Paul Dickov’s programme notes last night were entitled ‘Banishing the demons’ but he was left cursing some poor defending and suspect officiating as they crashed at home to League One leaders Bristol City.
First half goals from Luke Freeman and Greg Cunningham, from the penalty spot, put City firmly in control.
Curtis Main halved the deficit with a sensational strike and Rovers rallied but Aaron Wilbraham struck a vital third to seal the points for Steve Cotterill’s men.
A bad tempered second half saw referee Stuart Attwell and his officials continually rile Rovers with their decision making, which played a part in a late brawl that involved both managers.
Following a very subdued start to the game, the opening goal came out of the blue after just ten minutes.
Wilbraham’s attempted cross field ball bounced very kindly off Jamie McCombe and Freeman, who was inadvertently sent clear, kept his cool to slot neatly underneath the body of Stephen Bywater.
The goal increased the anxiety levels of the home crowd and their team were struggling to settle too.
Dean Furman’s excellent run into the box, following Wellens’ neat chip and Harry Forrester’s header, caused momentary panic in the City defence before Nathan Tyson, sprightly in his running, drilled an effort just wide of the right hand post.
Doncaster’s defence were notably more panicky.
And having scrambled the ball clear Cunningham flicked Luke Ayling’s right wing cross just over, before more unconvincing defending presented the full back with a chance to double the lead from the spot.
Kieran Agard went to ground under the challenge of Andy Butler and it was Cunningham who confidently converted from 12 yards.
Just before the second goal a moment of magic from Wellens had carved open City but Furman saw his shot well blocked by Aden Flint. Now two behind, it would need more of that magic to conjure anything from a game that was threatening to get away from Rovers.
With nothing to lose, Paul Dickov shuffled his pack at the break, bringing on frontmen Curtis Main and Uche Ikpeazu for ineffective widemen Kyle Bennett and Harry Forrester, switching to a bold 4-3-3 system.
It paid dividends too, in spectacular fashion, as Main instantly became the magic man.
With the home side growing increasingly frustrated with the officials, Main took that anger out on the ball as, out of nothing, he unleashed a screamer from the angle of the box which crashed in off the underside of the bar.
Suddenly it was a different game as Ikpeazu’s strength, Main’s movement and Tyson’s pace on the flank gave City a genuine headache. Reece Wabara lashed a shot over from 25 yards as the home fans found their voices and, for the first time in the game, City retreated.
The ball almost dropped kindly for McCombe in the box before Ikpeazu headed into Frank Fielding’s arms. Rovers were threatening what had seemed an unlikely comeback.
But it proved to be the calm before the storm as City, in typically ruthless fashion, went up the other end and reclaimed their two-goal advantage; Wilbraham slotting home after Butler completely misjudged a cross from the left.
Moments later Wilbraham’s reckless tackle on Wabara sparked a mass brawl and an ugly coming together of Dickov and his opposite number Cotterill. Attwell had completely lost control but, more importantly, Rovers had lost the impetus they generated after the restart.
Abdul Razak came on for Paul Keegan as Doncaster continued to probe away at City during a bad tempered end to the game but they were ultimately left to reflect on their second defeat in the space of four days.
Rovers: Bywater, Wabara, Stevens, Butler, McCombe, Keegan (Razak 76), Wellens, Furman, Bennett (Ikpeazu 46), Forrester (Main 46), Tyson. Subs not used: Marosi, McCullough, Evina, Robinson.
Bristol City: Fielding, Ayling, Williams, Flint, Little, Cunningham, K Smith, Pack, Freeman (Wagstaff 90), Wilbraham (M Smith 89), Agard (Emmanuel-Thomas 90+3). Subs not used: Elliott, Richards, Bryan, Tavernier.
Referee: Stuart Attwell