Doncaster Rovers 0 Crystal Palace 2: Clinical Palace end Rovers’ FA Cup adventure
The road to Wembley in the FA Cup might have been blocked by clinical Crystal Palace.
But Doncaster Rovers could hold their heads up high at the way they bowed out of the competition at the fifth round stage to Premier League opposition.
Grant McCann’s side still have every chance of still ending their season by lifting a trophy at the home of football – in the bread and butter of the League One promotion race.
And their positive performance against Palace’s expensively-assembled squad will not harm confidence levels ahead of some crucial league fixtures.
After enjoying good spells of possession and registering more goal attempts than their more esteemed opponents, Rovers’ players might have been left with one or two regrets after an absorbing cup tie in front of a sold-out Keepmoat Stadium.
But to a man they left everything on the field.
And they could take plenty of pride from a performance which impressed opposing manager Roy Hodgson and, on another day – with more conviction in the final third - might have been enough to secure a place in the quarter-finals for the first time in the club’s history.
Rovers gave it a really good go and, at times, ruffled the Eagles’ feathers with their high tempo pressing and passing.
But after recovering from going behind after just eight minutes to Jeffrey Schlupp’s smart finish they conceded a killer goal in first half stoppage time when Max Meyer headed in from close range.
It proved to be a bridge too far for McCann’s men.
Doncaster have been scoring goals for fun in their league campaign but they could not breach an organised, disciplined Palace outfit who negotiated their way through a potentially tricky tie in admirable fashion.
STORY OF THE MATCH
McCann made one forced and one unenforced change to the side that breezed past Southend United on Tuesday.
The more experienced Matty Blair was preferred at right back to loanee Aaron Lewis, while Alfie May replaced the suspended Mallik Wiks in attack.
There were no signs of nerves from Doncaster during the very early stages as they pressed and harried the visitors to decent effect.
But it took just eight minutes for Palace to break the deadlock with their first effort on goal.
Schlupp ran at Rovers from halfway and, after May failed to halt the winger with a recovery tackle, he fired a clinical finish low into the far corner with the help of a slight deflection.
For all of Rovers’ early enthusiasm, in an instant they were reminded exactly what they were up against – and now the size of the task was considerably bigger.
The home side continued harrying.
Occasionally they looked hurried, over-eager in possession, conscious they had far less time on the ball than normal.
But in the main they could be quite satisfied with the way they were imposing themselves on Palace and fashioning attempts on goal.
Herbie Kane’s long range hit was deflected for a corner, James Coppinger’s shot was blocked and May flashed a decent effort just wide. Rovers were keeping Palace honest.
The visitors were far from convincing at the back but always a threat on the break.
Hodgson’s side enjoyed their best spell around the half mark, keeping the ball impressively and probing around the box.
Meyer’s shot was deflected wide, Michy Batshuayi had a header blocked and Paul Downing was fortunate to survive a handball in the area.
There was no room for error as far as Rovers were concerned and, at times, they were guilty of giving the ball back to the visitors too easily.
But the hosts continued to offer encouragement going forward as Kane saw a shot blocked and Coppinger headed a half chance wide.
It was crucial that they only went in one behind but on the stroke of half time the game got away from Doncaster.
Luka Milivojevic provided another moment of Premier League quality when his dinked ball over the top picked out Andros Townsend to nod it across the face of goal and present Meyer with the easiest of tap-ins.
There was a swagger about Palace upon the re-start.
It looked like a long way back for Rovers and they would have to do much better than a horribly sliced attempt on the edge of the box from Kane.
They did. Ben Whiteman hit a swirling drive which Wayne Hennessey had to parry and from the resultant corner May should have really kept his header down after Downing won the first ball.
Coppinger’s effort from distance was then deflected wide.
The lively home crowd sensed blood and Palace were on the back foot. Had Rovers scored at this point it would have been very much game on.
But that final pass or finish just eluded them. Leading marksmen John Marquis was kept on the periphery of the game.
Hodgson reinforced his midfield with the introduction of Cheikhou Kouyate and it did the trick as Palace took the sting out of the game and the home side ran out of steam and attacking ideas during the final quarter.
Palace were able to see out the game quite comfortably in the end, but it had not been all plain sailing for the visiting Premier League players.