LIFE after Billy Sharp looks set to be a barren one after Doncaster were lucky to escape Hull with a point, their first away from home since November.
Despite boasting a frontline that had 97 international caps between them, in El-Hadji Diouf and debutant Habib Bamogo, Rovers never looked like scoring, managing just two shots on target.
But Dean Saunders will have been happy with what went on at the other end of the pitch, escaping Hull with a vital point after being second best for the most of the game, not to mention grabbing their first clean sheet away from the Keepmoat in the Championship this season.
After Billy Sharp left for Southampton on Monday, Saunders couldn’t have asked for a tougher test with Hull having won six of their last nine games and Donny not leaving the home of their Yorkshire rivals with three points for 62 years.
And with the 25-year-old’s ten goals gone with him, James Hayter is left as the club’s top scorer, despite having just four in all competitions, and they look set to be without James Coppinger for some time thanks to a fractured cheekbone.
So the game settled into an early pattern as the home side quickly took control, and Saunders’ men were fortunate not to fall behind after 17 minutes when Matty Fryatt hit narrowly wide after being given far too much space in the penalty area.
Martin Woods took a decent crack on goal for Doncaster eight minutes later, curling Jack Hobbs’ half-cleared ball past the far post from 20 yards out. Hull threatened again on the half hour with Aaron Mclean heading Andy Dawson’s crossed free-kick into the side netting from point-blank range.
Cameron Stewart forced a smart save out of David Button moments later, and Rovers continued to struggle to gather rhythm going into the half-time break.
Rovers were somewhat brighter after the interval, however, and only a well-timed tackle from Dawson stopped Hayter from going one-on-one with the keeper three minutes into the second half. Despite the improved performance, Doncaster had another let-off when McLean again missed with a header on 53 minutes, leaping too late to convert Stewart’s whipped cross into the box.
Their failure to turn territory into chances also continued, with Diouf doing well to hold up play after catching Hull on the counter attack before hitting a poor through ball intended for James O’Connor that keeper Vito Mannone retrieved comfortably.
A fantastic save from Button on 66 minutes kept the game goalless, the goalkeeper springing to his right to deny Robert Koren’s wonderfully struck long ranger.
The hosts’ frustration began to show as Doncaster launched increasingly effective counter attacks, and they were but a Mannone fingertip away from taking the lead through Diouf ten minutes before the final whistle.
Diouf did wonderfully to skin Liam Rosenior on the corner of the box before hitting a splendid dipping shot towards the back post, forcing Arsenal loanee Mannone to tip over the bar.
It was John Oster’s turn to be a last-ditch hero at the other end moments later, the midfield man keeping Fryatt’s acrobatic overhead kick out with a goal-line block.
That set up a twitchy final few minutes for the sizeable Rovers contingent in the away end, and Saunders tried to settle those jangling nerves by taking off Diouf to put on defender Shelton Martis.
With Doncaster seemingly happy to take the point, Hull continued to stream forward in an attempt to ramp up the pressure, but Rovers held their nerve to earn a draw.
Hull (4-5-1): Mannone 6, Rosenior 8, Chester 6, Hobbs 6, Dawson 7, Mclean 5, Evans 5 (Olofinjana 68 6), Koren 8, McKenna 5, Stewart 5 (King 68 6), Fryatt 6. Subs not used: Carson, Cooper, Dudgeon.
Doncaster (4-3-3): Button 9, O’Connor 7, Hird 5, Lockwood 6, Spurr 4, Oster 7, Stock 6, Woods 7 (Gillett 75 6), Diouf 8 (Martis 87) , Hayter 5, Bamogo 5 (Bennett 71 6). Subs not used: Bagayoko, Plessis.
Bookings: McKenna 73 (Hull)