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Report: Doncaster Rovers 1-3 Bristol City

Bristol City returned to winning ways with a comprehensive away victory in South Yorkshire.

Manager Steve Cotterill had been distinctly unimpressed with his players’ first-half display on their last visit to the Keepmoat Stadium in the FA Cup third round at the start of January.

But he could have no such complaints this time around as City went in at the interval two goals to the good courtesy of Luke Freeman and Greg Cunningham, who converted from the penalty spot after Kieran Agard was brought down.

Doncaster substitute Curtis Main reduced the deficit with a stunning long-range strike shortly before the hour mark, but Aaron Wilbraham ensured City would strengthen their position at the top of Sky Bet League One with his 14th goal of the season to complete the scoring on 69 minutes.

Cotterill made five changes to his side following the uncharacteristic 3-2 defeat at Colchester United in which his side found themselves three down inside 26 minutes.

The boss freshened things up in both wing-back positions, recalling Mark Little and Cunningham, whilst Wilbraham partnered Agard up front for the first time since December 20th.

Elsewhere, Marlon Pack was rewarded with another start following an impressive display against Peterborough United a week ago at the expense of skipper Wade Elliott, as Wilbraham led the team out.

It was difficult for either side to generate a degree of control in the opening minutes on a boggy pitch not conducive to pretty football.

It would come as no surprise when the first notable chance arrived from a set-piece, as Pack’s delivery was perfectly flighted on to the head of Wilbraham, who should have done better than guide the ball past the post from an inviting position.

That was after ten minutes, and seconds later City profited from a fortuitous bounce of the ball to edge their noses in front.

As the ball sat up for Wilbraham 40 yards from goal, the striker’s attempted switch of play on the half-volley took a huge deflection and turned into the perfect defence-splitting pass to put Freeman clean through on goal.

Doncaster goalkeeper Stephen Bywater still looked favourite to reach the loose ball first, but stopped in his tracks as if wary of it holding up in the mud.

In any case it made life considerably easier for Freeman, who coasted through and slotted his shot beneath Bywater’s dive.

The same City pair would combine again soon after, as the goalscorer played a neat one-two with Wilbraham on the edge of the box before Bywater made the sort of stooping save which should have kept out Freeman’s opener.

The hosts started to come into the game after that, as Dean Furman raced on to Harry Forrester’s nod down in the box but could not gather the ball under suitable control to produce a shot on goal.

Experienced duo Nathan Tyson and Richie Wellens both fired shots off target, whilst Aden Flint made a crucial block as Furman prepared to pull the trigger.

At the other end, Cunningham was announcing himself as an attacking threat. The defender had previously scored only twice in his professional career, but met an excellent Luke Ayling cross with a glancing header which only just eluded Bywater’s crossbar before doubling City’s lead from the penalty spot.

When Agard was tripped by Andy Butler in the box, the Irishman was not the obvious candidate to step up.

But with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas among the substitutes and Agard having seen his last spot-kick saved, Cunningham grabbed the ball and dispatched a clinical strike beyond Bywater’s left hand.

City might have been out of sight before the interval when Flint rose highest to meet another Pack corner only to send it just wide.

The response of Rovers manager Paul Dickov to the chorus of boos that greeted the half-time whistle was to introduce two strikers before the restart, as Main entered the fray along with Uche Ikpeazu, who terrorised City at times as a Crewe Alexandra player before Christmas.

Dickov had the response he wanted within 12 minutes, as Main drifted in off the left flank and unleashed an unstoppable shot that clipped the underside of Frank Fielding’s crossbar on its way into the net from 25 yards.

Suddenly there was fresh impetus about the home side, as right-back Reece Wabara tried his luck from similar range with another rising drive this time just too high.

But City did well to weather the storm. The covering Wilbraham did his fair share of defensive work to deny former Ashton Gate favourite Jamie McCombe a clear sight of goal before pouncing at the other end to re-establish the visitors’ two-goal advantage.

It was a well-worked goal too, started by Pack’s vision to spread the play to Cunningham, who did exceptionally well to dig out a cross from a position whereby simply keeping the ball in play would have been an achievement.

Instead he stood the ball up to the back post, where Wilbraham was waiting to drill a low shot into the net via the boot of a covering defender.

Already unpopular with the locals for his goal and general nuisance factor, the veteran frontman became public enemy number one when involved in an altercation with Wabara right in front of the home dugout which was deemed worthy only of a yellow card after players and staff had waded in.

It was another moment to galvanise the home crowd, but City restricted their team to very little by way of further chances to extend their lead at the League One summit back to five points.