Darren Ferguson’s call for home improvements fell on deaf ears as below par Doncaster Rovers were undone by Port Vale.
AJ Leitch-Smith scored early in the first half and midway through the second to end Rovers’ four-game unbeaten league run and condemn them to a fourth home defeat under Ferguson.
Cedric Evina halved the deficit with a fluke goal in the closing stages - and briefly raised hopes of an unlikely comeback - but Vale held firm in stoppage time.
While Rovers have not lost away from home since late October, their distinctly patchy home form is preventing them closing the gap on the top six.
And Ferguson would have been left scratching his head to explain why Rovers were so poor on a night when they could have leapfrogged Vale and potentially moved to within four points of the play-off zone.
The recent spate of injuries appears to have taken the wind out of Doncaster’s sails and ruined the continuity that aided Ferguson’s impressive start. But injuries were no excuse for a performance that lacked any sort of conviction in defence and in attack.
Ferguson recalled Mitchell Lund to the starting line-up at the expense of Gary MacKenzie and preferred Richard Chaplow to Paul Keegan in midfield.
Rovers’ boss has stressed the importance of scoring first, particularly at home, if his side are to mount a serious top six challenge so he would have been seriously miffed by going behind after just six minutes.
Home debutant Lynden Gooch had actually forced a decent save from Jak Alnwick moments earlier after twisting and turning in the box.
But it was Vale who broke the deadlock with their first serious effort on goal. Matthew Kennedy, who Rovers struggled to contain during the early stages, played it in from the left and Leitch-Smith controlled it before neatly dinking his shot past Thorsten Stuckmann.
Rovers were all at sea defensively following the goal and, after the visitors waltzed clean through again, Stuckmann denied Kennedy from 12 yards out with a vital stop.
Vale kept on finding joy down their left and Ferguson responded by moving Lund to the outside of Alcock, which stemmed the flow.
It was from Rovers’ right that they came closest to a leveller before the break too when the ball was moved to Gooch, whose cross was headed just wide of the near post by a stooping Chaplow.
James Coppinger saw a half chance go begging when he failed to control a volley from Evina’s cross.
And Andy Williams might have done better when he got in down the left but he showed too much of it to Alnwick.
Doncaster’s brighter moments, however, could not disguise a first half display that lacked any conviction.
To add to Rovers’ frustration, their recent glut of injuries worsened on the stroke of half time when Stuckmann fell awkwardly on his shoulder after collecting a ball and had to be replaced at the break by Marko Marosi.
Ferguson had no doubt read the riot act during the break and his side started the second period brightly, with Gooch and Coppinger probing in dangerous areas.
Just before the hour mark Rovers claimed a penalty when Chaplow got an arm in the back just as he was about to pull the trigger but referee Geoff Eltringham was unmoved.
In need of some inspiration, new loan signing Eddy Lecygne was introduced for Lund.
But within seconds Vale doubled their lead following a quick break down their left. JJ Hooper squared it for Leitch-Smith who saw his first effort blocked but when the ball bounced back to him he kept his head to sidestep Marosi and rifle home.
With the game meandering to a finish, Rovers grabbed a lifeline out of nothing with two minutes of normal time left when Evina’s cross from the left deceived Alnwick and looped over him to set up a nervy finish for the visitors.
Conor Grant then saw a piledriver saved by Alnwick but, on this occasion, Rovers failed to come back and rescue something from the game.
Rovers: Stuckmann (Marosi 46), Lund (Lecygne 63), Alcock, McCullough, Taylor-Sinclair, Evina, Chaplow, Coppinger (Mandeville 74), Grant, Gooch, Williams. Subs not used: MacKenzie, Keegan, N’Guessan, Main.
Port Vale: Alnwick, Yates, McGivern, Duffy, Dickinson, Dodds, O’Connor (Inniss 90), Grant, Kennedy (Foley 74), Hooper (Robinson 86), Leitch-Smith. Subs not used: Neal, Purkiss, Brown, Kelly.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (Co Durham)
Attendance: 4,799 (167 away)