Doncaster Rovers 1 Charlton Athletic 1: Fighting spirit evident in dramatic draw – match analysis
There was a moment late in the game when Matty Blair recovered from a lung-busting run, caught his breath and rolled up his sleeves.
It was rather inconsequential on yet another action-packed and ultimately controversial afternoon at the Keepmoat Stadium, as only a late linesman’s flag denied Doncaster an impressive scalp in the race for the play-offs.
But it neatly symbolised not only Rovers’ never-say-die attitude against the Addicks but also their overall standing in League One.
Grant McCann’s men have worked their socks off this season to get themselves into a very promising position.
Much of their success this term has been based on sheer hard graft, pressing the life out of the opposition.
But now, with the final straight in sight, they must take a collective deep breath and go again.
They can’t afford to let those high standards slip, like they had done in the previous two games against Scunthorpe United and Shrewsbury Town.
Having gone behind late in the game, this was a decent point against a talented and confident Charlton outfit; Mallik Wilks’ expert finish cancelling out John Marquis’s unfortunate own goal.
But, having won just one point from the previous six, there was an even greater sense of frustration when Tommy Rowe deflected home Marquis’s shot deep into stoppage time only for the goal to be controversially ruled out for offside.
That’s two points from nine now, with games against the top two, Barnsley and Luton Town, looming large. Next up it’s a trip to bottom side AFC Wimbledon, a team fighting for their lives.
Rovers need to go again.
SPIRIT IN ABUNDANCE
McCann has called for his team for fight and scrap their way to a top six finish.
And the Northern Irishman will be delighted with the battling qualities his team showed on an afternoon when they did not have things all their own way.
Rovers were on the ropes during the opening quarter when the visitors completely bossed proceedings and went close through Igor Vetokele and Lyle Taylor.
But they pulled themselves together and, as the half wore on, became an increasing threat on the counter. Marquis converted Wilks’ cross but the offside flag was up again.
Marko Marosi made a sensational save to keep out Krystian Bielik’s volley just before half time. Just after the break Paul Downing’s header was cleared off the line.
The back and forth nature of the contest continued when Charlton’s next best spell started with Taylor pinging a shot off the post and ended with Marquis heading Josh Cullen's cross past Marosi on 72 minutes.
But Rovers picked themselves up and equalised just four minutes later when Wilks collected the ball with his back to goal and superbly fired home from just outside the area.
They had been second best for much of the first half but it was the home side, galvanised by their leveller, who finished stronger. Only some fine goalkeeping from Dillon Phillips and a controversial offside call prevented them from claiming victory.
Rovers clearly showed they are up for the fight – and they’ll need to be to finish the job they have started.
MIDDLE MEN MUST DELIVER
Central, literally, to Rovers’ rise up the table this season has been their dynamic midfield, moving the ball quickly and getting in people’s faces.
So it was alarming to see Charlton’s diamond dominate for large periods - until the introduction of Blair.
The 31-year-old certainly put his hand up for a start at Wimbledon by livening Rovers up in midfield, putting his foot in and running at the Addicks’ backline.
The visitors played a crafty game by not allowing Ben Whiteman time and space to pass forward in typically probing fashion.
Ali Crawford was subdued and Herbie Kane had one of his poorest games yet in a Doncaster shirt.
McCann insists the Liverpool loanee is over the groin problem which kept him out at Shrewsbury in midweek but his performance here suggested otherwise.
The middle men must keep on delivering the goods.