Fleet bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup as Doncaster’s second-half late show piled on the goals for a somewhat flattering 6-2 win after the home side had a sniff of the second round, having taken a 2-0 lead. To rub salt into Fleet wounds, Chris Bush’s second yellow card of the afternoon saw him dismissed 10 minutes from time. Rovers looked temporarily dead and buried in first-half added time but Fleet switched off and manager Daryl McMahon believed his side lost the tie in those moments.
The Fleet boss made only one change to his starting lineup, Myles Weston coming in for the injured Andy Drury, with Sean Shields returning from illness to take his place on the bench. Darren Ferguson named as near to a full-strength side as he could muster and the League One outfit could boast loanees from Chelsea and Manchester City.
There was also an EFL referee on show and he clearly wasn’t taking any nonsense inside the first minute when Dean Rance flew into Rodney Kongolo on the halfway line. In a National League game he might have got a talking-to but referee Collins set his stall out early with an instant yellow card.
The caution hampered Rance for a short while as Fleet had to back off in midfield and Doncaster were able to enjoy plenty of space down the centre of the park. That said, Fleet looked bright in the opening 10 minutes and Anthony Cook cut in from the left to send a decent low shot into the box that took a deflection but spun to safety. Doncaster looked a little unsure at the back and from Jack Powell’s high free-kick, they once more looked hesitant in clearing their lines.
But the Rovers midfield soon kicked into gear and Matty Blair on the right flank was enjoying plenty of space to tease the Fleet defence wide before launching crosses into the danger areas. Striker John Marquis saw a shot zip wide from a good position and Yado Mambo had to be on hand to hoist a Blair cross over the bar as it bounced twice with Rovers players poised to connect. From the corner, Magri’s rather unorthodox header around the post was all that prevented James Coppinger from opening the scoring.
Fleet gradually forced their way back into it after weathering that storm and Weston showed good acceleration to nip in behind Craig Alcock and cross for Cook who dived at the ball and went sprawling but there were few shouts for a penalty.
Now looking much more assured, the home side took the game to their League One opponents. A poor Alcock ball out from defence was intercepted by Rance and he powered through the middle, eventually sending a ball to the right for Kedwell whose delivery lacked accuracy. Fleet kept coming and on 27 minutes a neat interchange down the right between Weston and Luke Coulson saw a low shot skip narrowly wide.
On 34 minutes, Rance made a fine tackle on Blair at the other end 10 yards out, timed perfectly considering his yellow card, and then a long ball forward reached Bush lurking just inside the Rovers penalty area. Goalkeeper Ian Lawlor made a badly advised challenge as Bush went up for a header and the Fleet defender was rather stupidly pulled to the floor, the referee pointing to the spot. Lawlor almost made amends with a hand to Kedwell’s penalty but he couldn’t stop it reaching the top corner and Fleet were 1-0 up.
That got The Kuflink Stadium rocking and as Fleet fans were beginning to raise the roof, their side got another. A superb assist by Kedwell saw him flick the ball into the path of Coulson who is at his best running on to balls at that angle and with Lawlor coming off his line, the Fleet No.25 finished coolly into the bottom corner for 2-0.
Doncaster looked shell-shocked and Fleet fancied their chances for a third. Weston sent in a dipping cross that Lawlor had to push away from under the bar before Coulson saw a shot blocked and then a dangerous corner kick reached Kenny Clark but he couldn’t get his powerful header on target.
The home side appeared to be heading into the break with a valuable 2-0 lead but as two minutes of added time were signalled, Fleet fell apart. First, Blair picked at the lock down the right once more, sending a ball into the box that the Fleet defence didn’t deal with and in the confusion Tommy Rowe wrestled his way the wrong side of his marker to steer a shot past Ashmore.
That really should have been that but another attack down the right undid the Fleet with the very next foray forward. Kongolo’s shot looked destined for the bottom corner but Ashmore got down very well to push the ball out. Unfortunately for the Fleet, Marquis was following up and he fired into an empty net for the equaliser.
Doncaster shored up their defence, removing the rather creaky Alcock and replacing him with former Real Madrid youth teamer Niall Mason. Buoyed by their comeback, they were nippier than the Fleet in the opening exchanges and their cause was helped by a most fortunate third goal on 52 minutes. Coppinger pounced from the edge of the box with a shot that wouldn’t have threatened had it not taken a big deflection that wrong-footed Ashmore who might still have reached the ball had his change of position not unbalanced him on the goalline.
Fleet tried to haul their way back into the tie but luck deserted them at times. A good attacking move saw Powell’s ball inside just cleared off Kedwell’s toes and Rovers countered quickly, denied only by another excellent Rance challenge. Febian Brandy came on for Mambo as Fleet switched their strategy but still Rovers looked assured and Rowe almost capitalised on a collision between Bush and Weston until the former hauled him back illegally, earning a yellow card.
For a spell, Rovers backed off and the Fleet started to enjoy more territory but their attacks foundered in the final third. Cook’s excellent delivery into Coulson might have paid off but Toffolo’s push was deemed perfectly legal by referee Collins. Balls wide for Coulson to run on to seemed Fleet’s best outlet but Rovers defended them well and did enough to hamper the Fleet, whose frustration earned more bookings for Magri and Brandy as the referee seemed overly fussy in the closing stages.
And it all went wrong for the Fleet in the final 10 minutes. Another half-clearance from Coppinger’s forward play allowed Jordan Houghton to steal in at the far post to make it 4-2. Bush was then dismissed almost immediately after that for a second yellow after he committed a fairly routine foul just inside his own half.
As the home side reeled, the referee compounded their misery by awarding a penalty for a Rance foul on Marquis, some moments after the ball seemed to have been cleared out of the box and Coppinger coolly tucked that away for 5-2. Rowe then grabbed his second as he shot home from the edge of the box and but for Ashmore saving another effort on the line, it could have been even worse in the final minutes.
It was undeniably harsh on the Fleet who had looked excellent for periods in the first half but as McMahon had warned in the pre-match build-up, the League One side were likely to be better in both boxes and that proved the difference.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Bush, Mambo (Brandy 57), Clark, Rance, Powell, Weston, Coulson, Cook (Shields 76), Kedwell (McCoy 84). Subs not used: Connors, McLean, Mills, Miles
DRFC: Lawlor, Alcock (Mason 46), Toffolo, Butler, Baudry, Blair, Kongolo, Houghton, Coppinger (Ben-Khemis 83), Rowe (Beestin 86), Marquis. Subs not used: Marosi, Beestin, Amos, Williams, Mandeville