So, its finally here. It may have seemed like a long old summer as your were traipsing round B&Q’s barbecues department of a Saturday afternoon, but now we get prepared to get stuck into the routine again for another nine months it does seem like only yesterday we were waving green cards around at the Keepmoat Stadium and gatecrashing Wolves’ promotion party. The football season is back, and this year the theme will be ‘second season syndrome, and how to avoid it’.
Rovers travel to face Watford in their season opener, as you know and no doubt have known since mid June. As with all opening season games its tough to know exactly what to expect. New players, new managers, unfamiliar surroundings and a overall feel of competitive rustiness usually steer these season openers towards cagey low-scoring games. Indeed you have to go back five years and Tim Ryan’s spilled pile-driver against Blackpool at Belle Vue for the last time Doncaster’s opening game featured more than a solitary goal. Both teams were of a similar standard last season, and its within reason to expect that to remain true into this.
Of the two clubs its perhaps arguable that Rovers stand in the better position. True, they have lost Richie Wellens and significantly Matt Mills on the dawn of the new season, but the probable starting line-up at 3pm is likely to feature eleven players who were all on the books last season, guided by the same manager that instilled a steady and impressive passing game and technique into them over the course of last season. Watford too have lost significant players, most notably Tamas Priskin who cemented a move to Ipswich on Friday, but perhaps more importantly they also lost a manager and begin at the hands of novice Malky Mackay. Its clutching at straws perhaps but having seven months more of intrinsic tactical nous within your team must surely bring an advantage.
Team-wise Watford have no real injury problems coming into the game, but the transfer of Tamas Priskin so close to the start of the new season will have perhaps altered their plans. New signings Danny Graham, formerly of Carlisle, Scotland international Scott Severin and Slovenian Jure Travner are all being tipped to make their debuts for new manager Malky Mackay. The former of those three could be of slight concern for Rovers as Graham was something of a thorn in Doncaster’s side during his time with Carlisle.
Rovers come into this game with three players unavailable due to injury. Steve Brooker and Sean McDaid have spent so long in the treatment room that they added a conservatory over the summer and will be in their new sun loungers come 3pm. Also joining them is defender Jos Van Nieuwstadt who has missed most of pre-season with a groin injury. There are also doubts over two of the club’s new signings for very different reasons. Quinton Fortune and Byron Webster were still awaiting international clearance at the end of Friday following their moves from Tubize and FK Banik Most respectively. Should they receive said clearance expect them to be in the squad.
In terms of line-up we don’t expect Sean O’Driscoll to deviate from what he knows and expect Rovers to line-up in a 4-3-2-1 type formation as follows. Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Adam Lockwood, Gareth Roberts; Brian Stock, Mark Wilson, Martin Woods; Dean Shiels, Jamie Coppinger; Paul Heffernan. This season Football League clubs are allowed seven players on the bench and we expect those to be Ben Smith, James Chambers, John Oster, John Spicer, James Hayter, Quinton Fortune and Byron Webster. Should international clearance not be forthcoming expect Lewis Guy and Mustapha Dumbaya to get the nod.
Over 1,500 Rovers fans look set to make the trip to Vicarage Road, the numbers swollen presumably by the quest for live football again and also Watford’s very generous ticket pricing. The Hornets have promoted this game as a Family Day and as such adult tickets have been made available for £10 ina dvance, a promotion they have kindly extended to away fans as well. As such, there should be a good sized crowd at Watford for this game, and throw in the early season optimism and it all points towards a good opening day atmosphere for this game.
And continuing with the good atmosphere, if you make it into Watford unfeasibly early then get yourself along to the Queens School on Aldenham Road where fans of Watford and Doncaster will be playing a match of their own. The Donny R’sonists take on Watford IFC in an IFA League match, kicking off at the school at 10:30am. If you’re in the area come along and cheer us (or Watford) on, and don’t be afraid to bring your boots, the R’sonists are always looking for new victims/recruits.
Those not going to the game can follow the match live on BBC Radio Sheffield’s long wave and DAB output. Alternatively you can get live updates from Vicarage Road from this very website. We’ll be using our twitter feed to bring regular updates from the game that will be displayed in the grey ‘Twitter Update’ box in the right hand column. Or if you are a ‘twitter’ user (a twitee?) then follow vivarovers.