Though it is often said that life begins at 40, this is certainly not the case for professional footballers. The pros that are still active in the game after two score years will often have taken on the role of coach or manager, or alternatively be sat behind a cosy desk in an expensive suit telling those who have braved the world of management exactly where they have gone wrong. However, come tomorrow two men entering their fifth decade of life will take their place at either end of the Keepmoat Stadium pitch as goalkeepers Neil Sullivan, who is set to make his 500th career appearance in this game, and David James prove there is life in the old dogs yet.
The respective ‘keepers of Doncaster Rovers and Bristol City show no signs of bowing out and hitting the golf course just yet. Sullivan has been a vital part of Rovers ascent to and security within the Championship since joining the club having been deemed too old by his former manager Dennis Wise at Leeds United. The former Scottish international was in excellent form on the opening day of the seasons and picked up the man of the match nod from us here at Viva Rovers for a fine performance at Preston which helped secure a clean sheet against a late North End rally. His opposite number James remains a truly world-class goalkeeper and a fantastic professional, that he was one of the few players to return from England’s trip to South Africa with his reputation intact speaks volumes about an intelligent and talented footballer.
As you would expect of two experienced internationals their respective paths have crossed before, but it’s almost nine years since they last faced each other on a football field. In November 2001, Neil Sullivan’s Tottenham Hotspur defeated David James’ West Ham United 1-0 at Upton Park thanks to a second half Les Ferdinand strike. Rovers fans will of course be hopeful that it is Sullivan who again remains unbeaten as the two keepers renew old acquaintances.
The coming together of two wise old pros has sadly been overshadowed in the run up to Rovers first home league game of the season with Bristol City manager Steve Coppell announcing his resignation on Wednesday. Coppell had been at Ashton gate just 133 days and taken charge of just two competitive fixtures, last Saturday’s surprise league defeat to Millwall and the midweek Carling Cup exit at Southend, before making the shock announcement that he had decided to step down. Coppell’s departure has now got Rovers fans worried about this game. Whilst most folk would relish the chance to face a club seemingly in turmoil, Doncaster have a habit of struggling against sides who have just lost the man in charge.
City have been quick to appoint Coppell’s successor and have promoted from within as Keith Millen makes the step up to manager of the Robins. Millen finished a long playing career at Ashton Gate and after initially being involved in coaching of City’s youth and academy teams he made the step up to assistant manager to work alongside Brian Tinnion in 2004. Millen has twice stepped in as caretaker manager after the departures of Tinnion and latterly Gary Johnson and all at the club seem pretty satisfied with his appointment on a three year contract.
How the week’s off-field movement will affect City’s chances on the Keepmoat Stadium turf remains to be seen. The side boast a number of quality players, most notably in the form of James and Jamal Campbell-Ryce who ahs terrorised Rovers on more than one occasion in the past, but with injuries to their two key forwards City’s goal threat looks decidedly muted meaning Rovers will surely fancy their chances of making amends for Tuesday’s Cup exit and starting the home league campaign with a win. If they do take all three points, it will mark a notable first for Rovers, as they have never previously begun a second tier season with back to back victories.
Rovers’ preparations for this game suffered a blow on Tuesday night, with James Hayter pulling a hamstring in the League Cup defeat to Accrington Stanley. Hayter joins four other Rovers on the sidelines for Saturday’s fixture as James Chambers, Byron Webster, John Oster and Mark Wilson all remain injured with knee, foot, knee and toe injuries respectively. However Simon Gillett will be available after serving his one match suspension in midweek for the two cautions he picked up at Deepdale last Saturday. Brian Stock also returns from international duty with Wales, having featured only in the first half of their victory over Luxembourg. Hayter’s place will most likely be taken by Dean Shiels or Waide Fairhurst who both featured in the midweek Carling Cup tie, with our money being on the former.
Bristol City are without one of their key forwards for this fixture as last season’s top scorer Nicky Maynard underwent knee surgery in the week and will be unavailable to the Robins for the best part of four months. Of course that would not be too bad a blow with loan striker Sam Vokes available, only he isn’t. The Welsh international tore his hamstring on his debut for City last week and has now returned to Wolves for treatment. What little good news there is for new manager Keith Millen comes in the form of Cole Skuse recovering from a knock received in Tuesday’s Carling Cup tie and Damion Stewart also back available after suspension. Stewart will be hoping if he does play he fares better than he did on his last trip to the Keepmoat Stadium as a QPR player, when he planted a header neatly into his own net.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, Wayne Thomas, George Friend; Brian Stock, Simon Gillett, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; Billy Sharp
subs: Gary Woods, Adam Lockwood, Sam Hird, Mustapha Dumbaya, Waide Fairhurst, Josh Payne, Steve Brooker
Travelling to the Game
Most Bristol City supporters will have probably visited the Keepmoat Stadium already, but for those making their first trip to DN4 Viva Rovers kindly offers all you need to know via the ‘Keepmoat Stadium’ tab at the top of the site. 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.
I’ll promote this service with a little less gusto after last Saturday’s technical failings, but Viva Rovers infamous live match Twitter Feed should be in action 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 what hairstyle David James has gone for. To pick up this coverage on Twitter either follow @vivarovers or keep 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 via the official club website’s Rovers Player service. You do have to subscribe and pay for the service, but Chris Mortley’s commentary should be worth the expenditure. 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. Its light on descriptive detail, but it is heavy on facts and you will at least know with which foot every deadball is struck. And one alternate option would be to tune into the BBC’s Score Interactive via your television’s red button. We’ve not seen it yet this season, although we should warn you that last year Garth Crooks was a regular pundit. Don’t let that put you off completely though as 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 until the afternoon for your footballing fix then you can kill your Saturday morning by watching two less fit, less skilful footballing sides in action. The long running Doncaster Rovers supporters team the Donny R’sonists take on the Kidderminster Harriers supporters football team in an IFA league match, before the Harriers fans head on up to York to see Kidderminster’s first match of the new Conference season. The R’sonists host the Harriers in a 10:30am kick-off at All Saints Sports College in Rossington (formerly Rossington Comprehensive School).