I was starting to get a bit fearful of Rovers trip to face Middlesborough. Despite relegation ‘Boro have retained much of their talent and posses players which I fear could really give us the run around. But then I started reading other match previews and predictions and everyone else also felt Rovers were likely to struggle in the North East, and with each damning assesment of Rovers’ chances I’ve cast eyes at I have grown in confidence. When will folk learn to not right us off? It only ever seems to make Rovers stronger.
Its a long time since Rovers have played Middlesborough; 22 years in fact since The Smoggies (as I’ve recently discovered they are occasionally nicknamed) came to Belle Vue for a division three match at the end of the 1986-87 season. ‘Boro won 2-0, and continued to rise over the next ten years or so, thanks in much part to some sound investment, and timely patience from chairman Steve Gibson. In many ways Middlesborough, as a town of similar size to Doncaster, represent on football terms what can be achieved.
The high point in ‘Boro’s recent history is of no doubt, with the club having reached the 2006 UEFA Cup Final. They may have been soundly beaten by Sevilla in the final, but the manner in which ‘Boro reached that final, defeating Stuttgart and Roma and of course the incredible win over Steaua Bucharest in the semi-final. However, the momentum which brought that run has not been sustained and for a club of (comapritively) limited funds in the Premier League the difficulties of competing with the elite finally caught up with them with alst season’s relegation.
In terms of this game in particular both teams approach kick-off undefeated although Middlesbrough have arguably more to shout about thanks to victories over Scunthorpe and Swansea. Only an opening day goalless draw with fellow promotion tips Sheffield United has come between them and maximum points as they sit in second place. Of most concern for Rovers fans should be ‘boro’s defensive record, yet to concede a goal all season. Given Rovers’ record thus far of three draws and a 1-0 cup win it all points to a low-scoring afternoon.
Both teams could potentially feature players facing their former clubs. Middlesbrough’s David Wheater spent two months on loan at Rovers in the 2005-06 season. Wheater gained a favourable reputation amongst Doncaster fans during his stint at Belle Vue; a reputation he has since justified with international call-ups to his name. Rovers’ Mark Wilson spent four years on Teeside having joined Middlesbrough in the same deal that took Jonathan Greening from Manchester United to the Riverside. Wilson never really made an impact at ‘Boro though with much of that four year spell taken up with loan deals and as such he could be keen to show the North East crowd what they could have had.
Three games in suddenly we’re in the midst of an injury crisis. Whilst Steve Brooker and Sean McDaid are still in the protracted process of being surgically wrapped in cotton-wool they have had to tidy up a bit as they have been joined in the treatment room by a number of other Rovers this week. James O’Connor is definately not available due to an knee injury with Byron Webster reportedly also ruled out with an ankle problem. On top of those two there is also a significant doubt over Gareth Roberts, injured on Tuesday evening, and minor concerns about Martin Woods and John Spicer although the two midfielders are expected to feature.
All of this with three full-backs and one centre half unavailable, essentially means a dilemma in defence for Sean O’Driscoll which has three possible solutions. The first is to bring in Mustapha Dumbaya for his football league debut and move James Chambers across to left back, although the Rovers boss is likely to risk inexperience. Option 2 is to play a central defensive three and bring in Sam Hird whilst employing Chambers and one other as wing-backs. Whilst option 3 is to allow one of his more senior players to fill in at right back; this seems to be the option most Rovers expect with Quinton Fortune a suggested deputy.
Middlesbrough are without three of their first team thanks to injury. Goalkeeper Brad Jones and defender Chris Riggott are both missing with ankle problems, whilst Didier Digard is also unavailable due to a groin problem according to the BBC website. However Gareth Southgate is boosted by the apparent return of Jeramie Aliadiere who missed the recent wins over Swansea and Scunthorpe.
Indeed Southgate, even with the absentees mentioned above still has plenty of options and the potential strike-force of Aliadiere and Leroy Litaa poses a sizable threat on its own, with potential support from Tuncay and the in-form Adam Johnson ‘Boro could well keep Rovers’ back-line busy.
Predicted Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1):Neil Sullivan; Quinton Fortune, Adam Lockwood, Jason Shackell, James Chambers; John Oster, Brian Stock, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; Paul Heffernan
subs:Ben Smith, Mustapha Dumbaya, Sam Hird, Mark Wilson, Lewis Guy, John Spicer, James Hayter
Around 2,000 Rovers fans are expected to make the strip north to Middlesbrough for this fixture. Those who have not already purchased tickets at the Keepmoat Stadium can reportedly do so on the day at the Riverside Stadium from the Away Fans Ticket Office.
Rovers fans driving to Middlesbrough are advised to follow the A66 from the A1 which goes straight into the town. The stadium is signposted from here with private parking available near the ground, or alternatively follow the sign-posts for ‘away coaches’ although it could take a while to get out after the game. Another option is town centre parking, as the ground is only a 15minute walk from here.
The ground is also only a 15 minute walk away for those travelling by train. You need to leave the station’s back exit (or alternatively come out the front and double back under the railway bridge on Cleveland Street) and turn right onto Bridge Street East, and then right again onto Windward Way which will take you to the stadium.
Following the Game from Afar
Sadly we will not be offering our match ‘Twitter Updates’ for this fixture either (next game for this is Spurs), but there are other options for those without ‘Rovers Player’. The official Rovers website will be reportedly giving live text updates, as of course will the BBC website.
Alternatively there will be coverage on BBC Radio Sheffield and most certainly live coverage on BBC Radio Cleveland if you can pick that up (although be aware the BBC’s live match regional radio coverage does not broadcast via online listen live options). As its a Saturday you will also be able to follow the score updates at least via BBC’s Score interactive, but the downside is you’ll probably have to put up with Garth Crooks’ ill-informed pontificating as well.