Doncaster 2 Middlesbrough 1
THE temperature was plummeting at Doncaster's Keepmoat Stadium, but Middlesbrough will have left South Yorkshire fearing it is not the only thing falling this weekend. With a full round of Championship fixtures planned for today, last night's 2-1 defeat could see the Teessiders tumble back into the bottom three. Having battled gamely in freezing conditions, Boro looked to have earned a creditable point as the clock ticked to the 93rd minute. Doncaster midfielder Brian Stock had other ideas, however, drilling a low shot through a crowd of players that caught goalkeeper Jason Steele unawares. Steele has enjoyed a successful week, having signed a new four-and-a-half year contract on Monday, but it ended on the sourest of notes as he palmed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. It was a particularly cruel finish given Boro's efforts to that point, and ensured there will be no pre-Christmas cheer on Teesside. Despite leading through Scott McDonald's fourth-minute strike, Tony Mowbray's side still slipped to their ninth away defeat of the season. With the thermometer displaying an Arctic minus four at kick-off, there were fears about last night's game taking place at all. Even when it did kick off, there were concerns about Carl Boyeson allowing it to finish. How Boro must have wished the referee had called an early halt to proceedings. As it was, they were left to reflect on an opportunity missed despite another strong showing from centre-halves David Wheater and Matthew Bates. Goodness knows what might happen if, as expected, Wheater is allowed to leave next month. Boro are set to lose McDonald for the majority of January whatever happens the Australia international is poised to represent his country in the Asia Cup and while that might not have mattered too much when he was struggling for form a few weeks ago, it could prove a major hindrance on the evidence of his more recent displays. Mowbray was quick to praise McDonald's performance in last Saturday's success against Cardiff the former Celtic striker was even quicker to follow it up with only his fourth league goal of the season last night. He displayed a neat turn of foot as he swivelled in the box to dispatch a fourth-minute strike past Neil Sullivan, but his effort owed much to the invention and awareness of Marvin Emnes. The Dutchman produced an impressive turn of pace to break clear down the left, but rather than trying to slide the ball past Sullivan from an acute angle, he also possessed the presence of mind required to calmly turn backwards and roll a precise square ball into McDonald's path. It was the type of creative vision that was rarely apparent under Gordon Strachan, who banished Emnes to Swansea after alienating him in the summer, but will hopefully be a sign of things to come under Mowbray. In truth, it wasn't really a fair reflection of last night's game, as after being caught cold in the early minutes perhaps inevitable given the conditions Doncaster quickly set about restoring parity with a sequence of slick, well-constructed passing moves. James Hayter dispatched a range finder that flew over the crossbar, but the Championship Player of the Month for November did not need a second invitation when a close-range opportunity presented itself midway through the first half. Billy Sharp was given time and space to deliver a teasing cross from the right, and with the Boro defence caught flat-footed, Hayter stole between two defenders to head home from eight yards. Doncaster's midfield movement caused problems all night, but with Wheater and Bates generally holding the line well, and Kevin Thomson dropping deep to shield his back four, the visitors restricted their opponents to a handful of chances. Boro's attacking was fitful, with neither Thomson nor Julio Arca offering much going forward, but had Emnes not volleyed over when the Doncaster defence failed to clear Justin Hoyte's cross shortly before the interval, Boro might well have found themselves back in the lead. They went close again within two minutes of the break Leroy Lita prodding too close to Sullivan after latching on to Gary O'Neil's cross but spent most of the second half dropping deep in order to repel a series of Rovers attacks. On the whole, their attempts at containment worked, although the lively Hayter almost claimed a second after a neat one-two with Sharp shortly before the hour mark. Perhaps content with a hard-earned point, Mowbray bolstered his midfield with the introduction of Barry Robson for McDonald midway through the second period, but while the Scotsman was brought on with half an eye on containment, he delivered arguably the best pass of the night within five minutes of his arrival. His well-judged through ball released Lita down the inside-right channel, but the striker's shot was turned over by Sullivan. Steele was also forced into action as the game became increasingly stretched late on parrying a rising drive from substitute Joseph Mills and tipping a stoppage-time effort from Hayter over the crossbar and former Darlington defender Shelton Martis came close to claiming an 80th-minute winner with a header that flashed narrowly past the post. He was not the only defender going close in the dying minutes, as Wheater volleyed wastefully over when he found himself all alone in the penalty area, but the defender's miss was nothing compared to the 89th-minute aberration produced by Kris Boyd. The Scotland international appeared perfectly placed to tap home Joe Bennett's left-wing cross, but missed his kick completely on the edge of the six-yard box. Even at the time, it looked an awful miss. Four minutes later, and the full cost of his mistake was apparent.
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