MIDDLESBROUGH came from behind to claim a 3-1 victory with a clinical display on an emotional night at Doncaster Rovers.
Rovers striker Billy Sharp opened the scoring.
Hours before kick-off, the club announced that captain Sharp’s two-day-old son, Louie Jacob, had died on Saturday, and it had been expected that the forward would be unable to play any part in the contest.
However, Rovers boss Dean Saunders sprang a surprise by including Sharp in his starting line-up alongside new signing El-Hadji Diouf.
A minute’s applause celebrated the tragically short life of Sharp’s child before kick-off and Sharp sent the Keepmoat Stadium into raptures when he netted a stunning, 14th-minute volley over goalkeeper Jason Steele into the far corner.
Boro responded with the calm assurance of a side lodged in the upper reaches of the npower Championship and they were ahead by half-time.
A mistake by Doncaster’s veteran goalkeeper Neil Sullivan allowed Marvin Emnes to claim his side’s second after Barry Robson’s drive restored parity.
Robson’s second and his side’s third came from the penalty spot after another Sullivan error caused chaos inside his own penalty area and Pascal Chimbonda fouled Tony McMahon.
Tony Mowbray said: “Taking the professionalism out of it, I’m delighted for the boy (Sharp) that he’s scored such a fantastic goal on such an occasion.
“For him to score a wonder-goal, headlines should be there really – a goal from heaven.”
Boro were under intense pressure for the first half-hour of the contest, and their recovery appeared to coincide with Belgian midfielder Faris Haroun replacing injured wing-back Justin Hoyte.
This saw Mowbray switch his side from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2, but he refused to cite the formation change as the reason for the turnaround.
“With formations, you’re only filling space on the pitch. It’s about the quality of the players to make the right decisions on the ball. I don’t think the formation really matters.
“4-4-2 for us is generally a high pressing game. If you think it worked then great, but for me it’s about the quality of the players making the right passes and the right runs.”
Boro were rattled by Sharp’s opener, but Robson hauled them level with a 20-yarder into the bottom corner, then Emnes put them ahead with a tame close-range effort from Haroun’s cross which Sullivan fumbled horribly.
Sullivan was again culpable for Boro’s third, failing to hold an Emnes drive. Though he managed to thwart Robson’s follow-up, the ensuing melee saw Pascal Chimbonda bundle Tony McMahon to the floor and Robson’s well-struck penalty sealed victory.
DONCASTER: Sullivan, Chimbonda, Martis, Naylor, Friend, Mason (Coppinger 59), Gillett, Ilunga, Diouf (Barnes 73), Sharp, Hayter (Bennett 59). Subs not used: Maxted, O’Connor. Booked: Naylor, Friend, Chimbonda.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele, Bates, McManus, McMahon, Hoyte (Haroun 22), Robson, Bailey (Arca 70), R Williams, Bennett, McDonald, Emnes (Zemmama 84). Subs not used: Kink, Ogbeche. Booked: McManus, Bailey.
Att: 9,792. Ref: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire).