I’ve been looking forward to tonight’s game for two reasons. Firstly, and rather selfishly, because it is the closest Rovers game to my house and so I don’t have to catch the train until the gloriously late hour of 5:55pm, but also because West Bromwich Albion are, at the risk of pigeon-holing, a big team.
I know I have argued on this site before that history and so forth have no relevance when it comes to the matches themselvves, and I stick by that view. However, as a supporter there is nothing better than seeing our pub team challenging the established order. West Bromwich may have been the proverbial ping pong ball between Forest Gump’s Premier League and the wall of The Championship in recent years, but they do have a pedigree. They have featured in ten FA Cup finals, and won five of them, three League Cup finals, winning one, and have also lifted a League Championship. You can disregard past glories all you like, but this kind of shits on our Yorkshire Electricity Cup win.
The Hawthorns holds 26,500. The last time I ventured into this part of the world for a Rovers game was for a Conference game at Kidderminster. The difference is obviously notable, but beyond the significant discrepancies in honours and crowds there remains one very enjoyable fact. These sides meet tonight as equals.
Its three years and five days since Sean O’Driscoll and Richard O’Kelly took over at Rovers and though we are technically just a couple of dozen places higher than we were then the changes the club have undergone are significant. In that time these two have developed our club and revolutionised the football we play.
Quite frankly as Rovers fans we are spoilt by the football we see each week, so much so its easy to become blasé about the succinct flowing game before us. The sort of seven pass, one-touch mood that would bring thunderous applause at Brammall Lane or Hillsborough is instead just acknowledged with a yell of “thats better Rovers”. On the football field O’Dricoll and O’Kelly have managed to make Doncaster synonimous with culture and style; you have to admit thats a hell of an effort.
Every now and again though you are reminded by just how good a football side we are. Each week I scan opposition team lists with dread at the accomplished names they boast, and West Brom with Bednar and Brunt fit snugly in that bracket. Yet our collection of relative unknowns continue to match these sides and earn praise from opposition managers. Albion’s Roberto Di Matteo is the latest to sing Rovers praises, speaking to The Birmingham Post; “They pass it around well. To be honest, Sean O’Driscoll has done a good job. He sticks to his philosophy and its paid off for him. If they stay up then they are doing it a different way and with a bit of style. They have a good footballing philosophy”. High (and repetitive) praise indeed from a man who knows good football.
Rovers travel to the West Midlands tonight on a run of early season form which is probably best described as steady. A win and a loss in the League, a win and a loss in the Cup, and four draws have seen Rovers amble steadily to 14th in the table. What is perhaps most encouraging for Rovers is that they have picked up points, like that acheived at Reading, where they may not previously have expected to. West Brom offer one such outing where points are not expected so should Doncaster secure a point at The Hawthorns tonight then you will struggle to find a Rovers fan who is not in celebratory mood.
West Brom of course have enjoyed a very productive and unbeaten start to the season which means they come into tonight’s game in second place in the Championship. Only fellow promotion challengers Sheffield United and Newcastle United have succeded in taking points off of Albion this season, although there is enough to suggest its not all been plain sailing. Peterborough United and Carling Cup opponents Rotherham United have both run the Baggies close, whilst reports suggest Plymouth also caused West Brom problems on Saturday before they were eventually dispatched 3-1. Rovers offer a much different challenge to Argyle’s direct approach and it will be interesting to see whether two sides who have won plaudits for their passing style end up cancelling each other out or instead produce an open flowing fixture.
Long term absentees Steve Brooker and Sean McDaid remain unavailable for this game as they’re holed up in their medical room waiting for their new dishwasher to be delivered. The man from Comet said he’d be round between 1pm and 7pm, but even if he makes that window its unlikely that they’ll be able to get to The Hawthorns on time. The official club website reports that James Hayter picked up a groin strain at Reading and so he is likely to join fellow striker Paul Heffernan in the stands. That suggests that loan signing Billy Sharp will be handed his first start for Rovers after coming on from the bench at Reading. James O’Connor will most likely return to the squad to take Sharp’s place on the bench.
West Brom are likely to be without Luke Moore, the striker having been ruled out with an ankle injury whilst new signing, the Chilean, Gonzalo Jara is still awaiting international clearance. Despite these two absentees West Brom still have much to concern Rovers up front with Roman Bednar this season partnered by the highly rated former Swindon player Simon Cox. Rovers are likely to come up against a familar face at the back for The Baggies with Sheldon Martis a regular in the West Brom defence this season; Martis was of course on loan at the Keepmoat last Autumn.
Predicted Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1): Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, Adam Lockwood, Jason Shackell Gareth Roberts; John Oster, Brian Stock, Martin Woods; John Spicer, Jamie Coppinger; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Sam Hird, James O’Connor, Mark Wilson, Quinton Fortune, Dean Shiels, Lewis Guy
Travelling to the Game
If you’re driving to the game then the ground is best accessed from the M5. Leaving the M5 at junction 1 The Hawthorns is about half a mile down the A41 heading into Birmingham. As with most grounds you will find a few entrepreneurial temporary car-parks nearby charging in the region of £4-£5.
For those travelling by rail the ground is served by The Hawthorns station on the Worcester – Birmingham Moor Street line, so those on the train from Doncaster can either make the short walk across the Bull Ring from Birmingham New Street to Moor Street for a connecting train or alternatively pick up the Birmingham – Wolverhampton Metro (tram) at Birmingham Snow Hill.
Rovers fans will be housed behind the goal to one side of the Smethwick End which is the side of the ground furthest from the main Birmingham Road. Like Reading on Saturday this is another ground with the fancy barcode turnstile system so you’ll need a ticket to get in. Tickets are on sale at the Keepmoat Stadium office until midday, but we are not entirely sure where away fans will be able to get tickets at the ground.
Prices on the day are the same as those for advance ticket sales £23 for adults, £14 for seniors, students and 16-18 year-olds. And good news for children its ‘Quid a Kid’ night at The Hawthorns. Yep £1 entry for under 16s so have a shave, don your old school uniform and wear your shoes on your knees and you might save a few bob.
Apologies to those following our updates on Saturday but we had connection problems at half time and full time. However, fear not Viva Rovers will be once again be delivering regular updates of this game too 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, and pictures too. If you’re in South Yorkshire or the West Midlands you should be able to follow the game via BBC Local Radio as well.