A LAST minute strike from Dave Kitson helped Sheffield United fightback from two goals down in a thrilling 2-2 draw with fellow promotion hopefuls Doncaster Rovers.
Goals from Kitson and a penalty from Nick Blackman,his 11th league goal of the season, cancelled out efforts from Billy Paynter, who was dismissed in the latter stages, and David Syers.
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United manager Danny Wilson had shuffled his pack following their shock defeat to rock bottom Hartlepool United, handing full debuts to Danny Higginbotham and academy youngsters Terry Kennedy and Elliott Whitehouse. He also recalled Tony McMahon after suspension.
Higginbotham, signed on a free transfer from Stoke City just before kick off, bolsters United’s defensive resources, with Neill Collins ruled out for a lengthy period because of a fractured cheekbone. The 34-year-old, who had been on loan at Ipswich Town, has agreed an initial six-month contract, with the option of extending his deal at the end of the season.
Rovers made one alteration, James Harper, formerly of United, dropped out at the expense of Iain Hume. James Coppinger, who has returned from an unsuccessful loan spell at Nottingham Forest, was named on the substitutes bench.
Both sides cancelled each other out in the early skirmishes but it was United who created the first meaningful chance of the contest after 11 minutes. Jamie McCombe was adjudged to have tripped Dave Kitson just outside the penalty area and Gary Woods acrobatically tipped over the resulting free kick from Tony McMahon which was heading for the top right hand corner.
But six minutes later, Rovers opened the scoring from the penalty spot after George Long unceremoniously brought down David Syers following a deft through ball from Hume. Paynter, who worked with Wilson at Swindon Town, made no mistake from 12 yards, sending Long, who was yellow carded for the challenge, the wrong way.
Rovers should have doubled their lead midway through the half but Syers some how contrived to head David Cotterill’s superb corner wide from two yards.
An altercation off the ball between Blades left-back Matt Hill and Rovers skipper Rob Jones resulted in the duo being cautioned.
In the 37th minute, Kyle Bennett cut inside on his right foot and let fly from distance but his shot sailed harmlessly wide.
Hume nearly got on the scoresheet less than 20 seconds after the re-start in spectacular fashion when his fierce left foot drive rattled the post. From the rebound, Long made a smart stop to deny Cotterill but the visitors survived.
Wilson threw on John Cofie for Whitehouse to try and spark United into life but Rovers continued to dominate proceedings, with Long palming Hume’s 55th minute effort to safety.
The hosts deservedly went two ahead after hour mark, with Syers cleverly glancing in Cotterill’s inviting delivery.
Indeed United were indebted to Long for keeping them in the contest as he brilliantly denied Hume after he neatly exchanged passes with Paynter. Higginbotham hacked away the loose ball as Rovers pressed for a third.
But against the run of play, United reduced their arrears with 11 minutes remaining after substitute Joe Ironside was fouled by Andy Griffin. The referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Nick Blackman coolly slotted home. Griffin was yellow carded.
Then Paynter was given his marching orders after the referee deemed he kicked McMahon off the ball.
And it got even better for United in the 90th minute when Dave Kitson tapped in from close range after Matt Hill struck the post with a low shot.
Doncaster Rovers: Woods, Quinn, Jones, Spurr, McCombe, Syers, Cotterill, Keegan, Paynter, Hume, Bennett.
Substitutes: Maxted, Husband, Martis, Griffin, Harper, Coppinger, Ball.
Sheffield United Long, Higginbotham, Hill, McMahon Kennedy, Flynn, Doyle, McDonald, Whitehouse, Blackman, Kitson.
Substitutes Coyne, Westlake, Ironside, Williams, McAllister, Cresswell, Cofie.
Ref: Coote .
Read Paul Goodwin’s analysis in Wednesday’s Star.
*United signed Stoke’s Danny Higginbotham on a free transfer, on an initial six-month contract, before the game.
Higginbotham, 34, had been on loan at Ipswich, playing 12 times.