THE FA Cup’s magic shone on Rochdale at the Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday as the visitors defied the odds and the formbook to beat Doncaster for a place in the fourth round.
Calvin Andrew’s firsthalf header proved the difference between the teams with Dale withstanding everything Rovers had to throw at them in the second half, the final ten minutes in particular requiring strong nerves among the visiting backline.
It was a spirited display which defied the lack of confidence running through the club in recent weeks. And this against a side who came into the tie unbeaten in five games and having comfortably seen off Keith Hill’s men just eight days earlier on the same ground.
Hill made three changes to the side that started against Blackpool on New Year’s Day.
The Dale boss is no stranger to springing surprises in his team line-ups for cup ties – though he would argue 16-year-old Daniel Adshead fully deserved his place and only missed out against Blackpool because of the precarious nature of the club’s league position and the potential for the atmosphere in that game to be a little much for the youngster to be exposed to. Joe Bunney and Jim McNulty also returned to the starting XI.
The omission from the squad of Callum Camps was sure to raise eyebrows and – given the opening of the transfer window this month – will no doubt spark speculation as to why he was left out for such an important match.
Given both teams’ recent results it was no surprise to see Doncaster start the game brightly without creating much by way of goalmouth threat.
Momentum started to sway Rochdale’s way when Matty Done, back in an attacking role, flashed a cross-come-shot across the face of goal and just past the upright on the quarter hour mark.
And three minutes later came what proved the only goal of the game.
Niall Mason fouled Andy Cannon on the right-hand side, and Joe Bunney whipped the setpiece into the area. Andrew rose highest to send a glancing header beyond Rovers’ stopper Ian Lawlor, who was left rooted to the spot.
Rovers came close to equalising just after the half-hour mark when Rodney Kongolo’s cross was met by John Marquis, but his strike was straight at Josh Lillis, who also saved Matty Blair’s longrange effort.
Lawlor then had to be alert to prevent Dale from doubling the lead on the stroke of half-time, as Bunney’s cross from the left almost crept in at the far post, but the Irishman got across well to tip around the post with Andrew lurking.
The second half was cat and mouse – Doncaster looking to press for a goal to keep the tie alive, Rochdale a threat on the counter looking to score a second.
Lillis made a superb save in the 54th minute, flying across his goalline to deny Alfie Beestin from six-yards.
Heeding the warning, Dale turned up their own pursuit of a second and went close when Ian Henderson shot on target from 20 yards. Lawlor dived to his right as the effort dinked just past his post.
The visitors came close again on the hour mark when Bunney rattled a powerful effort narrowly wide of the upright from the edge of the area.
Dale’s first substitution of the game soon followed, Adshead replaced by the experienced head of Keith Keane.
Darren Ferguson’s teamwent agonisingly close to levelling the score when Rodney Kongolo’s hard work and neat turn down the right saw him play the ball inside for John Marquis, but the striker’s shot from
Kgosi Ntlhe gets Dale moving forward against Doncaster in the FA Cup third round clash