Exeter City earned a superb win at Doncaster Rovers
Darren’s men drop to second
DONCASTER may have been the first side to seal their promotion to League One this season, but there was a funereal atmosphere at the Keepmoat Stadium as a third successive defeat saw them slip off the top of the table.
The home side had hoped to celebrate with the League Two trophy, and with Plymouth behind and Doncaster level at the break, the stage was set for Rovers to claim it yesterday.
But Exeter’s second-half showing ruined Rovers’ party, with David Wheeler and Liam McAlinden sealing a play-off place for Paul Tisdale’s men; while Plymouth’s comeback against Crewe puts the Pilgrims top going into the final day.
Darren Ferguson has finished second in League Two and League One with Peterborough, as well as going up through the play-offs, but has never won a league title.
And the 45-year-old was disconsolate to see Rovers throw it away after sitting top for the past 20 games.
He said: “I’m gutted, bitterly disappointed. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point and then in the penultimate game we’ve had the worst result of the season.
“So at the moment I’m very raw and very disappointed.
“To take one point from four games in any part of the season, but particularly this part, you don’t get it back because obviously there’s not enough games left.
“It’s an incredibly disappointed dressing room and we might never get in the position we’ve had to be champions of a league, because that’s gone now – Plymouth are probably going to win the league.”
The Keepmoat Stadium was party central at both ends during the first half, and the atmosphere was only enhanced by news of Crewe taking the lead at Plymouth.
But with Exeter’s play-off place not yet confirmed, they were never going to give Doncaster an easy time of it, and they took the lead in stylish fashion.
Captain Jordan Moore-Taylor hammered home Ryan Harley’s clever lay-off in a well-practised free kick routine, giving Ian Lawlor no chance.
James Coppinger levelled things up with a thunderous volley ten minutes later, connecting perfectly with Tommy Rowe’s cross at the back post.
Things started turning sour for the hosts after the break as Joe Wright clearly handled the ball inside the six-yard box after Craig Alcock hacked the ball off the line.
Lawlor saved both Harley’s spot kick and his resulting follow-up effort, but Wheeler scored on the third attempt to put City back ahead.
The Rovers faithful were quieted by news of Plymouth taking the lead – both in their game and in the title race – and things got worse still as substitute McAlinden fired home from Ollie Watkins’ square ball.
Having promised to come out for some post-match celebrations with the supporters, the poor Doncaster players had to downheartedly traipse around a near-empty stadium for the few hundred fans who had stayed behind.
Exeter manager Paul Tisdale was delighted to have confirmed a play-off place, with a win that will also give City confidence in their promotion push.
He said: “We’re delighted, really really happy.
“I’m not going to lie to you, we’ve had a very pleasant five minutes in the dressing room, but we just want to make sure this is not our best moment. We need some normality now between now and next week and the week after, and to stay on the job.
“Everyone did their bit and there were some big big performances out there, and we’re going to need more of that going into the next – hopefully – four games.
“All round, it was a really competent performance and I’m very pleased.”
DOWN IN THE DUMPS: Doncaster Rovers boss Darren Ferguson can’t hide his frustration
THIRD TIME LUCKY: David Wheeler puts the Grecians ahead after Ryan Harley’s penalty was saved to the delight of Lloyd James, inset
EYE ON THE BALL: James Coppinger scores a volley