Having not had to write a match preview for three months there is always a danger that I’ll come over all Ron Manager in the preamble to Doncaster’s opening game of the season. Football. Isn’t it? Marvellous. The new season. Green grass. Sunshine. Dad can I have an ice-cream? No you’ll have your expensive replica shirt and be thankful. Preston. The Invincibles. Tom Finney. Plastic Pitch. Ouch! Third degree burns. Icons for seating designs. Isn’t it. Marvellous. In short, I’m excited. This season’s Championship is more open than your grandparents’ backdoor in the old days, so if you can’t get excited now then when can you?
Preston North End aren’t taking any chances in regard to their fans being excited for this game and have recently emailed supporters with “11 reasons why you should be in the stadium” for the opening game. As with any list where you’ve thought of a number before deciding on how to reach it some of the reasons get a bit tenuous toward the end, such as number 10 “It’s your first chance to see the new Puma home strip, sponsored by Tennent’s, in competitive action.” Because we all know how different a kit looks when worn competitively, presumably this means they’ll have more grass stains on them. Number 7 heralds their “new look, new shape matchday programme,” I hope it’s a triangle, or in the shape of their club crest.
Preston fans probably need psyching up too as 17th place in last season’s Championship was their lowest finish since they arrived back at this level at the turn of the Millennium. Following a poor season was a difficult summer, with North End hit with a winding up order as the club struggled to pay both the wages of their own players and money to the taxman. Somehow, despite having failed to pay all their players last season Preston have managed to bring in new recruits for this campaign. Darel Russell joined earlier this week having turned down a new contract with Norwich; an odd move for Russell that seems if not sideways then diagonally downwards.
As well as Russell North End have brought in Wayne Brown from Leicester, Welsh international defender Craig Morgan from Peterborough and Scunthorpe United’s Paul Hayes. Manager Darren Ferguson has also called in a favour from his dad to get Manchester United youth protegés David Gray and Matty James to Deepdale, the latter on loan. Whether Ferguson has been able to get his new look squad bedded in could prove a key factor against a Doncaster side who will be much more familiar to one another.
According to the BBC website Billy Sharp “will be looking to carry on where he left off in May”, though why he would want to begin the new season sat in the stands ruled out from playing due to injury I am not sure. That the club’s major signing was with Rovers last season bodes well for Doncaster as they are likely to begin this match with a familiar looking line-up. Simon Gillett is probably the only other new face likely to start, and like Sharp his visage too will be far from unfamiliar thanks to his loan spell at the Keepmoat Stadium last season. In fact the least recognised player on the field could be someone who has been with Doncaster a year, with Mustapha Dumbaya’s impressive pre-season form edging him into contention for a first start for the club.
Whatever happens, its set to be an intriguing game as opening matches often are, though if you want a more jingoistic opening, then take on board the words of Preston North End’s mailout “Still not convinced? Just think how you’ll feel at 5pm if you’ve sat at home all afternoon or been out shopping and missed out on all the excitement of an opening day win!”
I’d planned a new feature this season, a cartoon called Steve Brooker’s Medical Room Adventures, sadly that’s been mothballed due to the striker’s untimely bout of fitness. Brooker will be in the squad that travels to Deepdale, he might even play, though is perhaps just as likely to develop agoraphobia so we shouldn’t get our hopes up yet. Four Rovers players are unavailable due to injury though with both James Chambers and John Oster absent with knee problems and Mark Wilson sidelined with a toe injury. Bless. Byron Webster is also unfit, ruled out with a foot injury, but the tall centre-half would have been unlikely to feature anyway. All four close season signings should be included in Sean O’Driscoll’s squad.
Preston are likely to hand competitive debuts to the majority of their new signings; Paul Hayes, Wayne Brown, Craig Morgan and David Gray who we will spare a musician based pun for now. According to the BBC Jon Parkin has a hamstring strain that may rule him out though the giant forward will apparently be “assessed before the game” – presumably by structural engineers.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbaya, Sam Hird, Shelton Martis, James O’Connor; Brian Stock, Simon Gillet, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs: Gary Woods, George Friend, Adam Lockwood, Josh Payne, Waide Fairhurst, Dean Shiels, Steve Brooker
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 that’s 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, that’s where we’d park, so we suggest you do too.
For those laying their fortunes at the hands of National Rail be aware that it is about a twenty-five minute walk from the station to Deepdale via these directions. 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 away friendly pubs and come recommended. Alternatively if you aren’t suitably relaxed, excited or slightly nauseous at the prospect of the new season 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 seating is unreserved, so if you do find yourself near Shoutybags, or The Coach you will be able to move.
For those unable to get to Preston Viva Rovers will be offering live match updates via our Twitter feed, until we’re wrestled to the ground by Football Data Co’s henchmen. Simply follow @vivarovers on twitter for updates from Deepdale in 140 characters or less, or keep an eye on (and refresh) the Twitter Updates box on the right of this page.
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. 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 the positions of throw-ins and which foot Neil Sullivan is using for his goal-kicks.
Thanks to Steve Gabb of Mirko Bolesan fame, for the details of PNE’s mail-shot.