In comparison to the constant feel good approach of the Doncaster Rovers website, its refreshing to read an official website who tells it like it is. “Of the three games [coming up] at Deepdale, the visit of Doncaster Rovers looks to have the least appeal”; you can say what you like about Preston, but they sure know how to whip the crowd up into a frenzy. In fairness to North End they do go on to offer praise in regard to Rovers recent form and the team’s football style, but I would like to see this sort of straightforwardness replicated on our own website. If Rovers’ preview to this weekend’s game begins “Oh for the love of God, we’re playing Derby again,” I’d be notably impressed… though I will have to think up a new intro for this site.
Anyway, back to matters in hand and a trip to play Preston in a rearranged fixture that was originally lost to the New Year snow. I’m quite fond of Preston, though having given it some thought this does seem to be something of an irrational fondness. In many ways they embraced the garishness of late 80s and early 90s football like no other club with their two-pronged attack on decency with a plastic pitch and some horrific kits sponsored by, and presumably made from the off cuts at, Coloroll.
But then they do have redeeming features. Beyond the artificial turf Deepdale did boast some classic stadium architecture in the form of the curved roof and aesthetically impractical multiple pillars of the old West Stand. Though the old stands at Deepdale have been systematically replaced to form a new all seater stadium it does retain a sense of history befitting one of the oldest professional clubs. Three of the new stands feature the images of past legends Tom Finney, Bill Shankly and Alan Kelly picked out in the seats, whilst outside the ground stands another tribute to Finney, a fantastic statue created to replicate an iconic action photograph of the Preston player.
All of these features surround a club with a great history in the game, but a history is effectively all it is. Preston left the top flight in 1961 and are yet to return, indeed they came close to dropping out the league entirely in 1986. But after that lengthy stint in the bottom two divisions Preston are now firmly established in the league’s second tier where they have been for a decade. North End have come within a game of the top flight twice, but have lost out in two play-off finals to Bolton and West Ham respectively.
So, what of this season? Well, it has been something of a transitional one for North End. After clinching a play-off place with a late surge last season big things were expected this term, but failed to materialise. At the end of December manager Alan Irvine was sacked and now Darren Ferguson takes charge of a team which despite a slight improvement in fortunes in the past couple of months still sit below Rovers in the table, albeit only as a result of Saturday’s score-lines.
There is no doubt that Preston pose a threat, and in relation to Rovers this threat will most notably be posed in the form of size. The big three of Chris Brown, Neil Mellor and Jon ‘two blokes in one shirt’ Parkin have caused us problems in past meetings and will no doubt do so again, but they are not the only threat. North End currently have Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck on loan and wingers Ross Wallace and Paul Parry are also established players at this level. When the two teams met at Deepdale last season Preston stifled Rovers play by using Richard Chaplow to man mark Brian Stock. With a new manager, and of course no Stock it will be interesting to see North End’s response to a different Doncaster line-up.
North End come into this game off the back of a run of results which its fair to say have been mixed. Draws against Plymouth on Saturday and in the local derby with Blackpool, wins over Cardiff City and Sheffield United and defeats to Newcastle United and Derby County, the latter of those being 5-3 after Preston had taken the lead. At home in the league though Preston have lost just once in their last seven games and have been very difficult to break down, though having said that, so statistically were Bristol City.
As for Rovers well it really does depend on which Doncaster side turns up. Though it was effectively made up of the same players, the team which ran riot at Ashton Gate on Saturday was very different to that which had been effectively beaten at Loftus Road. If Rovers can retain possession and frustrate Preston then they have every chance of notching another away win, though they will need to be wary of being put on the back foot and subsequently at the mercy of a much more effective aerial threat than their own.
On Friday I thought Rovers list of injured absentees made the trip to Bristol City look particularly daunting. The subsequent performance delivered at Ashton Gate blew that theory out the water, showing that our great strength is the team’s collective football approach. So, despite an injury list containing the same seven or eight names as the weekend I’m suddenly more upbeat about this situation than I would have been. Brian Stock, Martin Woods, Shelton Martis, Jason Shackell, Byron Webster, Waide Fairhurst and Steve Brooker are all unavailable as too may be Elliot Ward. All of which suggests we’re in for the same team which started on Saturday, and therefore potentially in for a treat.
According to the BBC Paul Coutts is set to return for Preston after serving his one match ban for Saturday’s trip to face Plymouth. Ross Wallace was substituted in that fixture and the BBC website says he will now ‘need to be assessed’, though they don’t say in what capacity – I’m hoping its a written assessment. The Preston North End website also reports that Callum Davidson is also fit again and likely to play a part in this fixture.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-2-3-1) Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Gareth Roberts; John Oster, Mark Wilson; Jamie Coppinger, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Mustapha Dumbaya, Adam Lockwood, Jordan Mutch, John Spicer, Dean Shiels, Lewis Guy
Travelling to the Game
Those driving will probably have sussed already that the M6 takes you to Preston, and that you leave the motorway at junction 31, but what next? Well according to the ever reliable Football Ground Guide website, go up the steep hill and continue to a mini roundabout by the Heskwith Arms. At this roundabout turn right onto Blackpool Road, and continue straight ahead at the next three sets of traffic lights. At the fourth set you should be able to see the ground on the left and thats your cue to take a pot shot at trying to get parked on one of the streets nearby. Or a greater gesture would be to continue on for 200 yards at the fourth set of lights and park for £3 at the Moorfields Special School, where all proceeds go to the school’s funds. If we drove, thats where we’d park, so we suggest you do too.
Given that the last train back to Doncaster leaves Preston midway through the second half there probably won’t be many of you travelling to this fixture by rail. But, for the benefit of any exiles who may be doing so and prepared to make the twenty-five minute walk here are directions from the station to Deepdale. Leave the station by the main exit and turn right onto the High Street, actually named Fishergate and then Church Street. Continue along here for about three quarters of a mile, passing the Bluebell in and then straight over the road junction with the ring road. On the other side of the ring road you’ll see the prison on your right, and you need to take a left here onto Deepdale Road (Sir Tom Finney Way). The ground is about another three quarters of a mile up here on the right hand side.
Those looking for a pre-match drink outside the ground are advised by The Football Ground Guide to try The Sumners or The Royal Garrison, which are further up Deepdale Road (Sir Tom Finney Way) from the ground as you head away from town. Both are awaty friendly pubs and come recommended. Alternatively if you don’t envisage the match being as intoxicating as Saturday’s fixture then you can get alcohol inside the ground in the stadium concourses. Rovers fans will be housed in one half of the Bill Shankly Kop behind the goal and will enjoy a much better view than that offered at Ashton Gate thanks to the redevelopment of Deepdale which has taken place over the past decade.
I’m afraid the effects of Saturday’s unexpected goal fest have taken their toll, and I’ve been ordered to rest my Twitter thumb until the weekend. Therefore I’m afraid to say that Viva Rovers occassionally heralded live match twitter updates will be operating only on a second hand basis for this fixture. We’ll feed the info on to you as soon as we get it though, so we will at least be as live and as informed as a Dean Windass match report. Folk on twitter can follow us via @vivarovers or alternatively if you are not a tweeter keep an eye on (and refresh) the Twitter Updates box on the right of this page during the game.
For live commentary of this match it would seem its a case of official website or bust I’m afraid meaning you’ll have to subscribe to Rovers Player if you want to know exactly whats going on… well I say exactly. For regular updates back in South Yorkshire you can tune into BBC Radio Sheffield, or if you’re on the internet try the BBC’s online Live Text service which will tell you more than you could ever wish to know about throw-ins and other set-pieces.