Ignore the terrible headline for a minute and let us get things in perspective right from the off. No matter what the score this weekend, no matter if Rovers win, no matter if Matt calls me up and tells me he can’t go and instead he’s given his ticket for the seat next to mine to Natalie Imbruglia. This game will not be better than the corresponding fixture last season. Even if Rovers go goal crazy and Natalie turns out to have low self-esteem and a fetish for tall bearded Northerners in red and white scarves. Last season’s trip to Pride Park will not be bettered.
For the uninitiated Derby County were the opposition and hosts for Rovers first match in the second tier for half a century. And so on the opening day of the 2008-09 season 3,300 Doncastrians packed the Pride Park away end to herald the achievement of John Ryan’s long-held aim. That in itself was an incredible moment for many of us, and it was certainly on my ‘will never be seen in my lifetime’ list, though admittedly when it comes to Rovers so was much of the last decade.
To go on and win that match, and not just win, but do so whilst practicing the footballing ethos which had got us there was a phenomenal achievement. It was a performance which, as well as having me jumping about and waving my scarf like a castaway trying to attract a passing helicopter, also had Paul Merson, Chris Waddle and many other top flight pros and pundits purring. “When they’ve got it, they’ve got” was Waddle’s summation whilst Merson described it as “a different class of passing the ball”. For Rovers fans that day Pride Park could not have been better names.
So, with that in mind, why are so many of us still excited about this match? The answer lies in Rovers recent form. Three wins in a row and four wins from the last five games has seen Rovers bridge the gap from the lower reaches of the table to the teams corraled just outside the play-offs. Indeed so tight are things in this part of the table that a win at Derby could catapult Rovers from fifteenth into the top ten. Though I harbour no ambition of promotion, being in sight of the play-offs on Christmas Day would be a welcome festive treat.
One of the key reasons for Rovers run of form has been the prolific finishing of the club’s number 5. The performances against Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol City at the Keepmoat Stadium may not have been classic, but in Billy Sharp Rovers finally have a striker for all occasions, and specifically for half-chances. Sharp has struck a goal in each of Rovers’ last five games, and has nine goals in total since arriving from Sheffield United on loan in September. So keen are Rovers fans to make Billy’s move permanent that the Viking Supporters Co-operative forum has already begun a collection from fans to try to raise money towards a transfer fee.
Derby County also come into this match unbeaten in four games with two wins and two draws from their most recent fixtures, including a very credible 2-2 draw with West Brom and an excellent 1-0 away win at Watford last weekend. The Rams may come into this game two places below Rovers in the Championship, but their current form suggests their supporters will be looking upwards rather than over their shoulder at current.
Derby have a good range of talent sidelined for this game, but still have plenty of accomplished players in their likely starting line-up. Robbie Savage needs no introduction, unless he’s working as a pundit in which case he needs to be guided through every utterance like a toddler in a nativity play. Alongside Savage of course will be an even more familiar player for Rovers fans and an all-time favourite of Viva Rovers’ Paul Green. Whatever your feelings on Green’s departure from Doncaster you cannot fault his commitment when in the hoops and his performances across three tiers of the game.
The addition of Paul Dickov up front has given a further dimension in attack, albeit an irritating whiny yappy kind of dimension, as his experience compliments the presence of Rob Hulse and DJ Campbell. And if you want a juxtaposition of the recent fortunes of Derby and Doncaster, the fact Rovers fans are likely to remember Campbell from his time at Stevenage Borough is probably an apt one. Derby won’t be complacent though as Rovers achieved the double over them last season.
Steve Brooker, Brian Stock and Sean McDaid are all unavailable as they strive to put the tree up in the Rovers medical room. They’ll be ably abetted by Quinton Fortune who has been placed in charge of baubles and Martin Woods whose torn groin means he’s not allowed to put the star on top of the tree and has to make do with fixing the fairy lights. Everyone else should be fit to play though which means Sean O’Driscoll is likely to pluck for the line-up which began the last match against Bristol City.
Derby County Nigel Clough may have glad tidings if, as expected, Rob Hulse and Dean Leacock recover from their respective hamstring injuries to take part in this fixture. However, Clough is still left with a quartet of unavailability though with Shaun Barker, Miles Addison, Frederik Stoor and perhaps most notably Kris Commons all unlikely to take part owing to various foot or leg injuries.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts; John Oster, Simon Gillett, Mark Wilson; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Byron Webster, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, John Spicer, James Hayter, Lewis Guy
Travelling to the Game
If you like your football experiences to be all shiny and corporate like then you’ll enjoy Pride Park, as much like the Keepmoat its situated on an industrial and retail estate and has all the mod-cons handily located in its own concourse. Rovers fans will be in the Winfield Construction (or South) Stand, and will be able to eat drink and be merry in the depths of it, though is not much for away fans nearby other than fast food outlets.
For those travelling by train the stadium is very easy to reach and is just ten minutes walk from Derby station. The County supporter I asked on the train there last season told me to “go right out the train station and just walk straight there“. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but not much. If you leave the station by the Roundhouse Road exit rather than the main one and follow the signs you’d do well not to get to the ground.
For those travelling by car leave the M1 at Junction 25 for the A52 and as you approach Derby the ground is signposted according to the ever reliable Football Ground Guide. There is limited matchday parking available near the stadium, but as you would expect it’s not all that cheap.
Has the official Rovers website always had ‘coverage’ details at the foot of their match previews or are we getting rightly paranoid? Anyway, regardless of that, one thing the official site doesn’t bring you is all the latest direct from the match in bursts of 140 characters or less. We do though. Viva Rovers’ patented twitter updates will be in operation for this match so those of you who tweet can keep up with the action by following @vivarovers, whilst those of you who don’t can still keep abreast of our matchday experience by checking the ‘Twitter Updates’ box on the right of this page.
If its live commentary you want then chances are you’ll have two options come Saturday afternoon, either somehow get near enough to Derbyshire to pick up BBC Radio Derby or follow the match on Rovers Player (formerly Rovers World) with the ever entertaining Paul Mayfield. And if none of these options float your boat then we’d recommend keeping an eye on BBC’s Score Interactive show on television (and would also recommend hitting mute when Garth Crooks is on) or the BBC’s online Live Text service. BBC Radio Sheffield should also have live updates from the match.