Doncaster Rovers missed the chance to gain significant ground in the League One promotion race as they were held to a goalless draw by struggling Northampton Town.
Real chances were thin on the ground in a drab affair, with fifth-placed Doncaster coming closest through a first-half Tom Anderson header superbly saved by Jon Mitchell.
Northampton only registered one shot on target but did an effective job of containing their opponents to claim a point which takes them out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
Story of the match
Northampton have shown signs of improvement under the charge of Jon Brady, who has taken the reins for the rest of the season following last month’s dismissal of Keith Curle, and they demonstrated their organisation and discipline in the first half to frustrate their promotion-chasing hosts.
For much of the opening period the two sides cancelled each other completely, the first two chances both coming from corners as Mitchell made a stunning save to deny Anderson’s near-post header from a Jason Lokilo delivery for Doncaster, before Peter Kioso nodded Sam Hoskins’ corner over at the other end.
Approaching the break it was Northampton who looked the more dangerous, Shaun McWilliams arrowing wide and Fraser Horsfall failing to test Louis Jones with a header. In the final minute they came closest, Reece James blocking from Mickel Miller before a penalty claim was turned away by referee Tom Neild.
Doncaster’s ongoing frustration was best shown by the flurry of hopeful shots which, for a long spell either side of the break, provided their only assaults on the opposition goal. Mitchell fielded Taylor Richards and James efforts without breaking a sweat, and was similarly untroubled by James Coppinger straight after the restart and another James hit later on.
Jones was better tested in the home goal, required to desperately scramble away a Miller corner at his near post, but as the second half went on it was Andy Butler’s men looking more likely to craft a winning goal, albeit not very.
But Coppinger couldn’t repeat his recent free-kick heroics and Brad Halliday could only find the roof of the net with a difficult header, as the quality that had been missing for most of this contest continued to desert Doncaster, who are six points shy of the automatic promotion places.
Clean sheet no consolation
This was a first goalless draw all season for Doncaster, but the positive of a first clean sheet in 10 matches was overwhelmed by a second successive drab display on the ball.
A team full of fluency under Darren Moore looked to be continuing in similar form as Butler’s reign began with confident back-to-back victories, but they have now failed to score in two games running and, besides one set-piece opportunity, never looked likely to find the net in this one.
They at least had a striker fit this time but Fejiri Okenabirhie needn’t have bothered making a return, such was the lack of service he was given. Behind him Lokilo and the recalled Elliot Simoes had very little impact and caused almost no danger all game, while injury to Scott Robertson and a half-time change meant three different central midfield combinations but none of them took control of proceedings.
That such a performance has come at home, where they have the second-best record in the division and had been held on only two previous occasions this season, is even more concerning, ahead of a string of tough away fixtures that will likely now determine whether they can remain in top-six contention.
Miserly Cobblers in with chance
Brady’s initial impact when handed the Northampton hot seat last month was making League One’s lowest scorers a more potent attacking outfit, and the 11 goals bagged in six games – following a run of six consecutive blanks – heading into this match indicated good progress in that regard.
But there is also a miserly edge to them once more, with this being a fifth clean sheet in the nine fixtures Brady has take charge of. They never seriously looked like conceding, with the return of Joe Mills bolstering the backline further.
Northampton arrived in South Yorkshire with a determination to keep their goal intact first and foremost, doing so by stifling Doncaster effectively through rigid structure, organisation and sharpness to both deny them space in between the lines and pressure their creative outlets.
They did have plenty of good possession themselves, especially in the latter stages of the first half, with wingers Miller and Hoskins dangerous threats. But even if they didn’t do enough for a goal, earning a point here – having not won on the road in a dozen games now – demonstrated the steel and smarts that will serve them well in the relegation battle.
Man of the match: Sam Hoskins (Northampton)
The most dangerous attacking threat on the pitch, even if the winger's hard work and determination didn't lead to a decisive goal.