Lets be honest, there really isn’t anything more festive than a trip to Coventry. Turkey? presents? family arguments? No, ignore all them, nothing signifies Yuletide more than a trip to the 1950s Gibson planned concrete angular jungle of Coventry. As Boxing Day fixtures go, this is an odd match up, with games at this time of year often regionalised, it is a far cry from the more recent ‘derby’ games with Scarborough, Scunthorpe, Bradford and Forest. Still Boxing Day is always football in our house, so onwards to the Ricoh we go.
When I first began following football Coventry City were as synonymous with the top flight of the English game as The Big Match. Up until their relegation in 2001 the Sky Blues had spent thirty-four consecutive years in the top flight. It therefore seems a little surreal for me to see Rovers taking on City on Boxing Day. But then, whilst Coventry have spent the decade stumbling in the game’s second tier Rovers have of course strode forwards and so this fixture will begin with Doncaster six places and five points above their opponents.
The reason for City’s lowly position is a terrible run of autumn results which saw them fail to win in ten consecutive matches. Thankfully though for Sky Blues fans this torrid spell has been ended with two wins in their last two games. A 3-2 victory over Peterborough on 12th December was followed by a 1-0 win at Plymouth last Saturday and now Coventry fans will be hopeful that they can continue this run by defeating a side beginning with a letter other than ‘P’.
Key to Coventry’s upturn in form are Leon Best and Freddie Eastwood. Indeed of City’s last nine goals coming into this game only one, Richard Wood’s equaliser at Queens Park Rangers, has been scored by anyone other than those two. Eastwood in particular is in encouraging form with the Welsh international’s hat-trick seeing for Peterborough at London Road, before he netted the only goal in last week’s win over Plymouth. Rovers will be hoping the threat of Eastwood can be muted as successfully as when he faced Doncaster playing for Southend two years ago.
Rovers of course come flying into the this match like Santa’s sleigh into a rooftop, riding high off the back of four consecutive wins which has seen the team climb to eleventh in the Championship table. Key to this form of course are the goals of Billy Sharp who has now found the net in each of Rovers’ last six matches. However, they would be consolation goals were it not for the efforts of the Rovers’ rear-guard. Neil Sullivan and his defence have now not been breached for four games straight.
With Rovers on an impressive form its highly unlikely that Sean O’Driscoll will alter his formation or line-up for this trip to the West Midlands. Brian Stock has been rumoured to be closing in on a return over the festive period, but a place on the bench against Leicester would seem the more natural time for his inclusion. So instead the club captain will remain at home watching the Great Escape and fighting over the Quality Street with Steve Brooker, Sean McDaid, Martin Woods and Quinton Fortune. Expect defensive options on the bench should Rovers edge ahead as they did at Derby.
Coventry City have a number of absentees for this fixture with Marcus Hall, Ben Turner, Jordan Clarke, Isaac Osbourne and Dimi Konstantopoulos all unavailable due to injury. There is also a doubt over defender Richard Wood who will face a fitness test on the morning of the game on an injured ankle. Michael McIndoe (remember him?) could feature, but a chant of “Put him on his right foot” should nulify that threat.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts; John Oster, Mark Wilson, Simon Gillett; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Sam Hird, Byron Webster, Rob Clark, John Spicer, James Hayter, Lewis Guy
Travelling to the Match
Like most new stadiums Coventry’s ground is pretty easily reached by car. Leave the M6 at Junction 3, take the A444 towards the city centre and you cannot help but see the ground on your left. Parking at the stadium and in the surrounding retail outlets though is restricted and/or expensive. One of the better options is probably to follow the signs advertising park and ride schemes in operation for the ground.
the stadium itself is around three and a half miles from the train station so if you are brave or foolish enough to attempt the Boxing Day rail network, you’ll need to jump in a taxi or on a bus when you leave the train station. The Football Special 101 service runs to the stadium every ten minutes or so, but make sure you have change handy as Coventry buses only accept the exact fare.
As new-ground dwellers ourselves we probably know what to expect from the Ricoh Arena; namely a bigger, bluer version of our own ground. Rovers fans will be housed to the West side of the Jewson Stand for this fixture.
No matter how much turkey is quaffed at Viva Towers on Christmas Day we will once again be bringing you our live twitter coverage of the game. Live updates (well minus the time it takes to get my gloves off) from the match, including the occasional picture, in 140 characters or less. Those of you on Twitter can keep up to date by following @vivarovers, whilst everyone else can keep track of the same coverage in the ‘Twitter Updates’ box to the right of the page.
Updates from the game in various guises can be found on BBC Radio Sheffield and also the BBC’s Score Interactive programme on digital television. The BBC website’s live text also provides brief details of every incident at the game as it happens. For live commentary though, unless you have a mate willing to talk down the phone for 45 minutes you’ll have to elect for the Rovers Player (formerly Rovers World) complete with Doncaster’s own jolly man in red Paul Mayfield.