Cast your mind back six years, to the end of the qualifying campaign for Euro 2004. Latvia had caused a major surprise by qualifying for their first ever major tournament finals, and the media were quick to praise the country’s former manager, one Gary Johnson. As the BBC and others heaped praise on Johnson for turning around Latvian fortunes he duly took the credit for his efforts in reawakening Latvian football.
Only he hadn’t really. Under his guidance Latvia went down the world rankings not up; he took over with the nation in 4th place in their qualifying group and left with them in sixth. And yet two years on gleefully took all the praise thrown at him. For context it would be like Steve McClaren taking credit for Fabio Capello’s impressive qualification run for next summer’s World Cup. Johnson’s willingness to take credit and offer soundbites caused me to dislike him but it did at least give way to the excellent Popular STAND fanzine feature; ‘Great Things Gary Johnson Has Done’ in which Johnson took the plaudits for discovering penicillin, writing Imagine, and finding Saddam Hussein.
Its lucky we football fans have short memories and are so willing to forgive and forget otherwise this would still be grating with me and a few other Doncaster fans coming into this game. Like Palace last weekend, I do actually like Bristol City, I have friends who support them, but thanks to the bloke in their technical area I’ll be very happy should Rovers defeat them. But enough about my anger issues, on to the game itself.
Bristol City inflicted an impressive 4-1 defeat on Rovers at Ashton Gate last season but come the return game at the Keepmoat in February they were a very different prospect, as were we. At Doncaster the Robins played a brand of football so one-dimensional that it was more route 0.5 than route 1; Rovers scored early and never looked likely to be threatened as City ignored the wings and hoofed balls in the direction of the box. It wasn’t just frustrating to watch, City’s Michael McIndoe got so fed up at not being able to kick the ball he made a play for Richie Wellens’ ankles instead.
Despite only winning one of their last six games Bristol City come into this fixture in eighth place. That victory came in their last outing as they recorded an impressive 3-1 win at Leicester on Tuesday night. The good news for Rovers though is that City haven’t recorded back to back away wins since last season. And thats as far as I can be bothered to go trying to draw something approaching a prediction from vaguely related statistics.
As for Rovers, we’re practically flying as consecutive wins (and clean sheets) against Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday have succeeded in making the performance at Nottingham Forest look more like an anomaly than an ominous warning. The key to this upturn in form is quite simply Rovers’ number 5, as Billy Sharp has brought a clinical end product to Rovers’ flowing football. Sharp has struck eight goals in his last nine appearances for Rovers including a goal in each of the last four games.
Steve Brooker, Sean McDaid and Brian Stock are all back in training, though none are fit enough to feature in this game. In fact rumours abound that Steve Brooker and Sean McDaid are actually both vying for Michael Bridges crown as the most injured footballer ever and actually lock themselves in the medical room every Friday as Sean O’Driscoll gets set to announce his team. Stock should be back in January though.
Martin Woods is the only fresh injury concern for O’Driscoll, the stand-in skipper was subbed off at half-time in Tuesday’s win over Sheffield Wednesday with a groin problem that is likely to prevent him playing this weekend. Indeed, there has also been a suggestion that he will require surgery. All other players should be available, though Sean O’Driscoll would be expected to name the same team which began the second-half on Tuesday with Simon Gillett replacing Woods.
In terms of the Bristol City side the good news for Rovers is that midfielder Evander Sno is unavailable to the Robins as he is suspended for this match having picked up his fifth booking of the season on Tuesday evening. (Insert your own joke about there being no Sno in December any more here). Defender Louis Carey is a doubt with a knee injury however Jamie McAllister is expected to be fit again despite suffering a gashed shin against Leicester City.
Predicted Rovers Line-up
(4-2-2-2) Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’ Connor, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts; John Oster, Simon Gillett; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; James Hayter, Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Byron Webster, Sam Hird, Mark Wilson, Lewis Guy, John Spicer, Paul Heffernan
Travelling to the Game
Though you’ll find little of help on the official Rovers website away fans can get a wealth of information on Doncaster’s ground from us by clicking on the ‘Keepmoat Stadium’ tab at the top of the page. On there, Bristol City fans will find not only directions and parking advice for those travelling by car but also directions (both on foot and via public transport) from Doncaster station. Suggested matchday pubs, although they may be a little light on specialist cider for your liking, and advice on where to collect tickets can also be found here.
Can’t get to the game but want to stay informed about the action through successive bursts of text in 140 characters or fewer? Well then you and your very specific needs are in luck, as the Viva Rovers live twitter coverage returns for this match. We’ll be providing regular updates on the action as well as the latest tirades from infamously unhappy West Stand dweller Geoff. If you are on twitter then simply follow @vivarovers, if you have no idea what I’m talking about then you can get the same service by keeping an eye on the Twitter Updates box on the right of this page during the game (don’t forget to refresh the page).
If you prefer to pay for a slightly more professional service then there will be live coverage via Rovers Player (formerly Rovers World) now featuring the one and only Paul Mayfield, biscuits and all. Further coverage in the form of updates can be sourced from BBC Radio Sheffield or even the BBC website’s LiveText service.