A South Yorkshire derby, an M18 derby, call it what you will, the truth is that it matters a damn sight more to us than it does to Sheffield Wednesday. No matter how keenly we may anticipate these local jaunts to face the county’s established order Sheffield Wednesday and United only really care how they fare against each other. Almost a year ago to the day Rovers outplayed Wednesday at the Keepmoat Stadium and yet on their trudge back to the train station numerous Wednesday fans happily paused to buy merchandise commemorating the previous weekend’s victory over Sheffield United.
Whilst we are still in mid February, it would be touching on hyperbole to describe any game as ‘must win’, but a victory in this fixture would be a significant aid to Rovers cause. Recent weeks have seen the clubs in the lower reaches of the Championship bunch together so that now just three wins separate ninth place and the team in the final relegation spot. Sheffield Wednesday may be four places back from Rovers in the divisional pecking order but a win for the Owls tonight would put the two clubs level on points. Conversely a win for Rovers could put them in the division’s top ten. In the words of 90s one-hit wonder Rosie Gaines, it really is “closer than close”.
At the turn of the year Sheffield Wednesday were in danger of being well adrift of this pack, but their fortunes have improved dramatically under new manager Alan Irvine. Now the Owls are grinding out wins more effectively than the rest of the division, with Wednesday’s tally of five league victories in 2010 higher than any other Championship side. Their home form coming into this game reads as three consecutive victories over Peterborough, Plymouth and Blackpool, and whilst you may scoff at the calibre of those opponents, continually racking up the points in this division is no easy feat, as shown in Rovers own inability to overcome a poor Reading side ten days ago.
Like Rovers Wednesday have been indebted to the goals of an on loan forward to bring them into contention. The recent potency of Luke Varney, with the Owls from Derby County, has paid a significant part in Wednesday’s current form. The creative presence of Marcus Tudgay is usually to be found at the heart of the Sheffield side’s forward momentum and the Sussex-born midfielder has also found himself on the score sheet, notching both goals in the 2-1 home win over Peterborough three weeks ago.
Doncaster travel to Sheffield on the back of a run of performances best described as ‘mixed’. Incredibly effective against Nottingham Forest on Saturday and in the second half of the away defeat to Cardiff City Doncaster were poor in long periods of the home games against Reading and Middlesbrough and so its hard to know what to expect of Sean O’Driscoll’s side tonight. Anything approaching Saturday’s display of commitment both in and out of possession would surely prove too much for the home side, but the potential of this Rovers squad is frustratingly not always shown in it’s execution.
Doncaster Rovers moved to bring in defender Elliott Ward on a month long loan from Coventry City yesterday, which suggests that the injuries sustained by Jason Shackell and Shelton Martis at the weekend are still an issue. Ward is expected to come straight into the squad with the BBC reporting that both Martis and Shackell are unavailable as too are fellow central defenders Adam Lockwood and Byron Webster. Indeed if rumours of an injury to James O’Connor are also true then Rovers have five of their six recognised central defenders absent, with Sam Hird the last man standing.
Rovers crisis at the back is not helped by the absence of their most experienced defender Gareth Roberts, with the Welsh full-back sidelined by a knee injury. Martin Woods remains unavailable for selection owing to a groin injury, and though neither the official website nor the BBC confirm it we suspect the same is true of Waide Fairhusrt. Oh and Steve Brooker, well, you know the rest.
Sheffield Wednesday manager Alan Irvine has no new injury concerns ahead of tonight’s fixture according to the BBC. Though Tommy Miller has returned to training with the Owls the consensus of all media sources is that he is not yet ready for a return to the squad.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Elliott Ward, James Chambers; John Oster, Mark Wilson, Brian Stock; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Sean McDaid, Mustapha Dumbaya, Jordan Mutch, John Spicer, Dean Shiels, Lewis Guy
Travelling to the Game
After some drawn out correspondence between the two clubs and their supporters Sheffield Wednesday have reduced the ticket prices for away fans, bringing them into line with what they had charged other clubs for fixtures of this category earlier in the season. Originally Rovers fans were set to pay £24 for an adult ticket, despite Scunthorpe United fans having paid just £18 earlier in the season, and tickets for Wednesday fans in the Kop at the opposite end of the ground costing £17.
An initial response from Hillsborough to one fan’s letter claimed that the away end offered a similar view to the North Stand and had been priced accordingly. This despite the North Stand being a. along a sideline, and b. not littered with bloody great pillars. Alas they have now repented and so Doncaster supporters have been busy snapping up tickets and refunds in the last couple of days. Rovers fans will as ever be housed in the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium.
If you’re driving to the game then the most straight forward way, avoiding the city centre, is to leave the M1 at Junction 36 and follow the A61 into Sheffield until the ground comes into view. If you are earlier enough you may find some street parking, alternatively you may find some unofficial car-parks along the A61 which charge a few quid. A better bet may be to drive to Meadowhall and catch the tram from there to Leppings Lane, which takes just over half an hour.
Those on public transport heading into Sheffield by either train or bus can also pick up the tram in the city centre, catching either the blue line to Hillsborough, or the yellow line to Leppings Lane which will take you closer to the ground. Alternatively the number 53 Ecclesfield bus passes the ground. As with those driving, it may be easier to catch the train or X78 bus to Meadowhall and then catch the tram from there.
As with recent midweek fixtures I am afraid to announce that the much heralded Viva Rovers live twitter feed is only operating on a second hand basis tonight. Though we’ll still be delivering updates on the game they won’t be anywhere near as informative, but will probably be better spelt. You can access this service by following @vivarovers if you are a twitter user, or refreshing the ‘Twitter Updates’ box on the right of this page.
If its live commentary you want then you’ll need to tune your wireless to BBC Radio Sheffield as they will be covering tonight’s South Yorkshire derby. If you’re outside the station’s broadcast range then the only other option for live coverage is to subscribe to the Rovers Player service (formerly Rovers World) through the official Rovers website. For regular updates via the internet then you are probably best off following the BBC’s online Live Text service.