Fratton Park. Now this is a football ground. None of your sanitised corporate bowls, just a big ugly mess of corrugated iron, barbed wire, graffiti and fantastic floodlight pylons. Floodlight pylons are like catnip for football geeks like me, not only do the serve their primary purpose of illuminating the field, but they also offer a great navigational reference point when finding a ground, that modern stadia rarely have. If in doubt head for the floodlights, sure you’ll end up at the odd goods yard depot (hello Telford ’99), but at least you’re not being overcharged to ride a home supporter heavy football special bus to a shiny out-of-town arena. So forget the fact that if you’re over 5ft 7in you won’t be able to fit your legs in your seat without kneeing a fellow Rovers fan in the head, this is what football grounds should look like. Drink it in kids, before it becomes football’s Beamish, and that knob with the bell becomes protected by the National Trust.
That knob with the bell is of course synonymous with Portsmouth. Loved by media picture editors and cameramen, hated by most folk unfortunate enough to be within a 100 yard radius of him. He’s the Marmite of football supporting, assuming of course you have one of those novelty Marmite jars that has a great big daft bright blue lid and makes an annoying constant ringing noise from the back of your cupboard. It’s a mystery how he has not been subject of a vuvuzela style backlash, or for that matter the victim of a vicious bell-based assault.
Enough of him and back to the game. At the risk of making one or both of our readers feel old, this is the first time Rovers have made the long journey to Fratton Park in my lifetime, as not since a 2-1 Third Division loss in November 1982 have Doncaster visited Portsmouth. As the saying goes revenge is a dish best served twenty-eight years later. If Rovers are to exact payback for the last generation then they will have to overcome a pretty resilient Pompey side to do so. Since avoiding a winding up order Portsmouth have been ploughing up the division and now sit 14th, just a point behind Rovers in the table. Their position has been established on an impressive home record, unbeaten at home in six league games since losing to Cardiff at the end of August.
One hope Rovers do have to cling to is that Portsmouth have an even worse record at coming from behind in fixtures than Doncaster do. Pompey have failed to win all seven games in which they have conceded the first goal, but remain undefeated from all eight games in which they have scored first. The onus then is on Rovers to strike first. Key to this could be the blossoming strike partnerhsip of David Healy and James Hayter who have notched all three of Rovers goals since they were put together a week ago. The latter’s willingness to hurl himself at or after anything could prove telling should this game degenerate into a scramble at any point.
Rovers still have five long term absentees hampering team selection at the moment with Billy Sharp (hamstring), Simon Gillet (knee), James Chambers (knee), George Friend (knee) and Adam Lockwood (toe) all still sidelined. Added to those permanently holed up in the medical room are a couple of walking wounded with Joseph Mills ruled out with an ankle injury and Martin Woods having problems with his groin. As such expect O’Driscoll to name an unchanged team and also have a less than complete bench at his disposal.
Portsmouth will be without the ever-irritating Liam Lawrence as the former Mansfield Town pillock is suspended having picked up two yellow cards against QPR in midweek. I haven’t seen the offences for which he was booked, but expect them to both be petty and annoying. Diving and dissent probably. That however, aside from an injury to David Nugent, is Steve Cotterill’s only real squad concern, and personally I’d view it as a blessing. Other people do dislike Liam Lawrence right? It’s not just me is it?
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya, Shelton Martis, Wayne Thomas, James O’Connor; John Oster, Brian Stock; Jamie Coppinger, Dean Shiels; James Hayter, David Healy
subs: Gary Woods, Sam Hird, Byron Webster, Mark Wilson, Steve Brooker, Waide Fairhurst
Travelling to the Game
Those of you making the long trip south by car are advised to take the M27 and onto the A27 ignoring the ‘Portsmouth town centre’ turn off. At the A2030 junction turn right towards Fratton and Southsea and as you head along here the ground will eventually come into view. Parking is available for away fans on the streets around the ground.
If, like me. you’re heading to the game by train then you want to be aiming for Fratton station rather than Portsmouth. You’ll pass by the ground before you reach the station, from which you need to exit onto Goldsmith Avenue, turning left along the street. Continue along, passing the Pompey Centre before taking a left into Apsley Road. The entrances to the Milton End, where away fans are housed are 100 metres along here according to the excellent Football Ground Guide website. The Milton End has edged toward the modern age with a roof added in recent years, but it is still a converted terrace so expect leg room to be tight.
God bless Viva Rovers eh? Bravely venturing further south than many Yorkshire folk dare to bring you despatches from the front-line. In other words our live match Twitter coverage is back. Reception at Fratton Park permitting we’ll be tweeting live from the match bringing you updates in 140 characters or less. If you’re a twitter user follow @vivarovers and look out for the #drfc hashtag. Even if you aren’t a ‘tweeter’ you can follow the match progress with us at twitter.com/vivarovers
Live commentary of the game is as ever available (for a fee) through the official club website’s Rovers Player service with commentary from Chris Mortley. If neither of those options suit you there will be updates on the airwaves from BBC Radio Sheffield or updates on television from the Beeb’s Score Interactive feature. Garth Crooks still inhabits this medium though, happily vocalising what no-one is thinking all the time relentlessly oblivious to his own insignificance. So with that in mind you might prefer the comparatively mute BBC’s Live Text service on their website.