Right. Forget the no-show at Selhurst Park and the invisible performance in the second half at Leicester City. It’s nearly Christmas, a time to be cheerful and, as you convince yourself that a new socket set is the ideal present for your loved one, blindly optimistic too. So settle yourself with this reassurance. There’s something about the last game before Christmas which seems to bring out the best in Rovers.
Think about the joyful moments that have preceded festive periods of years gone by. Last season we had the joyful 2-0 win at Pride Park, belting out Jingle Bells after Jamie Coppinger’s injury time strike as the stadium emptied around us. In the promotion season of 2007-08 it was a 4-0 demolition of Crewe three days before Christmas day that got the promotion push back on track after the debacle of a home defeat to Yeovil. The year before Theo Streete’s optimistic punt goalwards turned out the fairy lights on Belle Vue in spectacular style and of course a Friday night victory over Swansea in December 2003 put Rovers top of the Third Division at Christmas in their first season back in the league.
See. Good times all round. Its enough to make you forget all about your troubles and those folk at the other end of Bawtry Road peering over the fence admiringly at Sean O’Drsicoll’s decorations. After two days speculation as to the future of Sean O’Driscoll and whether he can be swayed by a big club such as Sheffield United, not to mention whether United are actually a big club any more its nice to get back to the football. And that is exactly what Rovers need to do.
Hopefully the second half capitulation at the Walkers Stadium can be written off as a performance of extenuating circumstance. The poor penalty decision just before the break cannot serve as an excuse for what we duly endured to a constant Kasabian soundtrack in the second forty-five minutes at Leicester, but hopefully it will act as a lesson. According to a friend wo works for the Foxes O’Driscoll kept his side in the dressing room long after the final whistle, hopefully his words have sunk in as the team get set for whats sure to be a tough task against Middlesbrough, regardless of ‘Boro’s league position.
After two disappointing away defeats in succession Rovers will be no doubt looking forward to returning to the Keepmoat Stadium tonight anyway, but the added comfort of playing on a pitch where they have been beaten just once in the league this season will be similarly welcome. Middlesbrough’s poor away form will also give Rovers a little more confidence, the Teesiders have scored the fewest away goals in the Championship, a fact that is pleasing news to Doncaster’s skeletal defence. Hopefully for Rovers, they will follow the examples of Christmas past and get back on track in time for Boxing Day.
Tough decisions await Sean O’Driscoll tonight with the list of six Rovers players injured including five full-backs. James Chambers and George Friend have been out long term with knee injuries and have recently been joined by Mustapha Dumbuya who faces an estimated further four weeks out with a knee injury of his own and loanee Joseph Mills who has an ankle problem. Now James O’Connor, Rovers’ most versatile defender, is ruled out with a thigh injury, one which has reportedly been troubling him for some weeks.
As a result of the injury problems Shelton Martis is likely to line-up at right back, a position in which he gained a fair amount of praise at Leicester City on Saturday. Dennis Souza’s substitute appearance at left-back in that match hints strongly at a starting spot for him there too. The relatively inexperienced back four may see O’Driscoll bring Mark Wilson to give added cover in midfield though who out of the striking trio of Hayter, Healy and Sharp he sacrifices remains to be seen. Simon Gillett remains unavailable due to injury.
Middlesbrough are waiting on the fitness of former Rovers defender David Wheater and midfielder Nicky Bailey as they get set to head down the A1. Both players have missed training this week as a result of knocks suffered according to the BBC. Wheater missed last weekend’s game as he served a suspension.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; Shelton Martis, Sam Hird, Wayne Thomas, Dennis Souza; John Oster, Brian Stock, Mark Wilson; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs: Gary Woods, Byron Webster, Simon Whaley, Waide Fairhurst, Dean Shiels, David Healy, Steve Brooker
Travelling to the Game
Middlesbrough have of course visited the Keepmoat Stadium before, steam-rolling over a depleted Rovers side on a Tuesday night in early February. Those who are travelling south for the game for the first time however, can find all they need to know about the ground in our very own guide to the Keepmoat Stadium. You’ll find all this info, perhaps unsurprisingly under the ‘Keepmoat Stadium’ tab at the top of the page. And yes, the rumours are true. There is no undersoil heating here, because we’re Northern and we can tolerate the cold. And not because its expensive.
Major disappointment and Christmas time go hand in hand, so I feel no shame in telling you that Viva Rovers’ patented live match Twitter feed is sadly not in operation for tonight’s game. Complexities of the day job mean that as Rovers kick-off tonight I’ll be in a drafty student bar in Worcester watching a (very) amateur production of Peter Pan. We may tweet updates on this instead so keep following @vivarovers just in case.
Don’t fret though because as ever live match commentary is available from the club’s own Rovers Player service, though you will need to subscribe to get the full enjoyment of Chris Mortley’s commentary. Alternatively there is the BBC Live Text coverage on the internet which will keep you very informed on whose taking throw-ins and a bit about the general game too. If you’re not near a computer or a fancy mobile phone then you will be able to get regular updates and possibly even commentary courtesy of the lovely people at BBC Radio Sheffield.