Rovers sealed a Sky Bet League One play-off place as goals from Kieran Sadlier and John Marquis secured a 2-0 victory over Coventry City.
It was a gritty, edgy affair at the Keepmoat Stadium on the final day of the regular season but Rovers handled the pressure, battled hard and put in a professional performance as they fought their way to well-deserved win against very good opposition.
Grant McCann made just one change to the side which ground out a draw away at Oxford with Kieran Sadlier replacing Tommy Rowe. The change of personnel also brought about a change in formation with Rovers reverting to the formation that had served them so well in their four-game winning streak before Easter – a 4-2-3-1.
Visiting manager Mark Robins also made one change with Jordan Willis coming in to replace Tom Davies.
The match began amidst a barrage of noise from the Rovers fans who had responded to the manager’s mid-week rallying call for them to make the stadium an intimidating place for the visitors. The home team seemed to respond to the roaring of the fans and Mallik Wilks went close to opening the scoring within two minutes of kick-off. James Coppinger, in his no.10 role, knocked a cheeky back heel into the Leeds United loanee’s path and Wilks went just wide from distance.
The Sky Blues are not sitting in eighth place for nothing and Rovers needed a timely bit of defending from Danny Andrew to prevent Brandon Mason from getting on the scoresheet before Jordan Shipley fired his shot wide from the edge of the box.
After a fast first five minutes, the match settled down. Rovers exercised a level of patience as they looked to play their way into the match and the game idled by with a calmness the manager had promised in the match build-up.
While neither team had produced anything to shout about since the opening flurry of action, Coventry boasted the lions share of the possession. Rovers looked to have earned a golden opportunity on the 20th minute when Sadlier hit the deck outside the box, but referee Jeremy Simpson saw it another way an gave the Irish youth international a card for simulation.
The match blazed into life just before the half hour mark. A perfectly timed challenge by Ben Whiteman launched a Rovers attack. The ball rolled out to Coppinger who pinged a fantastic cross into the box and into the path of John Marquis. The no.9 controlled it brilliantly to take it away from his defender but he could not quite connect with the shot which trundled through to ‘keeper Lee Burge.
Burge was quickly called into action again when Marquis went close for a second time. Whiteman also had a shot from the edge of the box which took a heavy deflection to allow Burge to collect with ease.
However, the visiting keeper could do nothing when Rovers took the lead on the half-hour mark. Wilks’ ball into the box was met by the head of Sadlier who nodded past Burge to put Rovers a goal up.
There was little wake-up call for Rovers - if one were needed - when Coventry put the ball in the back of the net, but referee Simpson had already blown for a foul on Whiteman in the build-up.
There was a break in play just before half-time as Bright Enokbakhare picked up an injury which forced him off the field. He was replaced by Conor Chapilin which brought about the end of the first-half action.
Rovers started the second half the brighter side. Some intelligent play by Andrew won Rovers their first corner of the half and while the delivery was over hit, it was an early sign of danger for the visitors. Herbie Kane was next to go close for Rovers as his cross picked up a gust of wind an almost snuck in at the far corner before Andrew’s effort from distance sailed just over.
Despite Rovers initial pressure, the first big chance of the half fell to the visitors. Jordy Hiwula’s effort from a narrow angle was well-stopped by Marko Marosi - this would prove to be his only save of the game. Shortly after substitute Chaplin sent an effort both high and wide.
Rovers continued to look sharp in midfield, getting first to ball and nicking in front to win the ball in key areas. The boys in red and white were a little susceptible to the counter attack as they went in search of a second, but the defensive unit were not taking any chances at the back with centre backs Andy Butler and Paul Downing marshalling the back four as they kicked and headed everything clear.
Rovers created a few half chances, Matty Blair had a shot saved from 18-yards and Andrew’s ball into the box was inches from finding Marquis who was left unmarked.
McCann then opted for his first change adding the energy of Ali Crawford in place of Wilks.
As the game wore on, the atmosphere in the ground became more and more edgy. Rovers were still going in search of a second but in a game that was scrappy and ugly, heavy legs seemed to be creeping in as the midfield covered every blade of grass to defend the slender lead. The whole team put their bodies on the line with blocks and tackles to keep the visitors at bay.
With just ten minutes remaining, McCann opted to make his final two changes with Tommy Rowe and Tyler Smith replacing James Coppinger and Kieran Sadlier. Rowe made himself known immediately as he was booked for preventing a Coventry break.
After 84 minutes, Marquis did what Marquis does best scoring his 25th goal of a remarkable season to double Rovers' advantage. He latched on to a cross which Burge managed to save. The keeper was not able to smother the chance, however, and as the ball popped, Marquis mustered every bit of determination to bundle to ball over the line.
Crawford came close to putting the icing on the cake as his first time strike from a Marquis pass flew just over the bar and into the jubilant Rovers fans in the South Stand.