The Hatters’ second home match of the week against visitors with the Rovers suffix saw them secure a hard-earned, single goal victory and break into the automatic promotion places.
Tanto Olaofe’s header, seven minutes from the end, ensured that County followed up a midweek triumph at Edgeley Park over Forest Green with three more points against Doncaster for a sixth successive win – as well as beating the South Yorkshire visitors in the Football League for the first time in 33 years.
The Hatters took to the field on an unseasonably, but hugely welcome, sunny and warm afternoon, with a starting line-up unchanged from that in SK3 four days earlier. There were, however, two newsworthy changes on the bench, with Callum Camps and Kyle Wootton – whose injuries had kept them out of League Two action for two and seven months, respectively – being named as substitutes in place of Cody Johnson and Ashton Mee.
‘Donny’, for their part, included among their starters former Hatter Tommy Rowe, who had served County with distinction during the initial part of his professional career between 2007 and 2009, having graduated through the EP youth set-up.
The first attack of note came courtesy of the visitors after seven minutes, when a dangerous run into the County box by Tom Nixon was blocked by skipper Ryan Croasdale. And a couple of minutes later, at the other end, Donny goalkeeper Louis Jones punched clear Odin Bailey’s free-kick from the right.
With just over a dozen minutes on the clock, Oalofe beat the offside trap and latched on to a through-ball from Antoni Sarcevic – before squaring on his left to fellow joint-leading league goal-scorer for County, Louie Barry, who stretched in vain to apply a decisive final touch. And, in the course of a good spell of pressure by the Hatters, Ethan Pye fired over from a Bailey corner.
Shortly after the first half’s mid-point, Ben Hinchliffe did well to parry a rasping delivery from the right by Nixon, also denying in the process Joe Ironside – son of former County Number One, Ian – who had been poised to connect and convert.
Half a dozen minutes ahead of the break, Hinchliffe was called into action again – punching away Ironside’s header, before Mo Faal propelled a follow-up overhead kick beyond the left post. And in added time, following a cutback on the right by Barry, Hinchliffe’s opposite number Jones brilliantly tipped over Croasdale’s goal-bound shot from the edge of the box.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Doncaster 0.
Seven minutes after the re-start, a short back-pass by Fraser Horsfall let the visitors in on goal – but Hinchliffe was on hand, firstly to block Faal’s point-blank shot, and then to recover his stance and palm over a looping effort on the rebound from Ironside.
A few minutes later, Sarcevic dinked a shot towards the right corner of goal that was parried away by Jones – and, just after the hour, Olaofe’s lung-busting run down the right culminated in a low cross to the well-placed Bailey, who blazed over from close range.
County introduced Paddy Madden and Wootton, with a view to freshening up the attack. And, within a minute of his arrival, Madden, after connecting with another delivery from Oalofe on the right, fired a low, left-footed shot at Jones that the visiting ‘keeper stood firm to catch.
Joesph Olowu then headed straight at Hinchliffe, following a corner from the left – but the Hatters continued to make much of the running, and, seven minutes from time, their efforts finally paid off, with Olaofe heading Will Collar’s cross from the left into the far corner of the net for his ninth goal of the campaign in all competitions.
The Hatters proceeded to see out five minutes of added time without undue ceremony, to enjoy a first league success over Donny since mid-February 1990, and, more pertinently, to move just a point behind current leaders, and the other ‘County’, from Notts.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Olaofe, 83), Doncaster 0.
Team (4-1-2-1-2): Hinchliffe; Southam-Hales, Wright, Horsfall, Pye (Pond, 77); Croasdale (Capt.) (Madden, 68); Collar (Camps, 84), Bailey; Sarcevic; Olaofe, Barry (Wootton, 68).
Unused Subs: Smith, Cotterill, Richardson.
Booked: Croasdale, Madden.
Man of the Match: Olaofe.
Attendance: 9,522 (904 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.