When Rovers met Middlesbrough back in August the opposition was a very different proposition. Gareth Southgate was still in the dugout and not making fleeting appearances as a television pundit and they were yet to drop a point or lose Robert Huth and Tuncay to the Premier League. I wrote at the time, that we had been unlucky to face ‘Boro before the summer transfer window was pulled shut to keep out the Autumn air, and subsequent form would appear to bear that reasoning out.
Very much a contender at the start of the season Middlesbrough have struggled to match the company with which they entered the division. Whilst Newcastle and West Brom have set about blazing a trail back to the big time ‘Boro have floundered somewhat and only Saturday’s draw with Swansea City brought the Teesiders to the same points tally as Rovers, and having played two more games to do so. Since taking over the helm at the Riverside Gordon Strachan has won just two of his thirteen matches in charge, but the team is finally beginning to move in the right direction.
Middlesbrough of course should not be taken lightly. Though they may have lost some key names their squad is still very similar to that which played last season in the Premier League. It’s also perhaps a little too easy forgotten that this is a club which has both won the League Cup and played in a UEFA Cup Final in the past five years. Of course, as Rovers themselves have proved history really counts for nothing come kick-off, but it always marks a handy reference point in regard to just how our club has progressed when sides like this can be hosted as equals.
Rovers meanwhile will be looking to shrug off Saturday’s disappointing FA Cup exit at Derby. Though they controlled possession for most of the game Rovers struggled to force actual chances in the face of a Derby side determined to close them down quickly at every opportunity. In the final twenty minutes Rovers’ confidence deserted them and their passing game deserted them. Against a side like Middlesbrough, ball retention will be key for Rovers if they hope to succeed.
Steve Brooker’s reputation is edging increasingly closer to folklore, particularly now he has apparently picked up a further injury. Years from now people will talk of this strange mythical beast who appeared from the darkness one day in Watford to pounce on a low ball across the six-yard box, and then was never seen again. He was spoken of often, but his very existence would be forever doubted by all but those few who saw his aberration float across the Vicarage Road turf.
So basically, Steve Brooker is unavailable. Also absent is Adam Lockwood with the foot injury still leaving him sidelined, or more accurately stadium-seated. Martin Woods and Waide Fairhurst are also unavailable due to injury and so the smart money would be on Sean O’Driscoll retaining exactly the same squad. As such there will be no place for loan signing Jordan Mutch who joined from Birmingham City this week.
Middlesbrough are expected to usher centre back Jonathan Grounds back into their side after he made a late cameo off the bench against Swansea on Saturday. Chances are this will be at the expense of Chris Riggott who made way for him in that game with a hamstring injury. Austrian international Emanuel Pogatetz remains unavailable, though Gary O’Neil and Tony McMahon could return.
Predicted Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Jason Shackell, Gareth Roberts; Mark Wilson, John Oster, Brian Stock; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Sam Hird, Byron Webster, John Spicer, James Hayter, Lewis Guy, Paul Heffernan
Travelling to the Game
Middlesbrough fans trundling south for their first experience of the Keepmoat Stadium tonight will not have found much helpful information on the official Rovers website, but thankfully there is plenty on Viva Rovers. We even include directions from the train station for those taking their chances with the East Coast Mainline. All this and information on away friendly pubs and where to pick up tickets at the ground can be found by clicking on the ‘Keepmoat Stadium’ tab at the top of the page.
Sadly, Viva Rovers frankly under appreciated pioneering live match twitter feed will only be operating on a second-hand basis for this fixture. But, if delayed coverage is your bag then by all means follow @vivarovers on Twitter or keep an eye on the Twitter Updates box on the right hand side of this screen. If you want live commentary then your only option really is to subscribe to the club’s official Rovers Player service, though to soften the blow of shelling out for this it does now come with Paul Mayfield’s enjoyable and usually innuendo based views from the press box. Online you can of course keep an eye on the BBC Live Text service, whilst goal flashes and updates might be viewable on some terrible hyped up satellite channel which we would in no way endorse buying into. BBC Radio Sheffield should have regular updates from Doncaster, as too will BBC Radio Tees if you can pick it up.