Every Leeds United fan can remember where they were seven years ago, when their team reached the last four of the Champions League. It is no fault of their own that not so many Doncaster Rovers supporters can recall the last time their side were in the second tier of English football. Now a younger generation does not need to look at the record books to find it was 1958, because Rovers have returned.
In Rovers' first appearance at Wembley, a deserved win ensured their third promotion in five years. From the Conference to the Championship in such a short time is indeed the stuff of football comics.
In a Yorkshire derby transplanted to north London, Rovers adapted better to the surroundings. James Hayter's goal divided the teams at the end. For Leeds this was a second play-off final defeat in three seasons, and it means they will remain in League One.
The defiance that marked their remarkable climb up the table after a pre-season 15-point deduction lingered in Gary McAllister's tone afterwards. The manager said: "We won 27 games and got 91 points. Without the deduction we would have been promoted." The Scot was, however, magnanimous towards Sean O'Driscoll's side, who outplayed their opponents. McAllister said: "Doncaster deserved it on the day."
O'Driscoll felt justified in the result. He said: "I thought we were disciplined and organised. People wondered if you could play football to get out of this division but now the work starts here. Hayter's attitude was first class. He takes responsibility and took his opportunity."
Hayter, 29, was signed by O'Driscoll last summer, the pair having worked together at Bournemouth, and after only his second start since January he said: "I hope this has begun to repay my [club record] £200,000 fee. I've been dreaming of this all week."
It could have been a nightmare start for Leeds after seven minutes, when Paul Green reached the byline and cut the ball back for JJ Price, but the striker's shot was deflected over the crossbar. Then Casper Ankergren came into his own, Leeds' Danish goalkeeper denying James Coppinger and Hayter.
Ankergren was blameless when Rovers scored. Two minutes into the second half Brian Stock swung in a corner and Hayter, unmarked, had time to direct his header between Ankergren and Neil Kilkenny, standing sentry on the post.
These teams had shared 1-0 away wins against each other in the regular season but Rovers finished third in the table and Leeds fifth. O'Driscoll's men negotiated the play-offs with more ease, Coppinger scoring a hat-trick against Southend.
Coppinger was part of a hard-working three-man attack here, along with Price and Hayter – two would drop back when their side were defending. It was a policy that neutralised Leeds on set-pieces, while Jermaine Beckford and Dougie Freedman, United's strikers, were left isolated.
The first chance that came Leeds' way was a gift. Sam Hird's lazy pass was intercepted by Beckford after 18 minutes, but his shot lacked purpose. Almost half an hour passed before Leeds threatened Neil Sullivan again, Jonathan Howson's shot curling only a yard over the former Leeds keeper's bar. Jonathan Douglas did the same four minutes from time and 20 yards out. With that miss went Leeds' best chance of an instant return to the Championship.
The way Rovers started the second half, leading to Hayter's goal, epitomised their daring attitude throughout the biggest game in their history. They showed little sign of nervousness on the day – their win in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy last year at the Millennium Stadium served as a rehearsal for that. Instead they played Wembley as if it was their rightful home. The mission now is to make themselves just as comfortable in the Championship.
Goal: Hayter (47) 1-0
Doncaster Rovers (4-3-3): Sullivan; O'Connor, Mills, Hird, Roberts; Green, Stock, Wellens (McCammon, 72); Hayter, Price (Lockwood, 80), Coppinger (Guy, 86) Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Taylor
Leeds United (4-4-2): Ankergren; Richardson, Huntington, Michalik, Johnson; Kilkenny, Douglas, Howson, Prutton (Kandol, 69); Beckford, Freedman (Hughes, 77) Substitutes not used: Lucas (gk), Marques, Sheehan.
Referee: A D'Urso (Essex).
Booked: Doncaster Mills, Sullivan. Leeds Prutton, Howson.
Man of the match: Hayter.
Attendance: 75,132.Reuse content