McWilliams sees red as Cobblers suffer defeat in front of returning supporters

Shaun McWilliams trudges off after his first-half dismissal against Doncaster Rovers (Pictures: Pete Norton)Shaun McWilliams trudges off after his first-half dismissal against Doncaster Rovers (Pictures: Pete Norton)
Shaun McWilliams trudges off after his first-half dismissal against Doncaster Rovers (Pictures: Pete Norton)
There was to be no party atmosphere as the fans returned to the PTS Academy Stadium as 10-man Cobblers suffered a 2-0 Sky Bet Leagie One defeat at the hands of Doncaster Rovers.

More than, 1,000 supporters were allowed in to watch Town for the first time since March, and although they relished the chance to see their team in the flesh, there was to be no happy ending or three points to celebrate.

The Cobblers proved to be their own worst enemy on that front, as they had to play more than 75 minutes a man down after Shaun McWilliams' 18th-minute red card, the midfielder sent to the stands by referee Graham Salisbury after a late challenge on Rovers defender Andy Butler.

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Despite the setback, Town were looking comfortable until a defensive error from Mark Marshall then gifted Rovers the lead, and there proved to be no way back.

Keith Curle made three changes to the team that saw off Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night, with Nicky Adams and Benny Ashley-Seal dropping to the bench, and Alan Sheehan missing out altogether.

Into the starting line-up came Marshall, Christopher Missilou and Ricky Holmes.

Town again started four at the back, with Sam Hoskins lining up at left-back in place of Sheehan, and Missilou playing in an advanced role behind Smith.

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Chances were few and far between in an even start to the game, with the first effort of note coming from Rovers' Ben Whiteman on 13 minutes, but his mistimed effort from 20 yards was easily dealt with by Steve Arnold.

Harry Smith gets a shot away during the Cobblers' defeat to DoncasterHarry Smith gets a shot away during the Cobblers' defeat to Doncaster
Harry Smith gets a shot away during the Cobblers' defeat to Doncaster

Harry Smith drove straight into the arms of Rovers keeper Joe Lumley moments later, but then the Cobblers were reduced to 10 men after 17 minutes, McWilliams red-carded for a rash challenge on Butler.

The ball was there to be won and there was no malice, but it was certainly high and late, with referee Salisbury deemed it worthy of a dismissal.

Missilou dropped back into central midfield as Town reorganised, but they were suddenly facing playing more than 70 minutes with a man down.

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Despite the disadvantage, the pattern of the game didn't change and Town looked pretty comfortable until a defensive error allowed Doncaster to make the breakthrough on 36 minutes.

On a rare Rovers attack, the danger looked to have been dealt with, but a mistake by Marshall gifted Tyreece John-Jules the ball in the box, and he calmly clipped the ball over the advancing Arnold to make it 1-0 with a neat finish.

The Cobblers were now really up against it.

Rovers were happy to play keep ball as Town sat deep, which hardly made for invigorating viewing, although the visitors did make attacking inroads just before the break.

First, Reece James show straight at Arnold when well placed 15 yards out, before Bolger produced an excellent block to deny John-Jules getting a second as it stayed 1-0 at the break.

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The Cobblers started the second half with purpose, but they could find no way through a solid Rovers rearguard, and on 57 minutes the writing was on the wall as they fell further behind.

Patient build up play ended with James being set free down the left, and his excellent outswinging cross was diverted into the net via a combination of Fraser Horsfall and Rovers' Joe Wright, with the latter being credited with the goal.

Curle threw on Ashley-Seal and Danny Rose to try and breathe some life into the Cobblers as an attacking force, but it was Arnold who had to be alert to palm away a close range effort from John-Jules at his near post.

Town showed plenty of spirit as they strived to get back in the game, but it was the visitors who wasted a golden chance to make it 3-0 when Whiteman's 81st-minute penalty was brilliantly saved by Arnold diving to his right.

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The Cobblers will have seen that as being justice being done, as the spot kick had been controversially awarded by the assistant referee for a handball by Michael Harriman in the six yard box after Arnold had saved Jamie Coppinger's cross-shot.

Town continued to battle away to try and give the fans something to cheer about, but it wasn't to be as Rovers eased to victory.

Match facts

Cobblers: Arnold, Harriman, Bolger (Adams, 71m), Horsfall, Marshall (Ashley-Seal, 63m), Hoskins, Sowerby, McWilliams, Missilou, Holmes (Rose, 63m), Smith (Chukwuemeka, 76m). Subs: Mitchell, Watson, Lines,

Doncaster Rovers: Lumley, Halliday (Smith, 46m), James, Anderson, Wright, Whiteman, Richards (Hasani, 83m), John-Jules (Coppinger, 78m), Sims (Williams, 83m), Butler, John (Okenabirhie, 46m). Subs: Jones, Lokilo.

Goals: 36 mins: 0-1, John-Jules; 57 mins: 0-2, Wright;

Red card: 18 mins: McWilliams

Referee: Graham Salisbury

Attendance: 1,164