instructions to his team-mates.
Keegan clocked up the yards in defence to allow the former Reading man the time to get more involved in other aspects of the game.
Although Preston’s 6’ 6” keeper Thorsten Stuckmann tried to make himself look big in goal, Paynter made no mistake with the spot kick to make it 3-0 and take his tally to the season to six and to give manager Dean Saunders the chance to bring off several players in the final 10 minutes or so ahead of tomorrow’s eagerly-awaited clash against the Blades.