GERRY MURPHY was denied a winning start to his second stint as Town’s stand-in manager as 10-man Doncaster salvaged a point with a well-worked 84th-minute equaliser.
The South Yorkshire promotion chasers deserved their draw for a spirited and stubborn display, but what a shame Town couldn’t finish them off when the chances were there.
Murphy’s men were well on top in the first half, and should have reached the break with more than Robbie Williams’ seventh-minute strike to show for their efforts.
And after Gareth Taylor had got Doncaster back on level terms seven minutes into the second half, Town got a double-boost on the hour.
First the visitors had centre-back Matthew Mills sent off for a professional foul on Chris Brandon as he burst onto Andy Booth’s nicely-weighted through ball.
Then Andy Holdsworth fired the resultant free-kick into goalkeeper Neil Sullivan’s bottom left-hand corner to restore Town's lead.
The stage was set for a storming home finish, but instead it was Doncaster who dictated the closing stages, and forced the draw through Paul Green, who drilled home an angled shot from James Coppinger’s pass.
Credit visiting manager Sean O’Driscoll, who with his three-man frontline failing to fire, dared to make a double substitution in only the 39th minute, replacing Paul Heffernan and Jason Price with Taylor and Mark McCammon, then provided impetus with the 77th-minute introduction of Stuart Elliott for Richie Wellens.
By that stage, Town were starting to look a touch fatigued, with Murphy admitting extra training sessions since he took the reins last Tuesday might well have taken their toll.
Much of the additional work was on fine-tuning a new 3-5-2 system, and in the opening period, it worked a treat.
New skipper Rob Page, Nathan Clarke and the restored David Mirfin provided a rigid rearguard with James Berrett handed the holding role and the task of keeping dangerman Coppinger under control.
Jon Worthington and Michael Collins took the central midfield berths, Holdsworth and Williams the wing-back slots and Booth and Brandon were paired up front.
It took just six minutes and seven seconds for Town to make the breakthrough.
Brandon’s persistence won a throw-in on the right which Clarke hurled into the box. Centre-back Steve Roberts, under pressure from Booth, misdirected his clearing header and Williams beat right-back James O’Connor’s tackle to spear in a left-foot shot which went in through the legs of Mills.
Williams hooked a shot off target from another Clarke throw, flicked on by Booth, in the 17th minute, then, in the 19th, Worthington had the ball in the net, only for his shot from Berrett’s chip through to be disallowed for offside.
Collins ran strongly onto Brandon’s 22nd-minute pass but was thwarted by former Leeds stopper Sullivan, then soon after Worthington, this time onside, collected Booth's nod-on but volleyed just over.
Holdsworth produced a fine clearance to frustrate the lurking Heffernan after keeper Matt Glennon finger-tipped away Price’s header in Doncaster’s first attack of note in the 28th minute.
But Town should have been two up 10 minutes later when Worthington’s well-struck shot rapped the base of Sullivan’s right-hand post and Brandon took a touch too long over the follow-up, allowing the keeper to recover and make a crucial save.
One-time Town target Taylor gave warning of what was to come when he put an angled shot narrowly wide just a minute after coming on, and when his next chance came, he made no mistake, drilling home a low shot after the impressive Green turned Mirfin and pulled the ball back from the byline.
Now it was Doncaster who were looking dangerous, but the game turned again when Mills walked and Holdsworth struck.
Joe Skarz came on for the tiring Williams, but Town were unable to fashion a clear-cut chance while Glennon had to smother from McCammon four minutes before Green levelled as Doncaster refused to give in.
Both sides pushed for a winner, with Town coming closest when Brandon headed wide from Skarz’s cross a minute into time added on.
Town’s stopper was beaten by two good goals and came to his side’s rescue on several occasions.
Had an excellent game at right wing-back and his well-taken goal was the icing on the cake.
His goal signalled a strong first-half performance. Faded after the break and was taken off in the 68th minute.
Recalled as part of a three centre-back system. At fault for Doncaster’s opener, but solid the rest of the time.
Bright display as Town forced Doncaster into sweeping first-half changes to their frontline.
Town’s new skipper led, as ever, by example, making some robust challenges in the air and on the ground.
Took holding midfield role with special emphasis on negating the threat of James Coppinger with mixed effect.
Might have lost the captaincy, but certainly not his energy or desire to win the ball. A good show.
Worked hard and was always looking for openings in a creative central slot next to enforcer Worthington.
Doncaster struggled to handle the rugged frontman who played a part in both of his side’s goals.
Did well in his role as a frontline foil to Booth, stretching a nervy-looking defence time and time again.
Joe Skarz for Williams, 68mins. Not used: Luke Beckett, Frank Sinclair, Malvin Kamara, Alex Smithies.Booked: Worthington, Page, Holdsworth, Berrett, Skarz.
Sullivan, O’Connor, Mills, S Roberts, G Roberts, Green, Stock, Wellens (Elliott, 78mins), Heffernan (McCammon, 40mins), Coppinger, Price (Taylor, 41mins).
Subs not used: McDaid, Hayter.
Sent Off: Mills (60).
County Durham whistler Nigel Miller went a little card crazy, handing out yellows to five Town men (Worthington, Page, Holdsworth, Berrett and Skarz) and a red to Doncaster defender Matthew Mills, but there was no criticising him for lack of decisiveness!
Sending off Mills for fouling Chris Brandon, who later confirmed the award of a free-kick rather than penalty was correct, was a big decision.