Boro triumph at emotional Keepmoat
Billy Sharp opened the scoring for Doncaster on an emotional night at the Keepmoat Stadium, but Middlesbrough came from behind to claim a 3-1 victory with a clinical display.
Hours before kick-off Doncaster announced that captain Sharp's two-day-old son had died on Saturday, and it had been expected that the forward would be unable to play any part in the contest.
However, Rovers boss Dean Saunders sprang a surprise by including Sharp in his starting line-up alongside new signing El-Hadji Diouf.
A minute's applause celebrated the tragically short life of Sharp's child before kick-off and Sharp sent the Keepmoat Stadium into raptures when he netted a stunning volley inside the first 15 minutes.
Boro responded with the calm assurance of a side lodged in the upper reaches of the npower Championship and they were ahead by half-time.
A wretched mistake by Doncaster's veteran goalkeeper Neil Sullivan allowed Marvin Emnes to claim his side's second after Barry Robson's drive restored parity.
Robson's second and his side's third came from the penalty spot after another Sullivan error caused chaos inside his own penalty area and Pascal Chimbonda fouled Tony McMahon.
Diouf embarked upon an early surging run at the Middlesbrough defence, but his cross was dealt with and the opening exchanges featured little goalmouth action.
The Keepmoat erupted with 14 minutes gone when Diouf flicked the ball towards the left-hand edge of the penalty area where Sharp swivelled and rifled an exquisite dipping volley over goalkeeper Jason Steele into the far corner.
Sharp revealed a message on a t-shirt underneath his Doncaster jersey as he ran towards the home fans in celebration and referee Darren Deadman did not issue a caution.
Boro were rattled and Diouf caught their back line napping to fire narrowly wide two minutes later before visiting right wing-back Justin Hoyte limped down the tunnel and was replaced by Faris Haroun in the 21st minute.
The substitution necessitated a change of shape to 4-4-2 for Tony Mowbray, and moments after redeployed full-back McMahon delivered a teasing cross and Rhys Williams headed into Sullivan's arms for Middlesbrough's first attempt on target.
Although their attacks remained sporadic, Boro pulled level after half an hour when Robson was allowed to advance towards the Doncaster goal and drive a 20-yard effort into the bottom corner.
Rovers refused to drop their intensity in attack but they were behind in first-half stoppage time when Scott McDonald released Haroun down the right.
The Belgian's low cross was met by Emnes, whose close-range effort was tamely hit but Sullivan fumbled horribly and the ball trickled into his net.
Doncaster still appeared shaken at the start of the second half as Middlesbrough dominated.
Emnes missed a golden opportunity to increase the lead in the 55th minute when he skied a volley from six yards after Robson's delicate cross.
Boro's third came with 64 minutes gone and once again Sullivan was culpable.
The former Scotland international failed to hold a drive from Emnes, and although he managed to thwart Robson's follow-up, the ensuing melee saw Chimbonda bundle McMahon to the floor and Deadman pointed to the spot.
Sullivan guessed correctly, but Robson's well-struck penalty to the goalkeeper's left comfortably found the net.
Doncaster looked to respond but a pair of long-range efforts from full-back George Friend were all they had to show for their efforts Middlesbrough played out the match in composed fashion.
The sponsor's man of the match award went to Sharp, much to the delight of the remaining home fans, and Doncaster will need to display plenty more of his remarkable spirit after they slipped to the bottom of the npower Championship.
Doncaster 1-3 Middlesbrough: Match Report - view commentary, squad, and statictics of the game as it happened.