At the risk of beginning this match preview like an Arkwright monologue from the end credits of an Open All Hours episode; its ber-b-b-ber-b-b-been an odd sort of week for Doncaster Rovers Lord. It began last Saturday at Derby as the team’s performance fizzled out into nothing more than sloppy in the final twenty minutes and a golden opportunity to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time in half a century passed us all by. Late that same night James Hayter and John Oster were bundled into the back of a police van and come Tuesday both were missing from the Rovers squad which faced Middlesbrough, as too were Jason Shackell, Brian Stock and Dean Shiels.
The five absentees left Rovers so under strength that the substitutes’ bench boasted just 120 minutes of Championship football under it’s seven collective belts, 106 of which belonged to Byron Webster. Perhaps unsurprisingly Rovers were beaten, ‘Boro notching a professional 4-1 win and the rumour mill surrounding those not present whirred into action. Two days later The Doncaster Star confirmed the indiscretions of The Town Centre Two the club’s own stance on the incident was noticable only in its absence. A day and a half later and the club are still yet to make any reference to the incident, not even a token ‘breach of club discipline’ line. So as we come into this weekend Oster is recovering from injury and Hayter from illness, and you aint seen nothing, right.
So an unsettling sort of week at the Keepmoat Stadium, which has taken the gloss of a recent run of form and revival and stirred a negative vibe around the club, in what on the whole remains a positive season. The defeat against Middlesbrough in the week was only Rovers second league loss since November and Adam Johnson’s opening goal the first conceded from anywhere other than open play in all that time. The team dynamics which hauled Rovers to safety last season have delivered us to twelfth with games in hand on all but one of those above us. On the whole, things are working, but concerns do remain. Without Shackell and the regular midfield in front of them the defence on Tuesday looked distinctly more vulnerable, and thats not a sentence you want to be writing when about to face one of the Division’s most potent attacks.
Whilst the goals were flying in at the Keepmoat they were also hitting the net with regularity for Cardiff at Ashton Gate. City won 6-0 away at sometime rivals Bristol City on Tuesday, a win which coupled with a 4-2 FA Cup win over Leicester on the weekend means Cardiff have run in double figures in their last ninety minutes of football. A potent attacking force of Michael Chopra, Peter Whittingham, one time Rover Ross McCormack and Jay Bothroyd has carried The Bluebirds to fourth in the table, but they are of course capable of their off days too, as we saw when Doncaster hosted Cardiff in September.
On the pitch things may be going swimmingly for Cardiff, but off the field it’s all gone a bit well, a bit Pete Ridsdale. In comparisons to whats going on in the Welsh Capital Rovers off the field issues of the past week are not so small fry, they’re practically a side salad. Cardiff City supporters are demanding an extraordinary general meeting with the club for an explanation of where their money is going. The club had encouraged supporters to purchase advanced season tickets for 2010-11 with the promise that the money gained from these sales would subsequently be spent on strengthening the squad for a promotion push. Instead with the club facing a winding up order from the court the money will instead be spent settling unpaid tax bills of £2.7million.
In short the club is in a financial mess, having over budgeted, and the man most City fans hold chiefly responsible is Chairman Peter Ridsdale. In fairness to Ridsdale managing the budgets of a professional football club is difficult and sometimes you have to make mistakes to realise the right cause of action. Sometimes you need to make these mistakes two or three times, with two different clubs. Today Ridsdale apologised to supporters but insisted he would not be resigning, and why should he, it’s not like he’s done anything wrong… again. After all he’s passed the Football League’s fit and proper person test, so he must be OK. Thankfully he was swift to put City fans’ minds at rest when asked if the tax bill in question would be paid by the due date of 10th February. “You’ll find out on 10th February” he reassured.
The upshot of all this is that few people are actually looking to the game itself this weekend. Rovers fans’ main point of interest lies in who will be available for selection and subsequently what line-up will be wearing the red and white hoops come 3pm Saturday. Cardiff fans will be directing their attention to the directors’ box, with protests against Ridsdale expected to take place at some point in the afternoon. Hopefully come Saturday evening we’ll be talking once again about on the field events.
As stated higher up this page Cardiff possess a distinct attacking threat, but beyond that they are really no stronger than any other side in this division. If Rovers can match the possession and control of play shown at Coventry and Derby then they could well frustrate Cardiff, and certainly irritate a fan base already tightly wound. After all no-one expects to do anything but win against the-likes-of-Doncaster. If Rovers can match their ball retention with a cutting edge then even despite City’s recent form a good result is very much a possibility. And whats more it might enable us to offer a further nail in Peter Ridsdale’s coffin, and wouldn’t that be lovely?
Steve Brooker is unavailable for this match, but is available for pantomime. He’d make a particularly good Sleeping Beauty, lying lifelessly on a bed for years on end waiting to be woken by a handsome physio. Jason Shackell was taken off at Derby last Saturday with a groin problem which in turn forced him to miss the Middlesbrough game; he is unlikely to return for this match so expect Sam Hird to retain his place in defence. Brian Stock was rested in midweek so should return though Dean Shiels is reportedly suffering from an ankle injury and so will be assessed before kick-off.
As for the Town Centre Two, well your guess is as good as ours. Having been arrested in Doncaster late on Saturday night John Oster and James Hayter were absent for Tuesday’s match with club putting their absence down to a hamstring injury and an illness respectively. Still refusing to acknowledge last Saturday’s indiscretions in any form the official club website simply states that Oster has returned to training and that Hayter maybe over his illness.
Cardiff are missing a few players of their own, with Welsh international Joe Ledley perhaps the most notable absentee, currently unavailable having undergone surgery on a long-standing hip injury. Defender Mark Hudson is ruled out with an ankle injury and Aaron Wilding is also a doubt with a back problem. The positive news for City fans comes with the indication that Kevin McNaughton may return after a knee injury.
Predicted Rovers Line-Up
(4-3-1-2) Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, Sam Hird, James O’Connor, Gareth Roberts; John Oster, Brian Stock, Mark Wilson; Jamie Coppinger; Paul Heffernan, Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Byron Webster, Mustapha Dumbaya, Sean McDaid, Jordan Mutch, John Spicer, Lewis Guy
Travelling To The Game
Alas Ninian Park is no more, Cardiff’s home for – to quote Bobby Gould – “many many many years” has bitten the dust, but across the street now stands a bigger shinier place in which visiting fans can make obvious sheep based puns. The Bluebirds moved into the new 26,000 plus capacity Cardiff City Stadium in the summer, making this Rovers’ first visit to their new home. Having not seen it in the flesh yet we can simply tell you that its big, grey and blue, like Roy Chubby Brown in an elephant costume. Yes… we know. Its been a long week ok.
If you’re driving straight to the ground then your best bet is to avoid the City centre and leave the M4 at junction 33, and take the A4232 in the direction of Cardiff and Barry, before leaving the dual carriageway at the B4267 exit. From the top of the slip road follow signs for Cardiff International Athletics Stadium. Continue on pass the ground and turn right in front of HSS Hire which will take you to an official club car park near the away end. If you’re heading sown on the train Cardiff Central is around twenty-five minutes walk from the Stadium, simply come out of the station and turn left, then after about a mile turn left again onto Leckwith Road. If you fancy a shorter walk you can catch a train to Ninian Park Halt which is just a few minutes away from the ground, or alternatively Grangetown which is a fifteen minute walk but served by more regular trains.
Away fans are tucked away neatly in a corner of the ground between the Ninain and Grange Stands and can expect a matchday experience like any other undertaken on recent away games, with barcode scanning turnstiles and everything you could ever possibly want overpriced and at your fingertips in the concourse. Football grounds are dull these days aren’t they really.
Viva Rovers’ patented live match Twitter coverage is back for this trip to South Wales. Updates beamed to you straight from the Cardiff City Stadium in bouts of 140 characters or less. To access our notes and pictures on the action simply follow @vivarovers, or if you are not on Twitter then you can also access these messages by refreshing the Updates box to the right of this page during the game. Radio-wise your best bet for live coverage is BBC Radio Wales, though you would have to be in the region to get it, so you better have a damn good excuse for not actually being at the game.
BBC Radio Sheffield will be bringing listeners in South Yorkshire updates from the game, whilst less frequent news will no doubt be featured on BBC’s Score Interactive accessed through the red button – red of course being a warning colour to have you ready for the impending tedium of Garth Crooks. You can also get live updates of the game, particularly detailed explanations of which foot every set-piece is taken with through the BBC’s online live-text service. For full commentary you will need to access Rovers Player online, where you can play Paul Mayfield Innuendo Bingo if you have your card handy. And if you are online anyway you may also want to try searching for a live television stream of the match as it is being broadcast live in Scandanavia.