Before we crack on with this preview let us get one thing straight. No matter what Mark Lawrenson or Garth Crooks might opine on this subject club histories, fan-bases, or stadia size do not decide matches. This is a principle we hold closely at Viva Rovers, especially as it is one which Rovers have proven so effectively in recent years. So consider this as you head up the A1 or the East Coast Mainline tomorrow, we may not have as many season ticket holders, we may not have as many shirtless fans worshipping Kevin Keegan, and we may not have spent as many millions on players, but the fact remains that our pub team travels to St. James’ Park this weekend as equals to our opponents, and it is us who can hold more pride in that than the Toon Army.
Of course all of the above does not ensure that Rovers support will not be a little awe-struck by the prospect of Newcastle United vs Doncaster Rovers. It has been played out in a pre-season friendly and also on my Subbuteo pitch blu-tacked to the kitchen lino’, but it remains hard to accept that this particular meeting comes as a league fixture. Understandably, it’s the game every Rovers fan wants to be at and such is the demand that for the first time in fifteen years it’s a Rovers game that we at Viva Towers have been unable to ascertain a ticket for.
Whilst Rovers fans will be wanting to savour a trip to the division’s big club and the vertigo that will ensue (both physically and metaphorically) from being at St James’ Park, the players themselves will have no sense of making up the numbers. Rovers rarely do ‘backs to the wall’ football, and with players steadily returning from injury and suspension they are unlikely to start doing so now. There is no big man to whack it up to, instead the plan will be to frustrate United with possession. No-one likes to be outplayed by ‘the likes of Doncaster’, and if its hard to stomach for Peterborough then you can guarantee it won’t go down well in the replica shirt heavy stands on Tyneside.
Of course Rovers must be wary, take out the background noise, and on a purely football level Newcastle are a daunting prospect. Thus far at home they have won four and drawn two, conceding just two goals, and for a side like Rovers, not known for a prolific nature in front of goal then you can’t help but be concerned. And then there is the backlash effect. Newcastle were beaten 2-1 at Scunthorpe in the week squandering a chance to go top. The prospect of following that up with anything less than a home win over Doncaster is surely too much to bear.
Aside from the reserve league fixtures of 1997-98 highlighted in this week’s Viva Video Rovers last competitive date with Newcastle came thirty-six years ago Doncaster travelled to Newcastle on a Monday night in October 1973 for a League Cup 2nd round tie, the programme from which is pictured at the top of the page (courtesy of RoversDave of the VSC Forum). Rovers were well beaten 6-0 on the night thanks to a hat-trick from ‘SuperMac’ Malcolm MacDonald, two from Keith Robson and Frank Clarke’s first goal for Newcastle in eleven years of trying.
More recently the two sides met in the summer of 2008 as Doncaster’s own Kevin Keegan brought his Newcastle side to the Keepmoat Stadium giving Rovers an early chance to see that all was not well at St James’ Park ahead of the 2008-09 season. Doncaster were rarely threatened throughout and eventually triumphed 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Stuart Elliott. It all seems as long ago than the 6-0 League Cup defeat now.
With Sean McDaid fit again after over a year out of action Steve Brooker cuts a lonely figure in the Rovers medical room. Though he’s joined by Adam Lockwood and Brian Stock who remain sidelined with foot and ankle injuries respectively, Brooker it seems still pines for his former long-term injured companion. Whenever Lockwood and Stock try to make a cup of tea or wash up Brooker is quick to chirp up “Sean McDaid always put the milk in first” or “Sean pre=”Sean “>McDaid prefered to wash the glasses separately”. It’s all a bit tense.
McDaid however has survived a whole week injury free and could even come back into the Rovers squad, providing Sean O’Driscoll can put a name to the face. Also back in contention is Gareth Roberts who missed the Peterborough game with a calf strain, whilst Mark Wilson and Simon Gillet have overcome recent knocks to be available for selection once again.
Jamie Coppinger is set to face his former club as recent form means he will probably get the nod. Lewis Guy could also face his former team as he stands a chance of being included on the bench. Goalkeeper Ben Smith will of course not get a homecoming though as he is currently on loan at Southend. Also out on loan and therefore unavailable is Waide Fairhurst who joined Shrewsbury in the week.
Newcastle United are without a number of key experienced players with defender Steven Taylor still sidelined with a hamstring injury and Alan Smith currently suspended. Also missing are long-term injuries Joey Barton and Shola Ameobi. However United have been boosted by the returns of defender Fabricio Coloccini and midfielder Nicky Butt who missed the midweek match at Glanford Park.
Predicted Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1): Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Jason Shackell, James Chambers; John Oster, Simon Gillett, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp
subs: Gary Woods, Gareth Roberts, Mark Wilson, Quinton Fortune, James Hayter, Paul Heffernan, Lewis Guy
Travelling to the Game
For those travelling up the A1 to this fixture the excellent Football Ground Guide website advises staying on the A1 to the Westerhope exit and following signs to the centre and Royal Victoria Infirmary where there is a multi-storey car-park which offers a pretty quick getaway after matches. Alternatively you could head for Heworth, near Gateshead and catch the Metro into Newcastle centre.
Good news for those on the National Express trains up the East Coast mainline as the ground is just 10-15 minutes walk from the station. (Directions again from The Football Ground Guide) From the station head up the pedestrianised Pink Lane, and cross Westgate Road to head up the pedestrianised Bath Lane. Turn right onto Stowell Street and at the end bear left up St Andrews Street, then left up Gallowgate.
As the ground is close to the City centre Rovers fans will have no shortage of places to grab a pre-match drink, though be aware many bars are likely to insist that club colours are not worn, or at least covered. Fans of real ale may like to try the CAMRA recommended pub The Bodega on Westgate Road.
There is a chance this match will be broadcast live on BBC Radio Sheffield, but we are unable to confirm that at this stage. However, as we are playing Newcastle you can at least guarantee that the BBC will give it as much coverage as possible just to keep Alan Shearer happy. Expect live updates from Radio Five Live and the BBC’s Score Interactive service. For live commentary from outside South Yorkshire and the North East you will need to fork out for Rovers Player, but don’t fret they’ve employed Paul Mayfield to make parting with your cash seem much more reasonable (and innuendo heavy).
For a reasoned Newcastle United viewpoint on this fixture we direct you to the excellent blog Black and White and Read All Over, linked via the panel on the right of the page.