Just when you could take your nephew’s toys and your grandparents casual racism no more, the perfect way out is here. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without sticking on two of your eighteen pairs of new socks and heading off for Boxing Day football. And as is the way with Rovers in the Championship, we are allowed an even longer escape from Monopoly as for the third straight year its a festive away day for Doncaster.
Following on from the delight of the City Ground and the disappointment of Coventry, where nothing says Christmas like roulette wheels and a fake waterfall, our festive Midlands road trip continues at Pride Park. Aside from a seemingly forgotten FA Cup fourth round defeat Derby has proved a happy hunting ground for Rovers since their return to the second tier. The club’s Championship years began there of course with a 1-0 in, and last season we were treated to a very enjoyable 2-0 pre-Christmas victory. Hopefully the away end will be resonating to the sound of Jingle Bells again this year too.
There is reason to be cheerful for Rovers fans too as they head down the M1 and not just because of the amount of sherry and liqueurs still in their system. The week having started with the most keenly anticipated of Christmas presents, the news that Sean O’Driscoll is to remain as Rovers manager having seen the Sheffield United job for what it was, about as tempting as yet another turkey based meal on December 28th.
In SO’D we still trust then, though the manager will have his work cut out for him today as again he has to juggle an abundance of riches up front with an injury-ridden defence. The chances are Leicester City will have taught him that fielding three forwards is an attacking adventure too far and so Mark Wilson will most likely retain his place to offer a more robust midfield. Just who he is helping to protect is anyone’s guess, though hopefully Joseph Mills will offer the team at least one recognised full-back.
Rovers come into this game on the better form, though it’s a meager boast. Doncaster’s win against Middlesbrough last Friday night was their first victory in four matches, a period which has seen Derby rack up four consecutive losses. County may sit above Rovers in the table at present, but a win for Rovers would change that and could leave Rovers as high as seventh place, though such is the Championship, defeat could drop them as low as 18th.
In seasonal spirit the Rovers official website on Christmas Eve spoke of the coming arrival of three men bearing gifts. Sadly, though there return to fitness has been foretold to be approaching Simon Gillett, James Chambers and George Friend remain unavailable for now. Also missing are fellow full-backs Mustapha Dumbuya and James O’Connor though Joseph Mills is likely to return to the starting line-up. Martin Woods remains absent with a groin problem, well it is Christmas.
Derby County will have to dig deep to find new ways of annoying as Robbie Savage is ruled out through suspension. Ex-Rover Gareth Roberts is expected to miss out with a calf injury whilst a hamstring problem will mean that Russell Anderson will also be absent. Dean Leacock, who was forced off against Reading with an injury is expecting to be fit again in time for this match.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; Shelton Martis, Sam Hird, Wayne Thomas, Joseph Mills; John Oster, Brian Stock, Mark Wilson; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs: Gary Woods, Adam Lockwood, Byron Webster, Dennis Souza, Dean Shiels, David Healy, Steve Brooker
Travelling to the Game
With no trains running on a Boxing Day if you’re heading to this game you’ll most likely be on four wheels. The M1 offers the most sensible starting point to head to Derby, leaving the motorway for the A52 at Junction 25. The ground is on this side of the city and is signposted after about seven miles on your left. Parking at the stadium is limited though you will, like the Keepmoat, find a few enterprising local businesses offering their car-park for a princely sum. Probably about £6.
If you’ve decided that £31 is an extortionate price for Boxing Day football, or you just can’t raise you turkey and Quality Street bloated frame off the sofa then don’t worry, Viva Rovers is here. Phone signal and battery permitting we will be reporting live throughout the game via our Twitter feed. You’ll be able to follow proceedings in bursts of 140 characters or less by following @vivarovers and looking out for the #drfc hashtag if you’re a Twitter user. Even if you aren’t a ‘tweeter’ you can still 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. Alternatively you can also follow the regular updates from the BBC’s Live Text service where detail outweighs description with a ratio of about 19:1. 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 service. I got the bigger half of the wishbone at lunch yesterday, so all being well Score Interactive will now gladly be Garth Crooks free.