Think of Preston North End and what comes to mind? The original Invincibles? The back to back FA Cup final appearances of the 1930s? Tom Finney sliding through a puddle? Sadly, in the face of this great football history my thoughts are drawn to the Deepdlae plastic pitch of the early 90s and players teaming some terrible Coloroll sponsored kits with ski pants to avoid carpet burns. I can only apologise to Preston fans, but this spectacle was so horrific it appears to be burned onto the retinas of my retrospect.
The key factor which spelt the end for the brief wave of artificial pitches was not the fact that they left professional footballers with a distinct lack of skin, but the quality of the football they facilitated. High bounces on the hard surface meant the ball was not so much passed as ricocheted between team-mates, as controllable as a shopping trolley on a steep gradient. Thankfully much has changed from these seasons when Rovers and Preston faced each other in the league’s basement division and now they come head to head for the third time in the second tier.
Thankfully its not just the divisional level which has changed for the two sides since those early 1990s clashes, the standard of the football is also much different. UnderS ean O’Driscoll, as we know, Rovers have patented a brand of swift passing football based on a distinct confidence of the players employing it. Preston are a little more direct; with size on their side they can afford to be so and will cause Rovers difficulties from set-pieces as a result. But North End should not be pigeon-holed as a route one physical side. Alan Irvine’s team can play a bit too and will be aided in this field by the summer additions of Paul Parry and ‘the Balkan Gerrard’, aka, Veliče Šumulikoski.
Only the very satisfying defeat of Neil Warnock and Crystal Palace prevents Rovers from facing Preston in back to back competitive matches with the Lilywhites having registered a 2-0 victory at the Keepmoat Stadium on Easter Monday. That victory helped Preston’s late surge for the play-offs although after sneaking in to the end of season promotion knock-about they failed to make the final after a two-legged defeat to Sheffield United.
This season Preston have started in much the same vein as Rovers with a draw on the opening day of the league season followed by victory in the Carling Cup. Last Saturday, it took an 82nd minute Jon Parkin strike and an injury time penalty from Callum Davidson to rescue a 2-2 draw at home to Bristol City, but North End were more convincing in the Cup as they ran out 5-1 winners at Morecambe’s Christie Park. So both sides come into this game unbeaten, but Preston’s physical edge has the potential to make the difference.
Rovers have received a welcome boost with the news that new-signing Quinton Fortune has finally received international clearance from the Belgian FA (with whom he was previously registered as a player for AFC Tubize) and as such will be available for selection. Steve Brooker, Sean McDaid and Jos Van Nieuwstadt all remain unavailable due to injury and have now been absent for so long that they have been officially registered as ‘missing’ with South Yorkshire Police. The BBC suggest that Brian Stock has been carrying a knock, but should be passed fit, whilst other Rovers’ fan messageboards have claimed that the club have a central defensive crisis with Sam Hird, Adam Lockwood and Byron Webster all carrying injuries, but expect two of those three to start.
Preston manager Alan Irvine might welcome a couple of injuries to his squad if only to make the task of picking a side easier. Like O’Driscoll, Irvine rested some of his key players for Preston’s Carling Cup tie and those who came into the side reportedly impressed enough to go right into contention for the trip to Doncaster. There was a slight concern over man mountain Jon Parkin’s fitness in the week, but he looks likely to feature, as too will Chris Brown who was with Rovers in the Division 3 title season.
Predicted Rovers line-up
(4-3-1-2): Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Byron Webster, James Chambers; John Oster, Brian Stock, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger; James Hayter, Paul Heffernan
subs: Ben Smith, Gareth Roberts, Adam Lockwood, Mark Wilson, Quinton Fortune, John Spicer, Dean Shiels
Any Preston fans making their first visit to the Keepmoat Stadium can find a wealth of information on the new ground, including where to park, how to get there on foot and by car, and where to grab a pre-match drink in the Keepmoat Stadium section of this website.
Following the Game from Afar
If you are unable to attend the game fear not as Viva Rovers will be broadcasting regular updates through our twitter feed. Either follow vivarovers on twitter or keep an eye on the ‘Twitter Updates’ box on this website, and you will get to enjoy our account of the game in bursts of 140 characters.
Also in Action
Doncaster are actually facing Preston on two fronts on Saturday with supporters’ team the Donny R’sonists set to face their Preston counterparts on the morning of the game. The R’sonists host the Preston Supporters’ ‘B’ team on grass at Balby Carr Football Centre on Weston Road. The match kicks-off at 10:45am so why not come down and offer your support.