Doncaster Rovers v Bristol Rovers – JPT Final 2007 – (YouTube video at bottom of page)
April 1st 2007 saw the club play its first major cup final in its long history, and 18,000 Doncaster Rovers fans made the trip to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the Football League Trophy final against Belle Vue. Rovers were favourites going into the game, playing in the League above their opponents, but Bristol Rovers were going well in league two and had yet to concede a goal in the competition, had beaten some good sides to take their place in the final.
Rovers were given a massive boost before kick off when forward Jason Price and top scorer Paul Heffernan were passed fit to play, with Heffernan having been absent for the previous seven games with an ankle injury. Heffernan was the clubs top marksman and had been the hero of the two legged semi-final, scoring four goals as Rovers edged past Crewe in a nail biting match up and the Irishman’s inclusion served as a huge lift for all.
The Cardiff pitch was bathed in sun on a crisp Sunday afternoon with half of its imposing and impressive stadium bathed in red and white and both teams were keen to get off to a good start and inside the first minute, Price fizzed the ball in towards Heffernan in the box. He challenged two defenders and got a foot to the ball just before keeper Phillips and then ball spun straight to Jonathan Forte who had the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net. It was a dream start to the final, and just what manager Sean O’Driscoll would have wanted to settle his team down, but within minutes, things would get even better.
The Rovers fans were still celebrating the opening goal when Rovers keeper Neil Sullivan sent a long goal kick down field. Heffernan was alive to it, as the ball bounced over the Bristol Rovers back four Heffernan latched onto the loose ball before firing home a superb left footed down into the far corner of the net for his 21st goal of the season. The watching Rovers fans could hardly believe what they were seeing as their team cruised to a 2 goal advantage.
The game then started to settle down and a shell shocked Bristol Rovers managed to get hold of the ball and attempt to play their way back into the game. Midfielder Lewis Haldane test Neil Sullivan with an angled drive, but the Rovers keeper made a comfortable save and neither team looked likely to add to the scoring as the half drew to a close.
Bristol Rovers started the second half brightly, looking for an early goal of their own to drag them back into the game and within 4 minutes of the re start they did just that. Walker whipped a low cross in from the left hand side and Rovers defender Sean McDaid stepped across midfielder Sammy Igoe to let the ball run to safety, but in doing so the referee adjudged he had fouled the Bristol Rovers man and Walker placed the penalty past Sullivan.
Heffernan had a snap shot from a James Coppinger pass blocked as Rovers looked to restore their advantage and the game started to open up. However, just beyond the hour mark, Igoe latched onto the ball 7 yards from goal following good work down the left and swept the ball home to level the scores.
The momentum now with them, Bristol Rovers charged forward in search of a winner with Haldane and Walker both going close before Rovers went close themselves with Skipper Graeme Lee having a shot blocked on the line, with Brian Stock firing the rebound wide. Paul Green went close with a late header before Paul Heffernan shot wide with a chance to win the game in the final minute. It was a breath taking end to the ninety minutes as the game spilled into 30 minutes extra time.
Steve Elliott headed the first chance of the extra period straight at Sullivan and Green went close at the other end as Rovers began to look the most likely. With only 10 minutes remaining, Lee found room in the six yard box to nod home the winner from a Sean Thornton corner as the Doncaster fans erupted once more. The side held out, and Lee himself held the trophy aloft amid a backdrop of fireworks and fantastic celebrations.