Rovers fans were rewarded on their returned to the Keepmoat Stadium as Rovers were narrowly edged out by Premier League Newcastle United 3-2.
The visitors took an early lead when Ryan Fraser fired in from outside the box, and doubled their lead with 24 minutes when Sean Longstaff got on the end of a delightful ball across the box.
Rovers hit back quickly though with Tommy Rowe tapping home from close range when the visiting keeper failed to hold a deflected shot.
Callum Wilson extended the lead again just after half time and a late header from Omar Bogle made it 3-2.
The match kicked off under a thunderous noise which the Keepmoat Stadium has not enjoyed since February of 2020.
Richie Wellens named a stong XI and in places the football flowed like they had been playing together for a long time, but there were some moments of rustiness from those who were returning from a period of isolation.
Newcastle were also out in full force and showed their class when they took the lead in the eleventh minute. Fraser’s low drive from outside the area was struck with too much power for Louis Jones to save.
Rovers were getting into good positions and found some joy as the full backs raced forward with speed and purpose. They got into good areas but were unable to turn them into clear cut chances. A few skied efforts came and went and a couple of crosses which didn’t quite find their intended target.
It the game was open and end-to-end the visitors were undoubtedly more clinical and Sean Longstaff couldn’t miss when Allan Saint-Maximin’s cross picked him out in the Rovers box.
Rovers found their breakthrough just before the break. A shot from distance by a trialist was parried and Rowe was in the right place at the right time – as he so often is – to tap home from close range.
The left-back continued to be an excellent outlet for Wellen’s side and most of what was good about Rovers’ play came down the left but it was a second trialist who unleashed an effort which got the crowd ooo-ing. A solid stop by Newcastle shot-stopper Dan Langley was required.
Jones was called on to produce a good bit of keeping of his own when a ball over the top allowed Callum Wilson to beat the offside trap, but the Academy graduate was quick to close down the striker and thwart the chance.
Saint-Maximin’s effort just before half-time was well blocked to round off a pretty good 45 minutes of football for Wellens’ men.
Rovers started the second half well and with five minutes played were boasting the best of the possession, but Newcastle registered the first real chance hitting Rovers on the break from a corner and it was that ability to break quickly and in numbers that saw Steve Bruce’s men register their third goal of the evening.
Wilson finished off a really slick counterattack from an unmissable distance to put the game beyond Rovers.
The second period was stop-start with the introduction of a number of substitutions for both sides.
With just over 20 minutes to play, and plenty of fresh legs on the pitch for Rovers, the home side strung together a fantastic pass and very neat feet from one of the trialists saw him get a bit of space to curl an effort goalward from outside the box. He struck it beautifully but had to face the disappointment of seeing it collide with the cross bar.
Dwight Gayle should have made it four for the visitors, but he somehow scooped over the bar from six yards.
Bogle breathed life back into the game with a classy header at the near post, directing Ben Close’s cross just inside the far post to set up an exciting final ten minutes.