As joyful, unexpected, and important as Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Pride Park was, there were still two aspects of the night which concerned me. The first was the pre-match booing of Paul Green; a scandalous way to receive arguably the most important player in the club’s last two decades. The second came with the score at 2-0 as Rovers fans began chanting “Bring on the Leeds Scum”, as if the next game somehow mattered more. In the context of this season winning at Derby meant much, much more. It was a huge three points.
In recent years there has been an increasing fascination in Leeds United amongst some Rovers fans, or perhaps more specifically a pursuit of schadenfreude in events at Elland Road. However, as I’ve said before, one play-off final does not a rival make. The prospect of facing Leeds will not stir me as much as a match against Rotherham or Scunthorpe. I don’t hate Leeds, because ultimately I’m not old enough too. I can’t hate Leeds for Don Revie, nor Norman Hunter. They were before my time. I remember Billy Bremner not as a combative midfielder, but as the man in the home dugout at Belle Vue. Jack Charlton is and always will be the badly dressed Republic of Ireland manager. Folk, it seems, have been too easily swept up in the emotions of 2007-08. Not all games against Leeds United are big games. We don’t all hate Leeds scum.
This is a Yorkshire derby, but nothing more. Doncaster and Leeds are not rivals. The fixtures between the two in League One were significant for other reasons, and their importance should not have transcended future meetings. I once argued a point that Rovers win at Elland Road in January 2008 could be considered the most pivotal match of the decade. At the turn of the Millennium the two clubs had been poles apart, but eight years later the ‘lesser’ of the two was able to play the better football and win. It was the crossing point as sound hometown pragmatism passed the over-reaching big spenders heading in the opposite direction. Boom had bust. Money couldn’t buy you everything.
The Play-Off Final can be treated as an anomaly. The importance of that game was clear, and what irked more than the opposition or their supporters on that day was the attitude of those paid to write and speak on the game. Though the two sides had matched each other in the season (Rovers deserving of their win at Elland Road, Leeds likewise at the Keepmoat) come the big day Doncaster were simply dismissed. Garth Crooks based his match prediction on United’s “support and their history”. Sadly for him not one of Leeds’ extra 20,000 fans nor John Charles or Peter Lorimer had taken it upon themselves to mark James Hayter from Brian Stock’s 47th minute corner.
Yes there is a bit of arrogance amongst Leeds support – you get a Harvey Nics and suddenly you feel you should be rubbing shoulders with more illustrious company than TheLikesOfDoncaster – but then let’s be honest this is Yorkshire; arrogance is on a par with thrift in the constituent elements of The Land u’t’ Gods. So don’t hate Leeds. Dislike them for two hours of a Saturday afternoon by all means, but channel your hatred more specifically… to the directors box… and the man with the beard sitting within. Assuming he’s there of course, the odious, administration abusing, tax avoiding Ken Bates is only allowed in the UK for 90 days in a calendar year. Three months too many.
So now I’ve quashed that for the second time in a season onto the actual fixture. Let us look at it pragmatically. As impressive as they were on Tuesday night the Doncaster back-line is still a makeshift one and in this match they find themselves up against one of the division’s most threatening attacks; particularly when playing at home. A Rovers clean sheet looks highly unlikely, but there is hope at the other end. Despite their lofty position Leeds are far from unbreachable, and if you’re lacking confidence and facing criticism from your own support (as members of Leeds backline are) then the last person you want to see come spitting and scratching into view is an in form Billy Sharp. Whisper it quietly, but rumours suggest Jamie Coppinger and James Hayter could be coming out of the treatment room to play with him too. It all points to goals. Just like September’s 0-0 draw did.
As Injury Lawyers 4 U begin to circle high above Cantley Park there is some good news at last from the Rovers medical room. James Hayter, Jamie Coppinger and Ryan Mason have all returned to training this week, though whether they are fit enough for inclusion remains to be seen. Expect goalkeeper Ben Alnwick, signed on loan from Tottenham on Friday, to join the squad in Jordan Bradshaw’s place. The bad news though is that Billy Sharp, so impressive at Pride Park, is doubtful, still struggling with a hernia.
Definitely set to miss out though are the following players; Neil Sullivan, Adam Lockwood, James O’Connor, James Chambers, Mustapha Dumbuya, Martin Woods, Steve Brooker and Jason Euell all injured and Waide Fairhurts still out on loan. Rejoice as the unavailability drops to single figures.
Leeds United will certianly be without Paul Connolly who has a hamstring injury and Lloyd Sam who is suffering from a virus. Simon Grayson does welcome back Bradley Johnson from suspension just in time for this game though.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-2-2-1-1) Gary Woods; Sam Hird, Wayne Thomas, George Friend, Joseph Mills; Paul Keegan, Brian Stock; John Oster, Franck Moussa; Jamie Copinger; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Alnwick, Dennis Souza, Matt Kilgallon, Simon Gillet, Mark Wilson, Dean Shiels, James Hayter
Travelling to the Game
If you’re driving to the game then either head straight up the M1 onto the M621 to Leeds or alternatively reach the same road via the A1 and M62. You’ll pass Elland Road on your left after which you need the next exit and the A6110 ring road. Take a left onto Elland Road and as you come under the railway bridge there are a couple of large car parks according to the excellent Football Ground Guide
If you’re planning to head to Leeds on the train for this game and are travelling from Doncaster then God help you. It’ll be a horrible experience. For those that are braving that route, and the exiles coming from elsewhere the sensible move would be to use one of the shuttle buses parked outside the station. A return ticket is £2.50 and you’ll find the buses across the road from the main entrance and down the steps to the street below.
No first hand coverage from us this weekend I’m afraid. With other away days planned and I’ve chosen this game to save the pennies so Viva Rovers will not be tweeting direct from Elland Road. However, if you do wish to join us in second hand information exile feel free to follow @vivarovers and look out for the #drfc hashtag if you’re a Twitter user.
Live commentary of the game is as ever available through the official club website’s Rovers Player service with commentary from Chris Mortley. If you’re not a subscriber now could be the perfect day to take advantage of a 14 Day Free Trial of the service which will include commentary of this fixture. More details can be found on the club’s official website.
BBC Local Radio will be covering the game on t’wireless if you’re in Leeds or South Yorkshire or alternatively you could follow the regular updates from the BBC’s Live Text service online. As a last resort on television there is the Beeb’s Score Interactive service accessed through the red button, though it will force exposure to Garth Crooks and his never ending pointless and ultimately rhetorical sentences.
Lastly, if you’re stuck in the house want to keep up with the scores and watch some football as well then get yourself onto S4C. The Welsh language channel broadcasts live Welsh Premier League games on a Saturday afternoon with their videprinter still ticking over at the foot of the page. You might even get to see Dave Morley in action if Bangor City are on.