At half time of the first of this season’s league fixtures between these clubs I received a text from a Newcastle United supporting University friend. I’d not spoken to him in at least two years, I’d not heard from him in at least one. The text said simply; “Bloody Doncaster Rovers… surely not!!” We’re afraid so. ThelikesofDoncaster Rovers are now at the same level as one of the self-proclaimed big clubs, and as my friend’s incredulity at the first half at St James’ Park showed, we were there on merit and were not about to be over-awed by the extra seats and the away end shrouded in cloud.
Rovers could quite feasibly have won that first meeting as well, had Martin Woods not blazed his penalty wide Rovers would have been 2-1 ahead for the final ten minutes rather than trying (and failing) to hang on for a point. At times in the late Autumn that penalty miss was starting to look ominously like it could be the difference between Championship and League One football. However, those fears have been comfortably lay to rest by now as even the doggedly non-committal Sean O’Driscoll has suggested that Rovers place in this division is safe. So if Rovers can’t go down, there comes a new question, can they really go up?
Well, concerningly for the pragmatics like me, there is no reason why one of the four play off spots could not be ours. In The Salutation on Saturday I even found myself in a conversation about possible promotion, the consensus being of myself and my companion that we would happily take a play-off spot, but only if we went out in the semi-finals. We wouldn’t want to get to the final, as then we would be in serious danger of winning and getting promoted. I don’t want to get promoted. If we get promoted will no longer be able to afford to attend matches, and then I’d have free time on a Saturday and might even find myself taking an interest in the stuff other football fans do, things like ‘the big four’ and ‘come and get me pleas’ and all that rubbish. I don’t want that. But Rovers are in danger of forcing it upon me. Doncaster are unbeaten in six games coming into this match, the only team with a better current record than Rovers will be trotting out of the Keepmoat Stadium tunnel next to them tonight.
So whilst Rovers fans dream (or in my case fret) about a possible promotion, Newcastle United seem to be just bearing down on it ruthlessly. Newcastle have been top of the Championship for as long as I can be bothered to check. It seems like forever, but I suspect West Brom were there at one point. Regardless though United are flying through the Championship as the quality in their squad would suggest they should. They’ve even managed to look like an effective football force in one of the worst away kits seen in this millennium, and oh God, it’s just dawned on me that they’ll probably be wearing that thing tonight.
There is however one club which could stop Newcastle United walking away with this division… and that’s Newcastle United. The Magpies had a mini injury crisis to worry about in the centre of defence yesterday morning, but that’s but a minor issue compared to rumours and reports of an incident at their training ground yesterday. According to The Times a dispute between Steven Taylor and Andy Carroll, which started via text message, has ended with Taylor suffering a suspected broken jaw and Carroll a damaged hand. No no, its OK Lieutenant Columbo, you needn’t head over, I don’t think we’ll be needing your help for this one. Neither player will take part in this evening’s game, but then they don’t need to, because Joey Barton’s back. If you’re wondering what that fizzing sound is, its scores of computer keyboards coming into contact with the drool of tabloid sports reporters.
We don’t want to scoff at Newcastle United fans as being a little narrow-minded and self-absorbed in what looks likely to be a brief Championship sojourn, but then sadly one low ranking member of the Toon Army has made that very difficult. Posting on the Newcastle page of the FootyMad messageboard one Newcastle fan suggested; “Steve Brooker is also a big, strong target man who used to be very good for my local club Port Vale. He could well cause Coloccini and Kadar problems”. If Brooker is causing Colccini and Kadar problems tonight then the first question to be asked is what on earth are Newcastle’s defenders doing in Steve Brooker’s house?
Suffice to say that Steve Brooker won’t be causing anyone problems any time soon, other than the world of medical science as he moves into a fifteenth month out injured. Also notably absent will of course be Brian Stock, the club captain still recovering from his persistent back injury, whilst its believed Waide Fairhurst and Byron Webster also remain unfit. The main man to return though is Billy Sharp who comes back into the side after sitting out Saturday’s match with his actual employers. Having played near enough every minute of every game on his loan spell the rest may have served Sharp well, which should have Newcastle’s back line genuinely worried.
Newcastle United have a couple of significant absentees from their line-up with Alan Smith, Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands both ruled out through injury. Centre back ‘One Size’ Fitz Hall is also unavailable due to a hamstring injury though the BBC report that Mike Williamson may still play, albeit wearing a protective cast on a broken hand. The Magpies’ squad is boosted (of sorts) by the predicted return of all-round nice guy Joey Barton who has recovered from a foot injury which put him out of contention. And that seems as good an excuse as any to reproduce one of our favourite Rovers pictures… from Joey Barton’s first encounter with Doncaster Rovers, when he was introduced to The Sarge in a pre-season friendly. Can someone get this blown up and passed over the heads of the South Stand before kick-off?
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; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, Sean McDaid, Jordan Mutch, Dean Shiels, James Hayter
Travelling to the Game
Unless they ventured to Doncaster for the pre-season friendly between these two sides, or indeed for the Elton John gig, then this will most likely be Newcastle United fans’ first taste of the Keepmoat Stadium. 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. Sadly there is no information on how to get to the ground when the boat comes in, but if you do want a little fishy on your dishy before the match then try the chip shop in Hyde Park. Follow our on foot directions and instead of crossing the Carr House Road dual carriageway straight away, follow it right first.
Sadly, as with most midweek matches, I’m afraid that Viva Rovers infamous live match Twitter Feed will be operating only on second hand information for this game. You can still get fleeting updates of the match by following @vivarovers on Twitter, but sadly they won’t be as detailed as our Saturday despatches and so you will only be able to speculate as to when Geoff’s first whinge was delivered or which 80s celebrity Nick has decided to unveil an impression of tis week.
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. Similarly, if you’re in the North East you’ll be able to get the match on BBC Radio Newcastle or whatever its called up there. If you’re outside of these regions 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 out to know what’s going on 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. Alternatively as we’re playing Newcastle United it may be worth hunting round the net for a live radio or television stream of the game. If we can find one we’ll let you know.
The Opposition View
I don’t know if we’ve mentioned it before, but Viva Rovers has been recommended by When Saturday Comes you know? Oh. Oh we have mentioned it have we? Anyway ours is not the only Championship club devoted site to be given positive praise by WSC. “Well written and very balanced” was WSC’s view of the Newcastle United blogsite; Black & White & Read All Over You and so theirs is probably your best destination to get a flavour of all things North East ahead of this match.