League 1's two in-form sides served up a classic this afternoon but Oxford United's winning streak ended at nine games as they slipped to a 3-2 defeat at Doncaster.
Having gone behind to a Jon Taylor opener, United levelled through Sam Long before two quick goals from Fejiri Okenabirhie and Taylor Richards gave the home side a two-goal cushion early in the second half. United responded superbly and a tenth of the season from Mide Shodipo got them back into the game but late pressure just couldn't produce a third goal to give them at least a share of the spoils in an enthralling encounter.
As anticipated, both sides were committed to the attack from the off and there was plenty of good football to enjoy with United undoubtedly on top in the first half hour, and then arguably the last half hour, but ultimately punished for not making the most of that dominance.
Josh Ruffels and debutant Elliot Lee both saw early efforts blocked in that first half and captain Elliott Moore had a header comfortably saved by home keeper Ellery Balcombe, while crosses from Brandon Barker and James Henry both asked questions of a back-pedalling Rovers back line.
Barker, another making his first appearance, has balance and pace on the left flank and a run in the 10th minute where he baffled two defenders and cut the ball back after outpacing them both was the first glimpse of the threat he will add.
United had been on top for half an hour.
And then Rovers scored.
In fairness it was a good goal. It was Matt Smith who made it, crowning a fast flowing move with a superb pass inside Ruffels for Taylor. He cut inside and then let fly from the edge of the box and the ball was past the diving Jack Stevens in a flash for 1-0
United didn’t panic. Lee curled a good effort just wide and Matty Taylor headed a Henry free kick wide of the other post before they drew level five minutes before the break. Rob Atkinson, obviously overlapping on the left wing, started the chaos with a cross that was headed skywards and volleyed goalwards by Lee. Balcombe pushed it out but Long pounced to volley it left-footed back past the keeper to ensure his side were level again at the break.
That was the least they deserved but it didn’t last long. For some reason United didn’t switch on after the break and within six minutes of the restart they had lost momentum and, in the end, the game. First, Okenabirhie ran clear to slot past the helpess Stevens just two minutes after the break. Then Richards danced across the face of the box and drilled it past Stevens to make it 3-1.
A Rovers side in just as good form as the U's were not going to let that two-goal lead slip away in the South Yorkshire drizzle, were they?
Shodipo, on as a half-time sub for Barker, was about to test their nerve.
Again, an Atkinson burst forward set the tone, allowing Ruffels to feed Shodipo, picking the ball up on the left. The on-loan QPR winger drifted inside, beat his man then beat the keeper with a low shot that sneaked inside the left-hand post for his tenth goal of the season, a goal that gave his side real hope once again.
It might have got even better had a body slam on Shodipo been penalised inside the box as they chased the game, but pressure didn't really turn into chances for once and Rovers saw the game out to maintain their upwards momentum.
Credit to both sides for a fine game in atrocious conditions. United will be gutted to see their run end but now have half a season to make amends.
It may be the start of February but we have 22 games still to go. One result does not define anything...
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Edmunds, stats by OPTA