Match analysis: Blip, what blip? Only a collapse of epic proportions will prevent promotion now
Blip, what blip?
Doncaster Rovers might have taken only a below-par 11 points from the last 24 available.
But victory against a hard-working but limited Cheltenham Town side got Rovers right back on track and now closing in on an instant return to League One.
It would now take a collapse of epic proportions for Darren Ferguson’s men not to win automatic promotion at the first time of asking.
Indeed, another 11 points from the remaining ten games - which would take Rovers’ tally to 83 - would arguably be enough to secure a top-three finish.
The target, however, remains a two-points-per-game total of 92 and the League Two title. This team are intent on going up in style.
Rovers did what they had to do to get past a robust but shot-shy Cheltenham team who arrived at the Keepmoat Stadium in confident mood on the back of four games unbeaten.
They were not at their fluent best but had more than enough in their armoury to continue their fine home record and take another big step towards promotion.
Cheltenham started the game better and their intense pressing forced several mistakes and misplaced passes from Rovers.
But for all of the Robins’ endeavour they struggled to make any impression in the final third and registered just two attempts on goal during the whole game, both of which fell to Kyle Wooton and both of which were comfortably dealt with by Ian Lawlor.
Rovers had gone close early on when the industrious Alfie May’s clever flick forced a save from the busy Scott Brown.
But, with the hosts struggling to impose themselves, the opening goal midway through the first half arrived somewhat out of the blue when a quickly taken free kick from James Coppinger gave Matty Blair time and space to cross for Andy Butler to prod home after arriving at the back stick.
Rovers then had plenty of opportunities to make the game safe, the best of which fell to May and Coppinger.
May had three attempts blocked in quick succession before he was played in by Coppinger but saw his effort saved by Brown. The rebound fell kindly for Coppinger but his shot was hacked off the line.
At 1-0 there was always the danger of Cheltenham nicking something, in similar fashion to Accrington Stanley last time out at the Keepmoat.
But when Will Boyle received a second yellow card on 71 minutes for an off the ball challenge on May the game was pretty much up for the visitors.
John Marquis then saw a fine effort brilliantly tipped over by Brown before Mathieu Baudry went close with a bicycle kick.
But the points were wrapped up in the 81st minute when May won the ball on halfway and made excellent ground before the ball fell kindly for Marquis to clinically drill home his 21st goal of the season.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
While much of the praise this season has centred on Rovers’ goalscoring feats, back-to-back clean sheets at such an important stage of the season will delight Ferguson.
That defensive stability has provided a platform for winning seven points out of the last nine, putting an end to the ‘mini-blip’.
And no surprise it has coincided with the re-uniting of Butler and Baudry at centre-back, a partnership which has become a really key one over the course of the campaign.
Baudry was not at his best on Saturday but he had players alongside him in Butler and Craig Alcock who barely put a foot wrong all afternoon, while man of the match Blair continues to be something of a revelation at right-back.
SIGN HIM UP!
If Niall Mason is available on a free transfer at the end of the season then Ferguson will do well to make him one of his first summer signings.
The Aston Villa loanee’s versatility has become a huge asset to Rovers.
Against the Robins he delivered his best performance yet in the midfield holding role.
Mason did all the things you want in that position with real maturity - he positioned himself well, won the ball back and kept possession.
The energy and youthfulness that he brings to the side would also make him an excellent addition if Villa decide he is no longer in their plans.
BUTLER: WE REMAIN FOCUSED
Victory moved Rovers 14 points clear of fourth place with ten games remaining.
But, as club captain Andy Butler neatly summed up after the game, there will be no let up from anyone inside the Rovers dressing room until their promotion and title objectives are achieved.
“All we are focused on is the next game. Nobody will be taking the foot off the gas,” he said.
“We don’t worry about other teams, just keep concentrating on ourselves.
“The last few games we have had a few draws, but we just keep picking up points.
“I know people have said it’s a blip, but you wouldn’t mind having a blip if it’s seven points from nine.
“We just need to keep carrying on what we are doing. We have had two tough away games.
“That’s two clean sheets on the bounce now and it’s something we wanted to improve on.
“I think we dealt with everything Cheltenham threw at us. They had a start where they got a few corners in a row, and in the second half too it took us a while to get going.
“But I thought we grew into the game in both halves and thoroughly deserved the win.”