Stevenage succumbed to a 94thminute Rob Jones header in a 2-1 defeat at the Lamex Stadium, but positives will be taken from a strong display in front of the home supporters.
Boro have found it hard at home this term but the performance, against the side with the best away record in the Divison thus far, was far superior to that which has been seen so far this season. As well as confident displays from some familiar faces, and a goal of the season candidate from James Dunne, new-signings Steve Beleck and Sam Hoskins would certainly have pleased the eye of the Boro faithful.
In a goalless first half both sides had chances and it set the game up nicely for the second 45 minutes. Doncaster are a side who give away few chances and staying in the game would have been the aim early on.
Doncaster had only conceded 8 goals away from home so far this season, it was made 9 not long after the hour mark though with Dunne joining the elite club. A corner was cleared to the edge of the box and the midfielder hit a peach half-volley into the top corner to break the deadlock.
Rovers’ leveler came in dubious circumstances when Dave Syers picked up a ball in behind the defence – there was no offside flag despite large protests from the home side but Steve Arnold did well to stop his shot. When relying on his defence to make the clearance they failed him and Iain Hume strode in to hammer the ball home.
With 94 minutes on the clock and what would have been reflected on as a decent home point to the title contenders, Doncaster had a winner. Jones, holding title of player/manager after the departure of Dean Saunders, netted with a close range header from a corner.
In the moments after the game bitter disappointment would have been felt by management, players and supporters, but when the dust settles and the autopsy begins positives will be clear and a building platform created.
As expected, Boro lined up with two in attack and there was just one change made to the side that began the victory over Crewe Alexandra last Saturday as manager Gary Smith gave striker Beleck a home debut. On-loan from Watford, Beleck replaced Filipe Morais in the starting line-up with Greg Tansey beginning the game on the right side of midfield as he did at Gresty Road. Miguel Comminges, fresh from signing a new contract at the Lamex, retained his place on the left side of the defence after expressing his desire to push for promotion with Stevenage this season.
The game began at a high tempo and the initial atmosphere in the ground matched the end-to-end play on the field. Beleck was pulling the Doncaster defence all over the place and Haber went close when getting his head to a back post corner that was drilled through the area. On the break Rovers showed their attacking prowess and it took a late Anthony Grant block to deny Cotterill a shot on goal.
The first half was progressing nicely and in a game where chances would be hard to come by, Smith’s side looked patient. They plugged away, trying each wing and build up through the middle against two towering centre halves in the form of Rob Jones and Jamie McCombe and you sensed that hard work would create moments to try and make the breakthrough. At the other end the defending was without any real trauma up to the 25 minute mark – Hume tested Arnold after outmuscling Roberts but the Boro ‘keeper was equal to his effort.
James Dunne did well to get a shot away in the box under pressure, after a neat back heel from Akins had set him up, but his effort was comfortably over the bar on the half hour mark.
The scores were level at the break and after the restarted the away side began to push for an opener; their best effort fell to Hume after the striker latched onto a flicked header – he looked offside but the linesman disagreed, the flag stayed down and the former Preston man shot low but Arnold saved it well with his feet and Comminges mopped up with the clearance.
Boro began to settle and create some fluid attacking play; Tansey’s first effort was over the bar and with his second chance he completely missed the ball after a low Akins cross into the area. A corner was won though, and it was the former Stockport Rovers man who took it. His ball into the middle was good but Jones headed it clear to the edge of the box; Dunne was there and watched the ball down well before rocketing a half volley through the crowded area – the ‘keeper was beaten and it nestled into the top corner beautifully to give Boro the lead.
A McCombe header from Hume’s cross teased the away supporters but whistled wide, but Rovers were pushing hard for an equaliser. Instead it was Stevenage with a chance though, substitute Sam Hoskins chased down a McCombe clearance and the rebound put him through, he ran towards goal but was pulled down by the recovering centre back but the referee decided there was no free kick.
Seconds later and another decision went against Smith’s side – a ball over the defence looked to have caught Syers offside but the midfielder pulled the ball down with no flag, one-on-one Arnold stood up well and made a decent save but his defence let him down with a non-clearance. It allowed Hume to nip in and take possession, the striker had the simple task of hammering it home from close range to level the scores.
Doncaster were piling on the pressure, balls were flying into the box from all angles and in the fourth of five added on minutes Cotterill curled a corner in. Player/Manager Jones rose above everyone in the box to head it into the back of the net and condemn Boro to a last-gasp defeat.
Stevenage (4-4-2) Arnold; Gray, Roberts, Charles, Comminges (N’Gala 84); Tansey (Morais 82), Grant, Dunne, Akins; Beleck (Hoskins 65), Haber
Unused Subs: Day, Hills, Ball, Freeman
Att: 3280 (798 away)