Despite the presence of Steve Nicol and others of top-level experience, Doncaster found themselves cast in the role of paupers alongside the Conference's richest club, created only seven years ago but funded so far to the tune of pounds 10 million by the makers of Dr Martens footwear. Yet the home side enjoyed enough possession to have repeated their first-round victory over Southend had they only added the finishing touch to some high quality build-up play.
The Belle Vue ground, long since stripped of any pretensions of grandeur it might once have flirted with, experienced an atmosphere it had not known for more than a decade, the crowd swelled to almost double the average home gate by the possibility of a cup run they had not dared dream about only four months ago.
In August, the ramshackle stadium was padlocked, the club's future in doubt following relegation from the Nationwide League and an acrimonious takeover battle still to be concluded. Now, with a new board in place and with the Snodin brothers, Ian and Glynn, running the team, fresh life has been breathed in. "Until the takeover went through, we had no players, no footballs, no kit, nothing," Ian Snodin, once of Leeds and Everton and now player-manager, said. "To be in the draw for the third round of the FA Cup only four months later is just incredible."
While Doncaster offer thanks for their very existence, Brian Talbot's Rushden team has much loftier ambitions, promotion to the Third Division being at the top of their priorities. None the less, the excitement generated by the Cup ensured their players were as committed as were Doncaster's yesterday. Three Rushden players were cautioned before half-time as passions ran high, including Colin West, the 35-year-old former Sunderland striker, and Colin Sutherland of Doncaster, who was fortunate not to suffer a worse fate after throwing punches at Rushden's Michael McElhatton.
Although Doncaster dominated the possession, the best of the first-half chances fell to Rushden. Twice Andy Woods, Doncaster's goalkeeper, made vital saves from Rushden defender Ray Warburton and Nicol headed off the line from Michael Mison.
Doncaster's midfield play was the neater throughout but they created few clear chances, their closest effort coming in the final 15 minutes when the full-back Simon Shaw almost snatched victory with a long, low shot that Mark Gayle, in the Rushden goal, scrambled past his right-hand upright.