Sprinkle of stardust

Date published: 03 December 2012

Athletic 3, Doncaster 1

MAGICAL moments have been few and far between for Athletic recently.

As the mood at Boundary Park brightened thanks to a first come-from-behind victory for Athletic all season - arguably at a crucial time for manager Paul Dickov – three more were added to the meagre list.

Firstly, a single pass lit up the whole day. Jose Baxter has been a beacon in the darkness as Athletic have stumbled towards this point and again, the former Everton wonderkid produced when it mattered.

No other player in the division, possibly even the Championship, could have split open the Doncaster defence with the precision he conjured when putting in Cristian Montano for Athletic’s first chance of the game.

At that stage the home team were behind. A few groans were heard around a sparse crowd as Robbie Blake’s smartly-taken strike handed Rovers a fourth-minute advantage.

This was a knock-out game crucial to win in order to keep alive an ailing campaign.

Sliding in a perfectly-weighted, angled through ball to Montano from 40 yards, Baxter showed that it was possible to breach the back line of a Doncaster team far more rugged than refined even after Athletic were shut out in the league clash four days earlier.

Montano missed, badly. But the pattern of Athletic pressure remained for the entirety of the remaining 70 minutes of the contest.

Matt Derbyshire’s first of two goals represented Athletic’s second conjuring trick of the day.

With Montano growing into the game as it went on, to become an effective presence on the left flank, and Lee Croft happy to race at the Rovers defence on the opposite side, Baxter had all the space he needed between distracted defenders.

The constant pressing of the visitors enabled captain Dean Furman to produce a series of forward raids.

Playing a one-two with Baxter on the edge of the penalty area, Furman raced into the boxand fired a low shot which was pushed out by Gary Woods after 70 minutes.

The ball fell kindly to Derbyshire, who slammed home to give Dickov’s side a deserved lead.

The third magical moment was the most spellbinding of all. Had the 77th-minute goal, manufactured by quick passing and lightning movement, been scored in the Premier League rather than the second round of the FA Cup, the news bulletins would have been filled with repeat showings and replays from every angle.

It was certainly Athletic’s best team goal of the season and probably the second-finest non-individual effort under Paul Dickov, after Furman’s award-winning screamer against Notts County.

From that point, the game was effectively over. And all that was left was to wonder was why Athletic can’t play as well as this all the time.

Second-half performances this term have been one of Athletic’s weaker suits. Here, they dominated completely.

Doncaster, compromised by absentees were thoroughly outplayed throughout. The right team made it through to the third round of the FA Cup — to the relief of Dickov and his chairman Simon Corney, who celebrated afterwards by giving his manager a hug. It was an appropriate gesture on a feelgood afternoon.