DONCASTER Rovers climbed off the foot of the Championship table in style with victory over league leaders Southampton.
Leading scorer Billy Sharp scored the only goal of the match to secure Rovers their second home win of the season.
Sharp turned down a move to St Mary’s in the summer after the newly-promoted Saints had matched Rovers’ asking price of £3m plus.
Having had Sharp on the books during his time in charge at Scunthorpe, Saints’ boss Nigel Adkins knows all about him, but he was non committal on the prospects of the club making another attempt to land Rovers’ top scorer in next month’s transfer window, merely saying that he’s a ‘goal-scorer’
But don’t be surprised if they do make another bid and with the club currently holding down an automatic promotion spot, Sharp would have to give any approach careful consideration.
But having seen the 25-year-old take his tally to three in the last two games, manager Dean Saunders would be loathe to lose him.
Few people will have expected Rovers to beat the South coast club.
Even allowing for the fact that the free-scoring visitors were without 14-goal striker Rickie Lambert, they still had plenty of firepower on show.
But they got little joy from a Rovers back-four which kept a clean sheet for the second time in three games and fully justified Saunders’ decision to stand by them despite the fact that the team had conceded three in midweek at Millwall.
Albeit his options were limited by injuries and suspension, but I’d be surprised were he to change the line-up for Saturday’s trip to Birmingham when he’ll have an embarrassment of riches.
Habib Beye took the sponsors’ man of the match award for the second successive home game, but fellow centre-back Sam Hird wasn’t far behind him whilst both full-backs Herita Ilunga and James O’Connor also showed up well as did keeper Carl Ikeme.
The Wolves loanee must have expected a busier afternoon given the fact that Southampton are the league’s top scorers, but he only had to make two really decent saves, denying both Morgan Schneiderlin and Guly Do Prado in the first half.
Former Southampton midfielder Simon Gillett, who tested former team-mate Kelvin Davis with a low 25 yarder early on, went closest to opening Rovers account in the first half along with Ilunga, who had a far post header from a corner cleared off the line by Do Prado
Brian Stock, who hails from the Southampton area, got through a lot of work in midfield and shot narrowly wide of the post from over 20 yards after good work by O’Connor and striker Marc-Antoine Fortune
“I felt the fittest and the best I’ve felt going into a game for a long time and hopefully I can keep it up it up for the rest of the season and remain injury free,” said Stock.
“I’d say it was the best we’ve played (since the manager took charge) as an all-round performance.
“It was nice to get one over my local team but as long as we get three points I don’t care who we beat.”
Stock, who captained Rovers for the first time this season, had a hand in what turned out to be the winning goal.
He picked out Fortune as Rovers caught Saints on the break and the the West Bromwich Albion man did well to pull the ball back for Sharp to rifle home to claim his sixth goal of the season.
“I had a chance in the first half but I decided to have a touch (before shooting),” said Sharp. “I decided that if I got another chance I’d hit it first time and I think that’s why I caught the keeper off-guard and it’s gone under him.
“Fortune did brilliantly (to set up the chance). He works his socks off and he’s a tricky player.
“It was a particularly good performance but it was the result which counted and we managed to get that today so the lads are delighted and we need to kick on now and pick up another win pretty soon.
“They were without their top scorer Lambert but I’ve not seen much of them this year so I don’t know if they missed him or not.
“I think we frustrated them in the first half and stuck to our game plan and then got the goal in the second half.
“We then showed that we could close a game out.”
Whereas many managers in his position would look to blame the absence of Lambert, not so Adkins.
“Rickie was unavailable through injury today but we try, like all teams, not to rely on one player,” he said. “He’s a major player in our team but everyone is going to get injuries over the course of the season.”
Unbeaten at home for 21 games, Saints have now lost back to back away games for the first time this season.
“We know that we’ve got to do better away from home,” said Adkins. “We endeavour to win every game and maybe because of that we leave ourselves a little bit exposed.
“Doncaster worked very, very hard today. There was a spirit about them.”