MATCH REPORT: Crystal Palace 1 Doncaster Rovers 1
LATE substitute Chris Brown rescued what could prove to be a precious point for Rovers just three minutes after entering the fray.
Brown pounced from close range to level Jermaine Easter’s opening goal just before the hour mark, but the equaliser was little more than gutsy Rovers had deserved.
They dominated large periods of the game and missed numerous chances on a night when a single point wasn’t enough to prevent Dean Saunders’ men from slipping back to the foot of the Championship table.
There was drama in the half-hour leading up to kick-off as boss Saunders – who had shuffled his pack slightly by announcing three changes to his starting line-up – was forced into a fourth at the very last minute.
Centre-back Shelton Martis, who was set to return after a calf strain, limped out of the pre-match warm-up so Saunders called up Habib Beye – a player who himself had been struggling with an ankle problem – to partner Adam Lockwood at the back.
That decision did raise eyebrows as Beye hadn’t even been named on the original list of substitutes so time would tell if his ankle would hold up.
Elsewhere Irish midfielder Paul Keegan was back in the starting 11 after a mammoth 12 months out injured, while Fabian Robert was in for his first start on the wing.
It was Robert who looked lively early on and with just three minutes on the clock he tested Eagles’ keeper Julian Speroni from 12 yards.
Rovers had gone into the game on the back of three straight defeats and Palace only saw a 10-match unbeaten run halted by Derby at the weekend, but it was Saunders’ men who continued to force the pace in the opening quarter.
Freddie Piquionne was particularly impressive – heading inches wide and then being thwarted by the woodwork as his close-range shot struck the outside of a post.
Palace’s first clear-cut chance came from first-half sub Glenn Murray just a minute before the interval. The former Brighton hit-man found space in the Rovers box but could only side-foot a shot straight at Carl Ikeme.
The hosts opened the second period much more purposefully and livewire Wilfried Zaha was at the heart of all their good work.
It had been such a promising first half for Rovers, but it wasn’t against the run of play when Palace struck the opener in the 57th minute.
Zaha was the creator, turning and then crossing in towards the six-yard box for much-travelled striker Easter who slotted home past Ikeme at the second attempt.
All of a sudden Rovers were staring down the barrel and Murray almost immediately made it 2-0 when he flashed a shot into the side-netting from a tight angle.
The visitors did soon rally, however, and by the halfway point in the second half the game had opened up again and Piquionne fluffed a great chance when he screwed a shot badly wide from just 12 yards out.
Lockwood did likewise as he missed a sitter, but just as Rovers looked as though they miss out on a potentially priceless point, sub Brown struck.
The former Hull, Preston and Norwich front-man had only been on the field for three minutes when he clinically finished off a tempting cross from El-Hadji Diouf.
Palace (4-4-2): Speroni 7, Moxey 6, McCarthy 8, McShane 5 (Gardner 6, 6 (Murray 24, 7)), Williams 7 (Ambrose 80, 6), Clyne 6, Dikgacoi 7, O’Keefe 7, Martin 6, Easter 7, Zaha 8. Subs: Price, Pedroza.
ROVERS (4-5-1): Ikeme 7, Chimbonda 6 (Friend 36, 6), Lockwood 7, Beye 7, Ilunga 6, Robert 7 (Barnes 72, 5), Gillet 5, Keegan 7 (Brown 73, 7), Oster 6, Diouf 7, Piquionne 7.
Subs: Bennett, Coppinger.
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire)
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