They don’t make programme covers like that anymore. It really is a thorough investigation into the effects of typeface overload, capped off with what appears to be a picture of Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming lifting the FA Cup. Still, at 60p you can’t really complain can you. On the subject of ‘substance over style’ when I began putting together this match preview that was the headline of a story on the Sheffield United official website. The story in question was defender Nyron Nosworthy suggesting that United just had to focus on results rather than footballing style to secure a play-off place. The story had disappeared by late afternoon, presumably in embarrassment. If what’s been played by the Blades up to now is considered stylish football then I dread to think what United are going to offer at the Keepmoat tomorrow? Presumably the footballing equivalent to that bit in Robocop where the poor bloke is soaked in acid and melts to death.
Anyway, I really shouldn’t have started this match preview at such a gruesome point, as its completely at odds with the prevailing mood around Doncaster Rovers. The reason for this Doncastrian cheeriness is simple, because for most of us, this is as good as it has ever been. Rovers are eighth in football’s second tier, a position they have not occupied for more than half a century. In just twelve years we have now seen Rovers climb eighty-six places and go from being Yorkshire’s 11th best team to a win away from being the county’s highest ranked side (shhh Hull, indulge us will you and remain in Humberside). If Rovers triumph in this South Yorkshire derby then they will move ahead of Sheffield United and into seventh place, just one place outside the play-offs. Even the realists are starting to look excitedly upwards rather than pragmatically over our shoulder.
The collective confidence brought on by Rovers current league position is added to by the club’s recent run of results. Doncaster come into this match as the division’s form side. Unbeaten in five games with three of those won, only league leaders Newcastle United have gone longer without defeat. Whilst victories are pleasing in any guise the nature of two of Rovers recent wins has certainly delighted. The free-flowing, free-scoring five goal tear-up at Ashton Gate was as enjoyable as it will prove memorable, but Tuesday’s victory also offered a welcome milestone. The 2-1 victory at London Road was the first time since they defeated Derby County at the Keepmoat Stadium, a year and three weeks before, that Rovers had come from behind to win a match. Suddenly, everything is possible.
Sean O’Driscoll is of course a much admired man at present, and rightly so. Not only has he propelled Rovers upwards with some very attractive football, but he is also possesses a very humble and ethical outlook. He is a firm believer in Doncaster as a community club and on top of now annual friendlies against local amateur sides last week he took his first team to play against a group of young offenders at HMP Doncaster. However, there are bound to be a few Rovers fans cursing O’Driscoll’s ethics for this game as the Rovers manager has made it clear that Billy Sharp will not play against his parent club. There is nothing in Sharp’s loan contract to say that he cannot play against United, but O’Driscoll insists it would not be the right for him to feature and so the Blades will get to take on a Sharp-free Rovers. Many other Championship sides will be looking on enviously.
The unavailability of Billy Sharp is not the only thing which makes this fixture look less daunting for Sheffield United. There is also Rovers’ record against teams in the top half of the Championship which has thrown up only two victories. Although as Doncaster have shown in recently these records are only there to be broken, going into the Bristol City match we noted how few goals Rovers had scored in the first half. Sod’s law eh? United come to the Keepmoat on a mixed run of form, with Tuesday’s win over Blackpool only their second in the last six matches. The Blades’ away form is a particular concern for their supporters, as aside from an FA Cup replay win at QPR United have not won away since a 1-0 victory at Plymouth at the start of December.
As with any side which has had any recent brush with Neil Warnock Sheffield United are on the whole a big physical presence who will be hard to contain. The Blades aerial threat has been dented a little by the unavailability of Darius Henderson and Chris Morgan, but it is on set-pieces that they are likely to pose the most threat to Rovers… same as most clubs then. If Rovers can adapt their game in the absence of Billy Sharp then there is no reason why Saturday evening could not see Doncaster sitting seventh, and the phone-lines to BBC Radio Sheffield’s Praise or Grumble in meltdown.
As mentioned above Sheffield United’s Joker has already been nonchalantly tossed onto the table with loanee Billy Sharp unavailable to Rovers as they take on his parent club. I suppose the one positive is they won’t see what they’re missing, but Sharp’s position in the league’s top scorer charts is a little difficult to be swept under the carpet. (Ultimately I suspect the “Oh those goals, no they were all tap-ins, deflected mostly as well” routine won’t work out for us). This will of course mean a shift in tactics for Sean O’Driscoll, particularly with Paul Heffernan and Lewis Guy currently out on loan and Steve Brooker doing whatever it is he does with his Saturday afternoons, presumably sitting on his sofa wrapped in bubble wrap.
It all points towards a start for James Hayter who was left out in the week, though it would seem on reflection that this was to afford him a rest. What happens behind Hayter is up for debate. In the past Sean O’Driscoll has elected to play it safe against the big sides (that’s big in physicality not perceived club stature) and add a fifth defender or at the least a very deep defensive midfielder. However, with O’Driscoll now perceiving relegation highly unlikely will he throw caution to the wind and stick with his 4-3-2-1 set-up which has been working recently. Our bet is on the latter, with Mark Wilson likely to come back in for Dean Shiels and James O’Connor to replace Sam Hird.
Sheffiled United are without captain Chris Morgan who perhaps unsurprisingly is serving a two-match suspension, and they will also make a change in goal as well with Mark Bunn having been recalled by Blackburn Rovers following the injury to Paul Robinson last weekend – Ian Bennet or Mihkel Aksalu will step-in according to the BBC, although since their preview was written United have brought in Steve Simonsen on loan. Former Doncaster Rovers junior Darius Henderson is likely to miss out on this trip to his home town after he sustained a hamstring injury late on in United’s match with Blackpool on Tuesday.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James Chambers, James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, Gareth Roberts; Mark Wilson, John Oster, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas; James Hayter
subs: Ben Smith, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, Jordan Mutch, Mark Wilson, John Spicer, Dean Shiels,
Travelling to the Game
As this is only Sheffield United’s second taste of the Keepmoat Stadium, and their first Saturday fixture in Rovers new home there could be a number of Blades fans making their first visit to the Stadium for this fixture. Whilst the official club website offers little help in terms of directions for away supporters, Viva Rovers kindly does so you will find all you need to know via the ‘Keepmoat Stadium’ tab at the top of this page. On that page you’ll find directions to the ground for those travelling by car, or by public transport as well as suggested local pubs and where to pick up tickets. We’re comprehensive like that.
Good news folks, Viva Rovers infamous live match Twitter Feed returns for this fixture. If you like your match updates slightly behind play, sometimes completely off-topic and in 140 characters or less, then this is the service for you. Not only will we keep you updated on the match, but we’ll let you know what the crowd are signing, what resident West Stand whinger Geoff is moaning about and keep you informed on Nick’s latest impressions. To pick up this coverage either follow @vivarovers on Twitter, keeping an eye out for the #drfc hashtag. If you’re not on twitter then you can still access these updates as all the messages will also be displayed in the ‘Twitter Updates’ box on the right hand side of this site, though you may need to refresh the page to keep it ticking by.
Live commentary is available for this game on BBC Radio Sheffield courtesy of Seth Bennet and his team if you’re in the region and have a valid excuse for not attending. If you’re outside of South Yorkshire then you will need to invest in the official club website’s Rovers Player. In recent weeks sadly Rovers Player subscribers have been deprived of Paul Mayfield’s much loved co-commentary owing to the club only owning one set of headphones (alas, sadly this is not a joke), however thankfully a supporter who works at Electromusic kindly donated Paul a new set to use so you should be able to hear Mr Mayfield’s muffled background biscuit bunching once again.
If you begrudge paying and can’t bear the half-minute delay it takes me to type what I’m seeing onto the Viva Rovers twitter service then you may want to try the ‘live text’ service via the BBC website. It won’t be very descriptive, but it will tell you all more about throw-ins and offside free-kicks than you could have ever cared to know. And the last option would be to tune into the BBC’s Score Interactive via your television’s red button, this is the last option owing to Garth Crooks presence on their panel. However, by about half-time you get the knack of hitting mute at the right time so its worth persevering.
Supporters in Action
If you just can’t wait for the main match then you can kill your Saturday morning by watching two less fit, less skilfull footballing sides from Doncaster and Sheffield in action. The long running Doncaster Rovers supporters team the Donny R’sonists take on their Sheffield United counterparts the InterBlades in a friendly fixture before the proper teams come together. The R’sonists host the Blades in a 10:30am kick-off on the fields at All Saints Sports College in Rossington (formerly Rossington Comprehensive School).
Alternative Match Preview
This match has caught the attention of the excellent football blogsite; The Two Unfortunates. Sub-titled ‘The non-partisan blog for everything to do with the English second tier’, The Two Unfortunates always manages to offer a fans-eye view of whats going on in the Championship without bias… and few folk can boast that. You can read their preview of this match here.