THE agony is almost over for Doncaster Rovers.
Not even the return of the ‘old guard’ could change their fortunes.
The team who have forgotten how to win are not down yet but they soon will be, having picked up zero points from their Easter double-header.
Their four-year stay in the Championship is drawing to a close following a fourth defeat on the trot on home soil.
Although Chris Brown cancelled out Josh McQuoid’s stunning opener, Charlie Austin’s penalty condemned the basement battlers to a third league defeat in a row.
The fans could have no complaints over the enterprise, endeavour and commitment Rovers showed in an entertaining encounter. But, in the final analysis, Rovers have not possessed the ability or had the stability required to move away from the lower reaches of the division. Now is the time to take stock, re-group and plan for life back in League One.
Rovers manager Dean Saunders said: “I thought second half we came out and had a right go.
“We got back in the game, scored a great goal and Giles Barnes had a glorious chance to make it 2-1 to us but I was not surprised when it went straight at the keeper and they went down the other end and get a penalty.
“I told them to go out, show some passion and determination and we did that.”
A spare of injuries meant Saunders made NINE changes from the team thumped 4-0 by Leicester City. Adam Lockwood and Simon Gillett were the sole survivors from the Foxes drubbing.
As expected, Frederic Piquionne and El Hadji Diouf were sidelined by hamstring problems, meaning recalls for Kyle Bennett and Chris Brown. Interestingly, Fabien Robert was the only player to start who has been recruited by Saunders.
Goalkeeper Carl Ikeme was out with a torn ligament in his toe with Gary Woods deputising.
The visitors, who had an extra day to rest and recuperate, having played on Good Friday, brought in Dean Marney for Marvin Bartley, who was ruled out with a hamstring knock.
Burnley went close to opening the scoring after five minutes when George Friend’s mis-directed header dropped invitingly to Ross Wallace 30 yards out and the make-shift full-back’s thunderous shot flew just inches wide.
In the early stages, Rovers looked organised, hunted in packs and tried to press the opposition high up the pitch. It was abundantly clear several players wanted to impress and make a point to Saunders.
Gillett intercepted Chris McCann’s wayward pass in the 10th minute and dribbled purposefully forward but his deflected long-ranger went harmlessly wide and out for a corner. It took a superb tackle from Lockwood to stop the lively Junior Stanislas from testing the reflexes of Woods five minutes later after he had jinked his way past Friend.
Burnley should have taken the lead after 20 minutes but David Edgar headed off target from close range after meeting Marney’s glorious centre.
Moments later, Gillett exchanged passes with Brown before seeing his fierce drive brilliantly kept out by Lee Grant. Before the resulting corner could be taken, Brian Stock, starting for the first time since the draw with Brighton and Hove Albion following a groin problem, limped off and was replaced by Giles Barnes.
Stanislas, a constant thorn in Rovers’ side, almost sent Marney clean through on goal but a wonderful last-ditch intervention from Sam Hird halted Burnley’s rapid counter attack.
Just after the half hour mark, a poor clearance from Lockwood went straight to Kieran Trippier and the former Barnsley loanee blazed over despite Burnley having men over.
Robert, who had been a peripheral figure for long stages, suddenly came into things and he waltzed his way into the area after getting on the end of James O’Connor’s clever pass but he volleyed harmlessly over the top.
Not the first time this year, Rovers were left to rue missed opportunities as McQuoid’s stunning right foot effort flew into the top corner nine minutes before the interval, giving Woods no chance.
Two minutes after the interval, Burnley could have doubled their advantage after neat interplay between Marney and Charlie Austin on the right flank but Stanislas delayed his shot, allowing Rovers substitute James Coppinger, on for Kyle Bennett, to come to the rescue and clear the danger.
Coppinger featured prominently in the 56th minute equaliser, delivering a glorious cross which Brown nodded in for his third goal of the season.
The introduction of Coppinger had lifted the home faithful and Barnes nearly completed the turnaround but he headed Coppinger’s free kick straight at Grant.
It was not all one way traffic, though, and Austin’s powerful effort was gathered by Woods, making his first appearance since December, at the second attempt.
Woods produced a fine save to foil Austin in the 67th minute. The striker’s bullet header looked destined to ripple the net but Woods dived to his left and palmed it to safety.
However, the pressure paid off for Burnley as they regained the lead with 15 minutes of the contest to go. Stanislas fed Danny Ings, who was tripped by Lockwood and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Up stepped Austin and he coolly sent Woods the wrong way.
In the dying minutes, Grant acrobatically tipped over Friend’s rasping drive as the visitors held on to secure their first double over Rovers since 1992.
Rovers (4-4-2): Woods 7; O’Connor 6, Lockwood 6, Hird 6, Friend 6; Robert 7 (Oster 87), Gillett 6, Stock 5 (Barnes 22, 6), Bennett 5 (Coppinger HT, 6); Brown 6, Hayter 5. Substitutes: Sullivan, Bagayoko.
Burnley (4-4-2): Grant 7; Trippier 7, Duff 7, Edgar 7, Wallace 7; McQuoid 7, Marney 6, McCann 6, Stanislas 8 (McCartan 89); Ings 7, Austin 7. Substitutes: Jensen, Lafferty, Howieson, Hewitt.
Goals: Rovers – Brown 56. Burnley - McQuoid 36, Austin (pen) 76.
Bookings: Rovers – Lockwood (74 minutes, foul). Burnley - Austin (51 minutes, dissent), McCann (83 unsporting behaviour)
Referee: Nigel Miller (County Durham).