Mason 67, Wright-Phillips 90
ARGYLE performed an astonishing recovery at Doncaster that owed everything to the fighting spirit head coach Paul Mariner has enthused over for months.
Rovers deservedly took the lead with a neat volley from James Coppinger, as the Greens struggled to cope with the attractive brand of possession football the South Yorkshire side has become famous for.
Substitute Joe Mason gave the Pilgrims unexpected hope with a poacher's goal to set-up a grandstand finish. Both teams surged forward in search of the winner and Bradley Wright-Phillips won the race with an injury-time header that keeps the survival quest alive.
Argyle showed just one change from the squad that battled out a 0-0 draw with Barnsley in midweek. Chris Barker took his place on the bench as a replacement for Craig Noone, who aggravated a knee problem against the Tykes.
Head coach Paul Mariner therefore opted to retain the midfield partnership of Damien Johnson and Chris Clark, with captain Carl Fletcher still sidelined by a gashed knee. Onismor Bhasera kept his place at left-back after a stirring debut on Tuesday.
Doncaster manager Sean O'Driscoll was without leading scorer Billy Sharp after he picked up a thigh strain. His place went to Dean Shiels. O'Driscoll sprung a surprise on his bench by only naming five out of a possible seven substitutes, presumably because of a virus that swept the Rovers camp during the week.
A conservative start to the game gave an early insight into the expected pattern. Argyle's pace in attack would come up against the patient passing game that has won Doncaster a number of compliments.
Jamie Mackie and Wright-Phillips both stretched the home defence with peeling runs into the channels at one end, while James Hayter welcomed Argyle's in-form David Stockdale to the game with a skidding shot that the goalkeeper fended off with ease.
Back at the other end, a deflected cross from Bhasera gave Réda Johnson a sniff at goal, but the Benin international was crowded out by the centre-back pairing of James O'Connor and Shelton Martis before he could loose of a shot.
Argyle continued their positive play with Mackie threading a clever flick through for Wright-Phillips, who had a vague shout for a penalty, as O'Connor made an awkward challenge just inside the box.
Rovers responded with a neat move down the right involving James Chambers and Coppinger, which ended with the latter pinging over a fierce drive that Stockdale beat away at his near post.
Coppinger was involved again on 20 minutes, teasing Réda Johnson on the right before delivering a delightful cross for Hayter, who glanced his header narrowly over.
Despite Doncaster lifting their tempo, Argyle looked to have identified a weakness in the slightly laboured recovery pace of O'Connor - the challenge was exposing the bald-headed defender to a one-on-one situation with one of the Green whippets.
Rovers, however, were doing a good job of keeping possession and the clever movement of Hayter and his strike-partner, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, created space for John Oster to despatch a fierce volley, which dipped onto the roof of Stockdale's net.
The sequence caused Mariner a big dilemma, with Réda Johnson suffering a head injury that forced him off for stitches. Karl Duguid slotted in at centre-back, with Clark dropping to fill his void at right-back, as the Pilgrims battled on with ten men.
Doncaster immediately looked to take advantage, and a quick free-kick from Oster gave Chambers the chance to scamper into the box. Bhasera's recovery tackle was untidy, but sufficient, despite Rovers' protests for a penalty.
Réda Johnson returned to the action with the home side now dominating proceedings, and Stockdale was called upon to make a brave stop at the feet of Emmanuel-Thomas after another tricky one-two from a confident Rovers.
Argyle's cause almost suffered an embarrassing disaster when Duguid's hurried clearance cannoned into the shins of the retreating Damien Johnson. Every Green turned in horror as the ricochet floated an inch wide of the stranded Stockdale's right-hand post.
After an encouraging start to the game, Argyle looked a relieved side when the half-time whistle sounded, and Mariner retreated from the pleasant spring sunshine at the Keepmoat Stadium to deliver yet another massively important team-talk.
A 30-second downpour greeted the teams for a crucial second period for both sides. While Argyle' s desperate fight against relegation continued, Doncaster's impressive performance bore direct correlation to their outside chance of sneaking into the play-offs.
Wright-Phillips skinned the otherwise excellent Chambers to signal Argyle's intentions and the cut-back to Clark was perfect, but the versatile Scot opened his body too wide and spooned the ball well off-target.
The beautifully languid skills of Emmanuel-Thomas delivered an instant riposte, as the man on loan from Arsenal nutmegged Damien Johnson and rifled in a fierce drive from distance. The shot was too hot for Stockdale to hold and Argyle's stopper needed quick reactions to scoop the loose ball away from the encroaching Hayter.
The warning went unheeded. Réda Johnson was caught out of position by a lobbed pass from Shiels and Hayter showed great awareness to tee-up Coppinger. Bhasera's initial challenge was perfectly-timed but the ball looped kindly for Coppinger to volley past Stockdale and into the bottom corner with his second attempt.
Mariner withdrew the ineffectual Yala Bolasie for Mason in an attempt to stem the red and white tide, and also pose Rovers a different defensive problem. The plan worked to perfection.
Mackie's perseverance down the left created room for Bhasera to swing over a low cross. Doncaster failed to deal with the delivery and Clark laid the ball back for Damien Johnson to fire in a powerful low drive. Doncaster goalkeeper Neil Sullivan failed to hold the shot and Mason was on hand to sweep home an easy rebound.
The threat at the other end remained potent, however, and Stockdale needed strong wrists to divert Emmanuel-Thomas's strike away for a corner, from which referee Kevin Wright waved away strong penalty claims after an alleged handball by Mackie.
Despite the scare, Argyle had Rovers rattled. Mackie battled his way past O'Connor in the right channel and side-footed the ball across for Mason at the back-post, and the Plymouth boy dived to within a whisker of heading the ball home.
Credit to Doncaster, they are an excellent football team. O'Connor unburdened himself from the Mackie-led onslaught to power forward, exchange passes with Oster and flick the ball inside for Hayter, who turned sharply to chip the ball onto Stockdale's crossbar. A fabulous move from the home side.
An injury to the industrious Alan Judge prompted the introduction of Kenny Cooper for the final ten minutes, with Mariner surprisingly opting to deploy the powerful American in a wide role.
Mackie continued to be the constant menace and a lofted ball forward from Réda Johnson once again caught the home defence out of position, but Mr Wright's failure to award a foul for O'Connor's shirt-tug allowed Rovers an escape route.
Late goals have been so cruel so often this season, but it was now Argyle's turn. A floating cross from Bhasera found the back-post run of Wright-Phillips and the former Southampton man planted a strong header downwards, which bounced up into the top corner.
The wonderful Green Army danced a joyous jig behind the goal, as the dream of salvation was given fresh impetus.
Easter Monday's game with Middlesbrough has now become one of the biggest in the history of the club.
Doncaster (4-4-2): 1 Neil Sullivan; 6 James Chambers (21 Sam Hird 77), 2 James O'Connor, 30 Shelton Martis, 3 Gareth Roberts (capt) (11 Adam Lockwood 88); 26 James Coppinger, 16 John Oster, 15 Mark Wilson, 22 Dean Shiels (4 Jordan Mutch 77); 31 Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, 12 James Hayter. Substitutes (not used): 13 Ben Smith (gk), 18 Sean McDaid.
Argyle (4-4-2): 21 David Stockdale; 2 Karl Duguid (capt), 29 Bondz N'Gala, 22 Réda Johnson, 35 Onismor Bhasera; 25 Alan Judge (33 Kenny Cooper 82), 7 Damien Johnson, 6 Chris Clark, 36 Yannick Bolasie (32 Joe Mason 61); 8 Jamie Mackie, 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 14 Rory Fallon, 15 Chris Barker, 31 Yoann Folly, 40 Ryan Leonard.
Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire).
Attendance: 10,179 (400 away est.)