A late Matty Blair goal means Rovers are still in the tie as they head to The Valley on Friday night for the second leg of the Sky Bet League One semi-final after strikes from Charlton Athletic’s Lyle Taylor and Joe Aribo put the visitors ahead in the first-half.
Rovers hit the woodwork, had a chance cleared off the line, and saw numerous shots fire just wide of both of Dillon Phillips posts in what was an extremely frustrating afternoon at the Keepmoat Stadium before Blair finally registered the goal, they deserved just five minutes from time.
Grant McCann named an unchanged side from the one who had been so disciplined and so professional when getting the job done the week before against Coventry City.
Lee Bowyer also opted for no changes with consistency key to his side’s 15 game unbeaten run which saw them leapfrog both Sunderland and Portsmouth on the final day of the season to claim League One’s third spot.
The atmosphere was electric with both sets of fans in fine voice in the build-up to kick-off and the match started in the same frantic manor that griped the stands with neither side really stamping their authority on the game.
The first warning for Rovers came early. Charlton Athletic had the ball in the back of the net after just seven minutes and while the fans in the away end roared, referee Oliver Langford had long since blown for a foul on Andy Butler after Josh Parker had bundled the Rovers skipper over in his attempt to reach the ball.
James Coppinger was the first player for either side to get a clear shot at goal. His effort from just inside the box was dragged a whisker wide of the far post in a move that sparked a period of good pressure for the home side.
Blair had a shot blocked from the edge of the box and Mallik Wilks was close to finding Kieran Sadlier with a cross which the Ireland Youth International would almost certainly have nodded home.
Charlton’s first big opportunity fell to striker Lyle Taylor – he controlled the cross excellently and hit the shot on the spin. His effort was blocked by Butler and Joe Aribo’s follow-up effort was blocked by Herbie Kane. Parker then somehow managed to head Ben Purrington’s cross wide under no pressure from the centre of the Rovers penalty box – throwing away a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Rovers responded with a wild strike from distance from Kane before Coppinger forced a superb save from Dillon Phillps. The no.26 turned on the spot from about 25-yards and curved a beautiful strike just inside the post but the Addick’s stopper used all of his height to get a hand out to push the ball around the post.
Sadlier found himself hacked down by Patrick Bauer just before the half-hour mark. A challenge which earned the Charlton captain a yellow card and Rovers a free-kick. Despite being thirty yards out, a dead ball situation with Danny Andrew stood over it always spells danger. The left back struck the effort beautifully but had to watch in crash off the woodwork.
At the other end, some miscommunication at the back for Rovers presented Taylor with a chance to shoot from point-blank range which drew a superb reaction stop from Marko Marosi.
While both teams had gone close, it was Charlton’s Taylor who would register the first goal in what appeared to be controversial circumstances. A free-kick into the Rovers box appeared to clear both sets of players before being stopped on the back line by Anfernee Dijksteel in an offside position, the defender’s ball back across the face of goal was bundled in by Taylor to the loud and numerous protests from everyone in the stadium wearing red and white hoops. A look back at the replay showed that the ball in had in fact glanced Butler’s head and had played the Addick’s right-back onside but the goal still left a nasty taste in the mouth.
Things went from bad to worse for Rovers as just two minutes later, the visitors doubled their advantage through Aribo. A clever pass from Taylor found the Addick’s midfielder free in the box and Marosi was unable to do anything as Aribo shot back across the goal knocking the effort just inside the far post.
The two-goal advantage gave the visitors a bit of swagger and Albie Morgan’s effort from distance had been destined for the top corner if not for the fingertips of an outstretched Marosi.
Ben Whiteman would have the last effort on goal as his volley from distance took a deflection which took it just wide. After two minutes of added time, a frantic first-half came to an end.
McCann opted to make a change at half-time with Coppinger making way for Tommy Rowe.
Rovers got off to a blistering start but – despite their efforts and energy - their luck would not change.
Butler had the agony of seeing his headed attempt from a corner-kick cleared off the line and John Marquis’s follow-up effort found the wrong side of the post before Kane lashed a fierce effort wide from distance.
Just before the hour mark, Andrew was offered a second chance from a free-kick. This time he drove the effort low, it took a deflection around the far post bouncing twice before heading out for a corner which offered Rovers another chance to whip in a fierce set-piece. This time it was Sadlier with the delivery and, once again Rovers had to watch the opportunity fizz just wide.
A change in personnel from Charlton took some of the sting out of Rovers’ relentless attacking and the visitors registered their first attempt of the second half a few moments later as Purrington’s effort from the edge of the box was hit straight down Marosi’s throat and it was saved easily. Their second chance came soon after, this time a glancing header by Aribo which was stopped comfortably.
Rovers followed up with some good play of their own, Rowe teed up Whiteman whose left-footed effort was fired well over the bar before Wilks’ pace, power and trickery saw him chip a neat looking ball into the danger area, but Phillips was able to rise highest collect in the Addick’s goal.
With just five minutes left on the clock, Rovers managed to get the goal their performance so richly deserved as Blair arrived on the back post to take Wilks’ cross over the line and half the deficit for the second leg.